As the losses mounted, so did the frustration for the Northeastern men’s hockey team.
Coach Jerry Keefe felt good about his squad entering the season, despite the loss of leading scorer Aidan McDonough and goalie Devon Levi, both of whom turned pro, as well as several others to graduation or the transfer portal. He was optimistic that the mix of returning talent, promising freshmen, and veterans from the portal would have NU back in contention.
But after posting a pair of nonconference wins, the Huskies opened Hockey East play with seven losses in which they managed just eight goals, and were firmly in last place.
Injuries certainly played a role in the slow start, with captain Justin Hryckowian missing four games in that stretch, while sophomore Hunter McDonald, arguably the team’s best defenseman, was out for 13 games.
But some healthy returns have allowed Northeastern to bounce back. The Huskies have gone 8-5-2 since the losing streak, including a win over Boston College, a tie against Quinnipiac, and most recently a 4-3 overtime win over Boston University Tuesday to improve to 10-12-2 and climb to eighth in Hockey East.
Matthew Staudacher, a graduate transfer from Minnesota, returned to the lineup last weekend for some added depth along the blue line and had the opening goal against BU. Freshman goalie Cameron Whitehead had 38 saves.
“Having all the guys back, it’s a really good feeling,” said sophomore Vinny Borgesi, who collected three assists in the win over BU and skates alongside McDonald on the top defensive pairing. “We have six guys rotating throughout the whole game. It’s just an easier flow for all of us, staying on that wave the whole game.”
Northeastern’s last three losses have been by one goal, including an overtime loss at BU Jan. 9, with critical turnovers often coming back to haunt the Huskies. Keefe believes the team has learned from those experiences.
“We’ve kind of been on the wrong side of those games this year, so for us to find a way at the end and get a huge win is awesome, and great for the group,” said Keefe.
The Huskies hope to keep finding ways to win, first on Friday when they host Maine (16-4-2), and then against Harvard in the Beanpot opener Monday. The Black Bears are in third place in Hockey East, and fifth in the PairWise, the system used by the NCAA selection committee to determine the tournament field.
“It’s a pro schedule,” said Borgesi. “Some of these guys are going to move on and play pro, and that’s how it’s going to be every single week. I think we’re in a really good spot. We’re really getting momentum with how we’re playing.”
Harvard (4-12-3) has a test of its own Friday when it hits the road to take on defending national champion Quinnipiac (17-6-2), which is ranked eighth in the PairWise and handed the Crimson a 6-0 loss at home Nov. 4.
BU (16-7-1), which has lost three in a row and dipped slightly to third in the PairWise, will head to UNH (13-8-1) for a rubber match after the teams split their first two meetings, the home team winning each time. No. 1 BC (18-4-1) travels to UMass Lowell.
With the Beanpot the next two Mondays, the competing schools will play only on Friday for the next two weekends. It can lead to some tricky scheduling, as UMass, UNH, Maine, and Merrimack will each face two opponents this weekend, with Providence and UConn the only home-and-home series in Hockey East.
UMass will be at Merrimack Friday before returning to Amherst to host Maine Saturday. Merrimack will travel to UNH Saturday to face a Wildcats squad that sits 16th in the PairWise.
“It takes me back to my ECAC days when you play two different opponents every weekend,” said UMass coach Greg Carvel. “You don’t think about Saturday’s opponent until Friday night’s game is over. So that’s how we’ll deal with it with our guys.
“At this point in the year, our pre-scout is really about making sure what we need to do as opposed to what the opponent is going to do. We won’t really talk or think about Maine until Merrimack’s over.”
UMass (13-6-3) is tied with Providence (14-7-2) for 10th in the PairWise. Saturday night’s game will be a matchup between Carvel and Maine coach Ben Barr, who served on Carvel’s staff for five seasons before departing for Orono in 2021. The school announced Wednesday that Barr agreed to a contract extension through 2028, which included a raise as well as additional compensation for assistant coaches.
Both squads are coming off byes and will have a busy homestretch playing two games each of the next five weekends before UMass travels to Orono to close out the season March 8-9.
Follow Andrew Mahoney @GlobeMahoney.