One day after winning the Hockey East championship to finish the best regular season in school history, the Northeastern Huskies received their next assignment: An opening game in Providence, Rhode Island, as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA men’s hockey tournament against third-seeded Cornell University.
The news of their NCAA assignment concluded a frenzied weekend for the Huskies, who captured the Hockey East championship by defeating Boston College 3-2 on Saturday night at TD Garden in a rematch of this year’s Beanpot Championship.
The Huskies (27-10-1), ranked No. 6 in the NCAA, will meet the Big Red (20-10-4 for a No. 11 national ranking) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m Eastern Time. A victory will move Northeastern onto a Sunday quarterfinal against either No. 1 Minnesota State University-Mankato or No. 4 Providence College, which benefited from a terrific hometown draw.
Fans can join the team for a send-off party on Tuesday at noon at the Curry Student Center’s West Addition on the Boston campus. Hundreds of Northeastern students and fans are expected to make the hour-long drive to Providence next weekend.
The winner of the two-game East Regional will advance to the NCAA Frozen Four in Buffalo April 11-13. The Huskies haven’t advanced beyond the opening round of the NCAA Tournament since they finished third in 1982.
In the Hockey East final on Saturday, Northeastern goaltender Cayden Primeau had 38 saves, and was named outstanding player of the tournament.
“I don’t think we’re playing our best hockey,” said coach Jim Madigan, who is responsible for two of Northeastern’s three Hockey East titles in the 35-year history of the tournament. “And that’s a good thing for our club, that there’s still more there. We’re going to need that in our next round of the NCAA Tournament.”
The final two rounds of Hockey East served as an appropriate send-off for the third-seeded Huskies, who essentially replicated their Beanpot success of last month. On Friday, they beat Boston University, 2-1, in overtime, just as they had done against the Terriers in the Beanpot semifinal; then they held on against BC, scoring one fewer goal than in their 4-2 win of six weeks ago.
The circumstances of this win against the seventh-seeded Eagles (14-22-3) were out of character, however, and Madigan was happier for it. As proud as he has been of the Huskies’ resilience as a hard-finishing team that has scored close to 45 percent of its goals in the third period, resulting in a half-dozen comeback wins, he has also spent the last six weeks urging his players to start games with more urgency. His plea was especially relevant with BC coming off a late-night 3-0 upset of the University of Massachusetts, the tournament favorite, on Friday.
The Huskies responded by doing their best work early. They shocked BC with three goals in the opening 11:15 around senior right wing Brandon Hawkins, who scored two of them (giving him a dozen goals this season) and assisted the first.
Hawkins’ pass from the back deflected off the goal siding to Matt Filipe, who flipped it high for his eighth goal of the year at 2:31. Less than three minutes later, Hawkins chased down his own rebound, which had pinballed out front and scrambled the defense, and slammed it past BC goaltender Joe Woll (23 saves).
Then, midway through the period, Hawkins scored again with five seconds left in a power play to stretch Northeastern’s lead to 3-0.
Much as they did after trailing by as many goals in the Beanpot final, the Eagles responded with two goals—though at a much faster pace. Taking quick advantage of successive penalties by star Husky defenseman Jeremy Davies, BC’s Oliver Wahlstrom finished a power-play cross to the weakside just 18 seconds after the first intermission.
The period wasn’t two minutes old when BC star David Cotton was knocking in the latter of his two rebound attempts, sneaking it past Cayden Primeau’s right skate for another power-play goal to bring BC within 3-2.
Both BC goals were assisted by sophomore wing Logan Hutsko, who was involved in a frightening incident in the opening minute of the third period. Hutsko was racing with the puck when he appeared to collide with a couple of players. He lost his footing at high speed before his head banged hard on the ice. Hutsko lay motionless, face down, for several minutes. He was immobilized, wheeled off the ice by stretcher, and taken to Massachusetts General Hospital in the company of his father.
“Logan is moving his fingers his toes,” said BC coach Jerry York, who said that Hutsko had suffered a broken neck three years ago while playing junior hockey. “We are cautiously optimistic.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Logan Hutsko,” Madigan said. “We’re hoping that he’s doing well and that he has a quick recovery.”
The frantic Eagles, who could have reached the NCAA Tournament only by winning Hockey East, outshot Northeastern 32-15 over the final two periods. But after the early power plays of the second period, Primeau held firm.
Primeau’s leadership affirmed the dogged strength of a group that had been expected to fall back after losing prolific scorers Adam Gaudette, Dylan Sikura and Nolan Stevens from last year’s team. After falling short in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament one year ago, Madigan and the Huskies are determined to build upon their school-record 27 wins, as well as this most recent trophy.
“People were wondering if we were going to have a good team,” Madigan said. “Now we’ve got to win games in the [NCAA] Tournament to get to the next level. That’s where we are.”
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