Northeastern is approaching the men’s Beanpot as defending champion for the first time in 30 years. The Huskies will meet Boston University in a semifinal Monday at 8 p.m. at TD Garden, with the winner advancing to the Feb. 11 final against either Boston College or Harvard.
Despite losing much of their firepower from last year—led by Adam Gaudette, winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top player, who is now with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks—the rebuilt Huskies are returning to Boston’s premiere college hockey event as favorites around goaltender Cayden Primeau and defenseman Jeremy Davies.
Two experts on Northeastern men’s hockey broke down the 67 annual Beanpot on Facebook Live on Thursday. Here are some of the highlights from Rob Rudnick, who has been the play-by-play voice of the Huskies since 1978, and Eoghan Kelly, a Northeastern grad and super fan.
On their thoughts entering this season after the loss of almost 200 points of offense from last year’s team:
KELLY: You lose your top three guys to the pros, your natural reaction is always going to be: Next year is going to be a down year. But if you look at the makeup of the team, what they brought back this year: [Cayden] Primeau is one of the best goalies in Hockey East, if not the entire country; and then a great foundation on defense, as well as a lot of veteran guys on offense. You couple that with what has really amounted to a terrific recruiting job … it’s really no wonder that they’re having a great year.
It always feels good to prove people wrong, especially when this team has gone through as much as they have in their history over the last few decades.
RUDNICK: They knew they needed to make up for the loss of the Big Three, as we call them—Gaudette, [Nolan] Stevens, and [Dylan] Sikura—with a full team worth of players scoring. And just about everybody has scored. Everybody has contributed. And of course it helps having a terrific goaltender in Cayden Primeau, who has been outstanding.
On the resilience of this team, which has already generated five comeback wins in the final period—more than over the previous three seasons combined:
KELLY: That you have the belief that you always have a chance to win doesn’t come unless you see the product, right? So some of the early ones they got against tough teams, at home and on the road, adds to that belief when you’re in the room after two periods, saying, “Hey, boys, we’ve still got this. Let’s go out there and take care of business.”
I think any true hockey fan would rather have a team that’s defense-oriented, where the offensive players and defensemen are in the shooting lanes blocking pucks and doing anything they can to keep the puck out of the zone. Those games are more exciting. They’re fun to watch.
On the influence of coach Jim Madigan, who won two Beanpots while playing for Northeastern from 1981 to 85:
RUDNICK: Jim Madigan was a really gritty, determined hockey player. He played in a different time, but I think these players listen to him, they hear his voice, and they enjoy the coaching they’re getting, whether it’s from (associate head coach) Jerry Keefe, or (assistant coach) Jason Smith and (director of hockey operations) Mike McLaughlin. So the players hear their voices and they like it, that’s clear.
KELLY: As a fan, and I would imagine even more so as a player, to see a coach have that much passion for the game, when he reacts like that, it’s not just because he’s upset. It’s because he cares. He wants the best for his team, whether it’s a fair call or whatever the case may be. But certainly it does not go unnoticed in the stands or in the media box when that happens. It is definitely well-documented and appreciated.
On Primeau as a game-changing goalie:
KELLY: I never doubt Northeastern’s ability to win when he’s in the net. That’s what he instills in the fan base. And as a player, I can only imagine that you get that same level of confidence.
RUDNICK: And we shouldn’t forget that Northeastern’s other goaltender, Ryan Ruck, started here for a very long time, and he has played well this year when filling in for Cayden when he was with the World Juniors. So there’s not very many schools in Division 1 that can say we have two goaltenders we can use and have confidence in.
On how the semifinal against BU may go:
KELLY: It will be a close game. Two terrific goalies, who are bigger guys. They are the new prototypical goalies—tall, can take up a lot of the net. I do think Northeastern comes out on top, just running the wave of last year. I may be a little biased.
RUDNICK: It’s hard to predict, because every night things change so much. I will say that the Dog House and the Northeastern bands are so present and so loud at the Garden, that the players have actually talked about through the years what it’s like to know that there’s so many of their fans. They are in this big building, cheering them on. And for the newer, younger players, of which there are several, I think that can really benefit them.
Going back to the old days, Boston University used to have the most creative rooting section, with the various chants—we can’t describe some of them specifically. But they were very loud and very interesting people. But Northeastern’s Dog House has really taken over the student rooting area of the Garden for the Beanpot.