Any coach worth his salt isn’t going to celebrate his team being above .500 slightly more than halfway through the Hockey East schedule.
There are mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome as winter winds its way into early spring.
But if you’re Northeastern coach Jim Madigan, whose team was picked to finish dead last in the preseason coaches’ poll, it was a very satisfying week.
Senior right wing Braden Pimm continued his hot streak with a pair of goals as the 16th-ranked Huskies defeated No. 9 UMass-Lowell, 4-1, Saturday afternoon as part of Frozen Fenway. NU (13-6-3, 6-4-1) knocked off No. 6 Providence on Tuesday at Schneider Arena and is 7-1-3 in its last 10 games. NU moved into a tie with PC for second in the league standings, 4 points behind Boston College.
Madigan, in his third year behind the Huskies’ bench, has a confident group of players who have the same goal — to become a perennial contender.
“We haven’t turned the corner yet,’’ said Madigan. “We’re plugging away each and every game, that’s been our approach . . . We’ve had some wins. We’ve been down the last couple of years, we know how tough this league is.’’
Madigan said the key has been living in the moment, not looking past the next practice or the next opponent, and he’s enjoying the journey even more than when he first started.
“I was as green as they come because I hadn’t been on the bench in a few years,’’ he said. “I was fortunate to have great assistant coaches. Like anything, you experience reflection and the confidence is there. As a group of players and coaching staff, our approach is all in synch. We have an approach where we want to go to and everyone is buying into that.
“Maybe the last year or two, it was off and on. It was inconsistent. [Now], there is no wavering in the locker room. They know where we’re going and we’re all on the same page together.’’
NU never trailed in the game, which featured a very sloppy ice surface given the rain and humidity. Pimm got the Huskies started with a goal at 7:22 of the second. Defenseman Matt Benning scored on the power play at 9:03 to make it 2-0, and another from the blue line corps, Josh Manson, made it a three-goal cushion with a shorthanded strike at 15:49.
River Hawks defenseman Zack Kamrass accounted for his team’s lone goal with 4.8 seconds remaining in the second.
Pimm finished it off at 17:44 of the third with an empty-net tally, his 14th goal of the season. Pimm has six goals and three assists in his last five outings and eight goals and five assists in his last nine.
UML goalie Doug Carr had 27 saves. NU’s Clay Witt had 47.
For Lowell (14-6-1, 4-3-0), it was a bit of a missed opportunity. The River Hawks have played fewer league games than any other team.
Coach Norm Bazin said that could prove to be advantageous.
“Games in hand are certainly valuable, but only if you gain points from them,’’ he said.
As much as he enjoyed being on the bench at Fenway, Bazin said it wasn’t the easiest outing to prepare for because the ice for Friday’s practice was much better than it was for the game.
“Those conditions for league points are difficult,’’ said Bazin. “If I had it to do over again, I’d wish it was a nonconference game. We’ll have to be better next weekend and not chase a game because you can’t play hockey in this league if you’re chasing a game a good part of the night. You waste a lot of energy.’’
For the athletes, it was an interesting afternoon playing in such soggy conditions.
River Hawks senior Joe Pendenza, who hails from Wilmington, said it was challenging but fun.
“Taking off my stuff, I think it was five pounds heavier because of all the water,’’ he said. “Both teams had to play through it. It’s pretty cool being on the same field where we won a World Series. It’s definitely cool being able to do it. It’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.