Frozen Fenway: Northeastern's freshmen step up on a big stage

Northeastern freshman Mike Szmatula had an assist in his team's 4-1 win over Northeastern. - Matt Dewkett (mrd-photos.com)

As they have all season, Northeastern's freshmen were contributors in the team's win over UMass Lowell.

Boston, Mass. -- On the road against the number six team in the country, and under the lights (and rain) against the number nine team in Fenway Park. It was just another week at the office for Northeastern's freshman class, a group that has navigated to Huskies to the number two spot in Hockey East this season.

And it also resulted in two more big wins.

Northeastern capped off a big week by defeating UMass Lowell in Frozen Fenway, just four days removed from defeating Providence in Rhode Island.

"When you come back after Christmas your first year, you're no longer a freshman," said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan. "You've experienced everything you're going to experience."

With seven freshmen in the lineup, a number that's been consistent for the Huskies all season, Northeastern picked up a big win in Fenway Park, moving them into a tie with Providence for second place in Hockey East. But after defeating the Friars earlier this week, the Huskies own the tiebreaker with the advantage in the head-to-head record.

"In this league, they're expected—because we lose a lot of good players to the next level—you're going to have to find good players," Madigan said. "We don't treat them any differently than the sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and our expectation level is the same."

In the Fenway win, Northeastern's freshmen were big contributors, with Mike Szmatula—the second-leading freshman point scorer in the nation—contributing two assists, while his classmate Matt Benning scored the game-winner.

"They're good, and our sophomore, junior, and senior classes have contributed, too," Madigan said. "They'll continue to grow, sometimes they might make a little mistake, but they usually come back after the holiday break, and you're no longer a freshman."

Benning's game-winner came on the power play while he was skating on a unit that consisted of two other freshmen. After a Szmatula shot found its way on goal, Benning pounced on a rebound in front and beat Doug Carr. The assist was Szmatula's second of the day.

From the onset of the season, Madigan highlighted the class as one his team would need to perform if they stood any chance of succeeding.

"You can look at our roster, and we better get some contributions from our freshmen, because we have a lot of freshmen on our roster," Madigan said after the team's first game of the season against Alabama-Huntsville. "But more importantly, we have freshmen who we believe in, and who are good players, who are going to contribute to us winning."

With the stage of Fenway Park, and facing a UMass Lowell team that made a trip to the Frozen Four last season, and was ranked ninth in the country on Saturday, Northeastern's young core did what is has all season long.

"They're mature players, they have poise; that's why they're Division 1 players on our hockey club, and we're going to count on them," Madigan said.

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