Does the men’s hockey team have the skill to compete for Hockey East supremacy and the NCAA championship? Here are the five biggest storylines heading into the 2014-2015 season, which begins on Saturday night at Matthews Arena against Vermont.
The offensive pluck
The Huskies should ice one of the best offenses in Hockey East, the sport’s most competitive conference. Last season, Northeastern scored an average of 3.2 goals per game, second only to Boston College. This season, the red and black figure to put the puck in net with even greater regularity, returning 10 of last season’s top 11 scorers. Returning forwards Kevin Roy and Mike Szmatula represented one of college hockey’s best one-two punches last season, accounting for about 30 percent of the team’s total offense.
“Roy’s skill level and his hockey IQ set him apart,” head coach Jim Madigan said. “His work ethic has continued to improve and he’s ready for a breakout year.” Captain Adam Reid noted that the team’s offensive depth is the red and black’s biggest strength, saying that “We’re looking for contributions all the way down to our fourth line.”
The team defense
Northeastern’s biggest concern is team defense, which hampered the Huskies for the vast majority of last season. The red and black surrendered an average of 35 shots per game; killed just 84 percent of penalties; and gave up 41 third-period goals, all of which ranked in the bottom half of Hockey East. Northeastern must improve in all three aspects or face the reality of yet another early postseason exit. “We have to be more reliable as a five-player unit,” Madigan said.
The unflappable netminder
Goalie Clay Witt exceeded expectations last season, posting a 2.37 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. He’ll have to put up similar numbers in order for the Huskies to have a chance to win Hockey East, but he’s more than capable of living up to such high standards. “Clay has tremendous mental toughness and the resolve to get better each and every day,” Madigan said. “He’s very quick and has great agility.” Noted Reid: “It’s really important for him to play well, but it’s also important that we play well in front of him.”
The new guys
Seven first-year players will fill out Northeastern’s roster, including a pair of transfer students with Hockey East experience. Forward Ryan Rosenthal skated for Vermont during the 2012-2013 season and forward Brendan Collier led Boston University in plus-minus last season. “I like the group,” Madigan said. “I think all of them will be able to contribute offensively.” Noted Reid: “There’s a lot of competition for roster spots right now.”
Northeastern will face-off against eight of the 16 team that reached the 2014 NCAA Tournament. One of the Huskies’ toughest tests will take place on Nov. 29 at Matthews Arena, where the red and black will battle the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, last season’s national championship runner-up. “Our players are ready for it,” Madigan said of his team’s difficult schedule. “We have to play good teams to get where we want to go.”
The season’s goals are threefold: To win the Beanpot, to win Hockey East, and to win the NCAA championship. “More than in any other year, we have been saying that we can accomplish each of our goals with resolve and a lot of hard work,” Madigan said. “We’re excited about the process of getting there.”