BOSTON -- At the beginning of last season, not much was expected out of Northeastern.
The Huskies proved the doubters wrong by finishing in a fourth-place tie in Hockey East, thanks to 125 combined points from its freshman class. It was a pleasant surprise then, but will surely be an expectation for head coach Jim Madigan now.
Zach Aston-Reese, one of the eight returning sophomores dressed, scored the first goal for No. 16 NU on Sunday but it fell to Acadia University 3-2 at Matthews Arena. The visiting Axemen finished off a pre-season weekend sweep in New England after they handled Quinnipiac in a 4-1 game Saturday night.
"The effort was there, you can never sacrifice effort," head coach Jim Madigan said. "I thought we got a little too loopy at times. We’ve got a little more skill this year, so I thought we could have got to the net a little bit more and a little harder."
Aston-Reese skated on the right wing with junior Kevin Roy and classmate Dalen Hedges, scoring his goal on a penalty shot 10:05 into the first period.
"I kind of wanted Kevin (Roy) to take it," Aston-Reese joked about the penalty shot opportunity. "I’ve actually been working on the move in practice. I saw his legs open up, so I just wanted to get it out as quick as possible."
After being hauled down while sprinting ahead of a loose puck for a breakaway, the Staten Island, N.Y. native came down the slot with speed and tucked a wrister under the blocker of Acadia goaltender Brandon Glover to put the Huskies ahead.
Aston-Reese appeared in all but two games for the Huskies a year ago, scoring eight goals and 19 points. He and Hedges were the team’s two most timely players on offense with four game-winning strikes each.
Their contributions to the team as rookies were not as numerous as Mike Szmatula, but seemed to come at opportune times. Aston-Reese knows their presence will be felt once again.
"It will be pretty big," Aston-Reese said. "At the end of last year, we all talked about how we have to welcome in the new guys and create a good culture. We’re pretty confident we can create that environment (within the team)."
Being ahead after one period was a comfortable place for the Huskies as they were 11-0-2 when leading after 20 minutes last season, but the Axemen scored 6:04 and 19:07 into the second period to take the lead.
Roy got into the goal column, as he did 19 times last year, at 8:19 of the third. Classmate Colton Saucerman launched a cross-ice pass to the team’s top scorer in the low slot, Roy settled it as an Acadia defender tipped it on its way past and scored past a sliding Glover.
The lead was short-lived as Acadia’s Alex Beaton flew down the wing and squeezed one high to the near post on NU goaltender Derick Roy for the winner at 9:50. Roy did his job in relieving senior Clay Witt, making 12 of his 15 stops in the third period.
As always, the contest against a Canadian foe served as an experiment. The Huskies had four freshmen on the ice as they prepared for next Saturday night’s season opener with Vermont.
"It gives our first-year players an opportunity to see what a college game is like," Madigan said, "and it’s good for our returning players to get their feet wet again and back into it again."
In addition to its returning crop of second-year players, transfers Brendan Collier and Ryan Rosenthal are active for the Huskies and were thrown right into the fire with significant time Sunday. Collier is a Charlestown, Mass. native and Malden Catholic product, so the chance to start a new chapter after a difficult year at Boston University is a welcome one.
"It’s awesome," Collier said. "I’m five minutes down the road from my old school and five minutes still from home. I played in this building in middle school; I remember being here at 8 a.m. on Saturdays, so I’m familiar."
Collier looked sharp in his Husky debut, registering a pair of shots on goal and made an excellent play to move around two defenders for a quality scoring chance in the second period.
"It was a fresh start, so I just wanted to prove to everyone I was here to play as hard as I can," Collier said. "My speed increased over the summer, and I thought I showed that tonight."
The dry run is over and it counts for real next Saturday.
"We’ve got tape, we’ve got a game under our belt and we’ll use it to get ready," Madigan said. "We know on Saturday with Vermont the way they play it’s up tempo, it’s fast paced."