Team of the Week: Northeastern
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Between the steady rain and shoddy ice conditions, placing too much stock in Northeastern's 4-1 win over Massachusetts-Lowell at Fenway Park on Saturday may not be too fair. However, this win was the latest in a series of impressive performances against prominent Hockey East competition.
Four days prior, Northeastern rallied to knock off Providence, 2-1, at Schenider Arena. The wins lifted Northeastern into second place in the Hockey East standings and earned the Huskies the College Hockey News Team of the Week.
"It was a great week for us," Madigan said. "We go into Providence and beat Providence there, then we get a win at Fenway Park against Lowell team that was an NCAA team last year, this was the goal for us."
Both Braden Pimm and Clay Witt have endured up-and-down careers at Northeastern. However, the Huskies' 2013-14 campaign has depended heavily on the duo's success. Witt is currently second in the nation with a .943 save percentage. Pimm, meanwhile, has assembled a career year with 14 goals and 10 assists.
Each player had a major hand in last weeks' wins. Pimm scored a game-tying goal with 34 seconds left in regulation before ending it just 12 seconds into overtime against Providence. On Saturday, he scored Northeastern's first and last goals in a win that completed a season sweep of defending Hockey East champion UMass-Lowell.
"My first year, his sophomore year, he had 10 points and 15 assists, so 25 points," Madigan said of Pimm, who he announced as an assistant captain prior to Saturday's game.
"He dedicated himself, not in September, but in May with strength and conditioning all the way through. When he came back, he was a lot leaner but also a lot stronger. He had a different haircut. He had a different approach, and it's carried over academically, in the community and certainly on the ice. He's been consistent right through Day 1. I know he has some more goals, but he helps us win not just with offense. He kills penalties. We use him in the last minute of periods. He's an all-around player."
Witt was similiarly dominant, stopping 85 of 87 shots in the games, including 47 against UML.
"Not really," Witt responded when asked if his success has changed his approach. "It's cliche, but I just have to take it a day at a time. Just worry about the next one, then the next one. There are a lot of challenges throughout the year, and we just have to deal with them as they come."
"We're a team that's going to give up a lot of shots," Madigan said. "Providence and Lowell get a lot of pucks to the net, so I don't get overwhelmed with shots totals. (Witt) did a very good job collecting rebounds. ... Clay played very tight to the post and is very strong in the crease. He's a strong kid, an athletic young man, so I thought he was very good in the crease."
The wins bolstered NU's Pairwise standing. The Huskies are currently ninth in the rankings and in good position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with a strong performance in the season's final six weeks, something that last happened in 2009.
Despite the Huskies' current standing, Northeastern coach Jim Madigan understands his club's position. A few big wins and successful months doesn't mean anything if more wins don't follow. NU missed the Hockey East Tournament in Madigan's first two seasons with the program.
With the club's success, Madigan's own evolution as a coach is clear. Even he admitted that he had a lot to learn when he took over for Greg Cronin three years ago, having never been a head coach before. The program went through a lot of trial and tribulations since, losing recruits and many games, and the gains made under Cronin were threatened to be lost.
But things have stabilized, and an upward trajectory has returned. Following Saturday's win, the third-year coach was clearly pleased with the week his team had. He was, however, determined to keep his focused on the short term.
"We haven't turned the corner yet," Madigan said. "We keep plugging away each and every day. We haven't had any success. We've had some wins. We're 13-6-3. We're just looking at the next game. We've been down and out the last couple of years. We know how tough this league is. We're truly just focusing on the University of Vermont on Friday night. That's what allowed us to build a foundation from game to game."
Two seasons ago, the Huskies rode some strong performances and a bit of luck to an eight-game unbeaten streak that came undone once they moved into the teeth of their Hockey East schedule. Madigan and his players remember letting it all get away and are determind to avoid a similar let down, especially after a pair of bad performances against Air Force and Dartmouth in a holiday tournament.
After a pair of two-game weekends with Vermont and Notre Dame, the Huskies embark on yet another quest for their first Beanpot championship since 1988. The four-team tournament is not the sole focus of NU's season. However, the 25-year drought is a major issue for the program's supporters, Madigan and his players.
While the tournament is still weeks away, and plenty of time remains in the regular season, Madigan and his Huskies appear ready to compete for it all.
"I'm not going to go there," Madigan quipped of the Beanpot. "I'm going to look at Vermont Friday night and Saturday night. That distraction, and it's a great distraction, will come soon. We've got Vermont then we've got this team with the initials N.D. who are pretty good. We're going to worry about Vermont, and then we'll worry about that other opportunity down the road."