Team of the Week: Northeastern
by Jillian Saftel/CHN Reporter
Midway through November, the Northeastern Huskies were on a three-game losing streak and hadn’t seen a win since October 14 over New Hampshire. That win was just their fourth game of the season. At 1-7-2 a third of the way through the regular season, things weren’t looking good for first-year head coach Jim Madigan and his Huskies.
“Our first seven or eight games, I thought the players were getting adjusted to a new staff. We had some pretty good games with good effort and good compete level but just didn’t play with a lot of intelligence at times,” Madigan said.
But then something funny happened; two Hockey East wins against Providence and Vermont gave Northeastern a boost. What no one saw coming is where that boost took them, to three wins on the road in non-conference matchups against nationally-ranked Michigan and Notre Dame, a shock to almost everyone, but not to Madigan.
“When you play a quality opponent you anticipate your team playing very well, but no, I wasn’t surprised," Madigan said. "You don’t know what the scores are going to be going into it, but I knew we would work hard. As a coaching staff we have a confidence in our players.”
Northeastern’s upset at Notre Dame came with a 9-2 win Friday followed by a 2-1 win Saturday. The nine-goal feat was one the Huskies hadn’t accomplished since 2002. With three goals in the first 4:13 of play on Friday, the Huskies got the early jump on the Fighting Irish.
“The score of the first game wasn’t indicative of the game because we jumped on quickly, got some good bounces,” Madigan said of his team’s blow out. “The second game was more realistic, but we are getting better as a team. That’s not to say we’re going to win every game, but when you work hard and play intelligently you’re going to win games.”
Madigan entered the season under unenviable circumstances. While numerous other first-year coaches were stepping into situations that needed their help to revitalize things, Madigan was replacing the guy who already did the revitalizing. Greg Cronin brought Northeastern back from the doldrums, but then left under a cloud of trouble, with a big class leaving, key underclassmen leaving for the pros, and big-time recruits bailing out.
That's a lot to handle for any first-year coach, let alone one that has never been a college head coach.
But somehow, Northeastern found its groove. The team’s promising forwards have begun to show their full potential, and the line of junior Steve Quailer and sophomores Braden Pimm and Cody Ferriero has proven itself to be invaluable to recent Husky success. The three forwards combined for a total of eight points throughout the two-game Notre Dame series.
“All three are great compliments to each other. They like playing with each other and each of them are playing to their strengths right now,” the head coach said.
Luckily for the Huskies, that’s not the only line that’s shown it can step up as an offensive threat to opponents. Freshman Ludwig Karlsson and juniors Vinny Saponari and Garrett Vermeersch have also been jumpstarting Northeastern’s offense lately, combining for nine points in their two nights in South Bend.
“I’m happy with their production,” Madigan said of his first and second lines. “The Justin Daniels line is contributing too. We’ve got three lines scoring and a fourth that’s grinding it out; they’ve had offensive chances too. I’m happy with where our offense is.”
The one aspect of the team that might be making Madigan happier than his breakout offense is the one thing that’s been consistently dependable throughout almost every game this season: goaltending.
Junior goaltender Chris Rawlings made 47 saves against the Fighting Irish. With a .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA, Rawlings sits at twenty-fourth on the list of the NCAA’s fifty top goaltenders.
“He’s been our most consistent player to date, the backbone to our club,” Madigan said. “When we try to do too much offensively or defensively, we know we can rely on him. He’s been fabulous.”
While Northeastern’s last three big wins against Michigan and Notre Dame come as a big confidence boost and have certainly created some national buzz for the Huskies, the one thing they don’t do is affect the Hockey East standings.
Northeastern still sits in eighth place with 8 points and a 3-7-2 conference record. Their run from October 21 to November 12, consisting of six losses and one tie, put them in a pretty deep hole in terms of conference points, a hole they’ll have to claw their way out of if they want a chance to compete past the regular season.
Mass.-Lowell will be the next big challenge for the Huskies; the RiverHawks are coming off a run of their own with a four-game winning streak under first-year coach Norm Bazin.
“At the end of the day we’re measured by our league opponents. Saturday’s the biggest game of the year for us right now, a chance to play at home against a team that’s been playing very well and continue to build some momentum in Hockey East,” Madigan said. “These are very valuable points, these Hockey East games are more important than ever because we’re trying to make up the points. Each game brings its own set of opportunity and challenges.”
As the halfway points of the regular season quickly approaches, Madigan said he stands by taking it game by game. He said for himself and his staff there’s no need to look long term, but that players take the work ethic they had in practice each week and convert it to productive output on Friday and Saturday.
“Through the last five games where we played extremely well, we’ve taken care of the details a lot better. We’ve been more thorough in our systems, played smarter and been more disciplined,” Madigan said. “Our players are getting acclimated to the systems we’ve implemented as a new coaching staff and I’m very happy with work ethic and compete level. We’ve still a long ways to go, but we look at things in the short term.
“If you take it by game by game, when you get to the end of the season you’ll find yourself in a great place.”
Wisdom that has treated his players, and himself, well.