The Northeastern men began their hockey season with three goals. Win the Beanpot. Win Hockey East. Win a national championship.
With two of those missions accomplished, Northeastern students, faculty, and staff joined president Joseph E. Aoun in West Addition at Curry Student Center on Tuesday to send the Huskies (27-10-1) off to the NCAA Tournament in pursuit of their ultimate goal.
The players were introduced one by one as the cheer and dance teams joined with Paws, the school mascot, to celebrate the winningest team in the history of men’s hockey at Northeastern.
“We’re just thrilled for their accomplishments and proud for how they represent our institution each and every day,” coach Jim Madigan said. “They’re providing us the ride of a lifetime.”
Northeastern will open the NCAA Tournament at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, Saturday at 4:30 p.m. as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional, against third-seeded Cornell University (20-10-4).
The Huskies are seeking their first win in the NCAAs since 1982, when they finished third. If they prevail against the Big Red, the Huskies will remain in Providence to face either the top seed Minnesota State University-Mankato or No. 4 Providence College in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The surging Huskies have won 11 of their last 12 games, including a 3-2 victory over Boston College last Saturday to win the Hockey East tournament for the third time in the 35-year history of the conference. They beat Boston University 2-1 in the semifinal.
“The university trajectory, everyone here knows, is just going like this,” Madigan told students as he raised his hand to mimic a plane taking off. “And so we beat two schools on the weekend—two ‘safety schools’ for you guys. We’re continuing to go on up, and we’re going to go after another ‘safety school,’ Cornell, on Saturday.”
This has been a year of riches for Northeastern sports. The Husky women (27-6-5) reached the NCAA hockey quarterfinals (where, coincidentally, they were beaten 3-2 by Cornell at Matthews Arena). The men’s basketball team (23-11) advanced last week to March Madness, while the women (20-12) made the inaugural National Invitation Tournament.
And now Madigan’s Huskies are two games away from the NCAA Frozen Four, which will be held April 11-13 in Buffalo.
Northeastern wasn’t expected to contend after losing three prolific scorers from last year’s team, including Adam Gaudette, winner of the Hobey Baker award as the nation’s best player, now a rookie with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. But the Huskies redesigned themselves around goaltender Cayden Primeau and defenseman Jeremy Davies. They have grown to rely on a half-dozen scorers with 10 goals or more, including virtuoso freshman Tyler Madden, and they’ve exhibited unusual tenacity and fire: Almost half of their goals have been scored in the third period and overtime, resulting in six comeback victories (more than in the previous three years combined).
And now they are four wins away from a national title.
The Huskies are No. 6 nationally in the Division 1 PairWise rankings. Their senior class has earned a school-record 90 wins, back-to-back Beanpot titles, and two Hockey East championships.
Aoun invited the Huskies’ six seniors to join him on stage, where he put team captain Eric Williams on the spot.
“I’m a leader,” Aoun said to Williams. “So give me a piece of advice on leadership.”
Williams thought for a moment, then answered: “Keep winning.”