Northeastern Excelling Out of Hockey East, But Struggling In It
by Jillian Saftel/CHN Reporter
Wins against top national competitors Minnesota, Michigan and Notre Dame should be highlights amid a successful season for any team talented enough and lucky enough to defeat all three. For Northeastern, they may turn out to be but a high point of a disappointing season.
After an eight-game non-losing streak that included four non-conference wins and one non-conference tie, the Huskies haven’t been able to carry their midseason momentum into extremely important Hockey East matchups to kick off the second half of conference play, dropping to 4-11-2 in conference play following a four game losing streak.
Their first weekend back from break was anything but a sure thing, with a home game against Boston University and Frozen Fenway matchup against Boston College, the Huskies would have been lucky to come out of the weekend with two points. They weren’t.
Those two losses made this weekend critical for Northeastern with a home and home series against Massachusetts-Lowell, a team the Huskies defeated during their hot streak in early December, 3-2. But the Huskies didn’t get their spark back Friday night at Lowell, getting shut out in a 4-0 beating.
The team’s struggle to find critical Hockey East points mounted in tonight’s game against Lowell. Husky frustration showed as the team played a physical game early on, garnering the first period’s only three penalties, and the game’s first six.
"It’s frustrating, but we need to get back to basics. Emotions are obviously high right now,” junior Garrett Vermeersch said of the team’s recent struggles. "Things are just adding up and we’re not necessarily doing the same things that we were doing when we were winning, getting pucks in deep, getting good cycles. We need to get more pucks to the net."
Even with the Matthews Arena crowd on their side and a six shot advantage, tonight’s 3-2 overtime loss added the fourth game to the Husky losing streak, and another set of two elusive conference points were again out of Northeastern’s reach.
"There’s now a sense of urgency for us to get league wins, each game is important," head coach Jim Madigan said. "As we go down the stretch here, you have to come away with points on a weekend. We’ve had two weekends in a row we haven’t come away with any points."
Despite the losses, ninth-place Northeastern isn’t quite out of it yet. They still have 10 conference matchups before the end of regular-season play, and the Huskies are only three points back from eighth place New Hampshire. At the same time, the Huskies will need to turn it around quickly if they want to see the postseason. Continuing to play only pieces of a good game won’t be enough in this league.
"We came off a good stretch and had four league games, and three of the four games, we’ve played hard. Maybe not always as smart. ... We still have to get back to a point where we’re playing an entire 60 minutes where we have compete, we have effort, we have execution and we have discipline," Madigan said. "You need all four elements, and we haven’t had all four elements over the last four games."
It seems like he might be right, the answer may be that simple. Besides some disciplinary issues that left top scorers Braden Pimm and Cody Ferriero benched for last weekend’s BU and BC games, nothing about Northeastern looks incredibly different. If anything, special teams are on the upswing, with Pimm’s first period goal coming short handed and Northeastern’s penalty kill holding Lowell to 1 for 5 on their power play opportunities.
The Huskies’ play has streaks of brilliance in it, like Pimm’s shorthanded goal, but the team’s inability to put together a complete game is what has been landing them in the losing corner. The basic approach of putting together a full game of smart hockey could be what the team needs to get back to winning hockey games.
"We need to get basics. It’ll be a hard week of practice, just getting back to basics and doing the things that we were doing when we were on an eight game win streak and things were going our way," Vermeersch said.
If this weekend wasn’t critical, next weekend’s two games at Gutterson Arena against Vermont certainly are. UVM is currently the only team below Northeastern in Hockey East standings, and on paper they’re Northeastern’s best chance at coming away with four much needed points. But Gutterson will bring its own set of challenges with a hostile environment, and a UVM team that battles.
"We’re going to have to stop the streak when we go up to Vermont this weekend," Madigan said. "They’re a tough team to play in their building so we’re going to have to pull it together again on Monday and get ready for Friday and Saturday."
If the Huskies want the chance to compete against Hockey East’s best at the end of the season, they will have to stop the streak, and stop it soon. If not, their non-conference victories on the road won’t result in anything more than buzz-worthy wins during what was ultimately a losing season.