BOSTON -- Jim Madigan has said all season the performance by his freshman class hasn't come as a surprise to Northeastern, it's just been how quickly the group has come into its own that wasn't quite expected.
The leader of that rookie group has been Mike Szmatula.
On Monday night at TD Garden in the semifinals of the Beanpot, Szmatula's production was again at the forefront. He assisted on two goals, and then added one of his own late, giving him his third three-point game of the season.
"I just try to go out every night and help Northeastern win," Szmatula said after the semifinal win. "Fortunately, good things are happening."
The big stage has done nothing to slow Szmatula down, either. Earlier this season at Fenway Park, he had a pair of assists in a win over UMass Lowell.
"Szmatula just competes," said head coach Jim Madigan. "Whatever league he's in—and he's played in two or three junior leagues—he's been in the top five in scoring."
Of course, Szmatula isn't your typical freshman: he's a 21-year-old with plenty of hockey experience under his belt. He spent the last three years playing in various junior leagues, while gaining confidence from putting up big numbers.
Playing for Dubuque of the USHL last year (along with current, freshmen Northeastern teammates John Stevens and Matt Benning) he scored 37 goals—the second most in the league—while the Fighting Saints captured both the Clark and Anderson Cups.
Northeastern advances to final with 6-0 win
For the second consecutive year Northeastern will play in the late game on the second Monday of February. The Huskies left no doubt they belonged in that game with a 6-0 win over Harvard on Monday night at the TD Garden in the first semifinal.
"It's helped a lot. Me myself being an older guy, you know what to expect a little bit," Szmatula said. "The age difference isn't as much the same as what class you're in, so I think that has a lot to do with it."
In his inaugural season on Huntington Ave., his playmaking skills have been on full display. His 20 assists lead all freshmen in the nation, and he's had no problems assimilating to a Husky squad while playing on a team that has featured a number of freshmen all season.
"Right from the beginning, not just me, but all my other freshmen in the class have had such an easy transition because of guys coaxing into the system, and how it works and stuff," he said.
For his introduction to the Beanpot, Szmatula recorded his fifth multi-assist game of the year. On his first helper, he gained possession in the neutral zone, before rushing up ice on a 2-on-1 with Torin Snyderman. Szmatula was able to outwait a sliding defender, before giving Snyderman a centering feed he could stuff home.
Szmatula's next assist showed off his skill. After he corralled a cross-ice pass with his glove, he deked around a Crimson defender. Creating a 2-on-1 down low, Szmatula dipped outside, and then sent a backhand pass on the tape of Braden Pimm who finished an easy tap-in.
"Experience always helps, and we have a lot of older guys in the freshmen class, and some younger guys, but we're really close," Szmatula said. "Not just as a freshman class, but as a full team.
"We're a family, and we help one another."
For the second straight year, Northeastern got a major contribution in the opening Beanpot game from a first-year player. Last year it was Kevin Roy with a hat trick, while Szmatula matched his sophomore teammates point-total this time around.
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