BOSTON -- Despite being riddled with injuries, Northeastern has picked up its play over recent games and came up on the positive side of Saturday night's final game before the holiday break at Matthews Arena.
The Huskies scored goals in the first and second periods while freshman Ryan Ruck made 26 saves en route to his first collegiate victory, a 2-1 win over Michigan State.
With the win, NU improves to 3-12-3 on the season. Oddly enough, the win to conclude the first Northeastern Winter Showdown with the Spartans was its first of the season against a team other than Colgate.
"I'm thrilled for our win and being able to get Northeastern on the winning column in this weekend," Huskies head coach Jim Madigan said. "Not having the success in the first half of the season that we would have wanted, we've been playing better of late. ... It's nice to get the win because it just rewards our kids for the effort they've been putting forth."
The Huskies trailed the play for much of the first period, but jumped ahead on senior assistant captain Mike McMurtry's second goal of the season at the 18:07 mark.
McMurtry found the back of the net for the second time in four games, taking a feed across the sheet from junior Brendan Collier from his left side and sliding a backhander past Spartan senior Jake Hildebrand through traffic.
It was not all good in the opening 20 minutes for the Huskies as senior defenseman Matt Benning took a hard hit from MSU's Brennan Sanford and was slow to get up. Benning didn't return following the collision, but Madigan said that was just a precautionary measure.
"I thought our D, because of that, stepped up really well," Madigan said. "We were rotation five defensemen, and Matt Benning is our go-to guy in every situation defensively, so it was a big loss for us."
Freshman Ryan Ruck faced 14 MSU shots in the opening stanza, turning them all away to keep the Huskies in the lead at the first intermission for just the second time this season.
"From what I saw, they were a pretty physical team (and took) a lot of shots from everywhere," Ruck said. "They're a good team, but we played pretty well."
After redshirt senior Derick Roy struggled in the starting job out of the gate this season, Ruck has come in and asserted himself quite well. The California native was 0-9-2 in his first 11 decisions, but finally emerged victorious against the Spartans.
"It feels pretty good to get your first win," Ruck said. "We were working hard all year, myself and the team, to get that. It was really a team effort tonight. Everyone played pretty well and made my job easy."
The Huskies had their way in the second period, holding a 13-5 shooting advantage en route to doubling their lead at 8:14. Assistant captain Zach Aston-Reese continued a five-game point streak by scoring the goal, tipping home classmate John Stevens' pass from the slot.
A New York native, Aston-Reese camped out at Hildebrand's left crease and got a stick on Stevens' toss to the front of the net. The goal was Aston-Reese's fourth during his present point streak and sixth in NU's final nine games of 2015.
Aston-Reese scored his goal on a power play which came as a result of MSU's second of four consecutive penalties over the final two periods. The Spartans had just three chances on the man advantage, to NU's five, in the game.
"Our penalty kill has been real consistent, and I thought we went to the well a little too much tonight," Spartans head coach Tom Anastos said. "(Stevens) showed some real poise holding onto the puck. It was late in the penalty kill, we got tired, and he made a real great play for a goal."
Junior Thomas Ebbing benefited from a fortunate bounce as he scored at the 12:53 mark of the third period. Rookie Mason Appleton's shot from the left side moved through traffic in front, redirecting past Ruck off Ebbing's skate in the crease.
"We had lots of respect for their team coming in," Anastos said of Northeastern. "I thought they played a tough schedule and didn’t think their record was indicative of their team, and I thought they played real hard tonight. I liked how hard we played, and special teams became a difference in the game. It was a tough college hockey game."
The Huskies responded after the goal and managed to keep a 9-8 shots advantage for the third period. Hildebrand was pulled for just 21 seconds as NU entered the zone quickly upon any chance the Spartans had to put on an extra skater.
Ruck stopped seven of the shots he faced in the final frame, despite a déjà vu moment for the Huskies on the Spartans' late goal.
"He's gotten better every game, and his experience has been in games where he's had to get better," Madigan said. "There's always been one of those fluky type of goals that go in, and it happened again tonight. ... You're just thinking, 'Here we go again,' because we've been in that situation twice in the last four games. I just liked the way we played with a little bit more composure after that."
Life doesn't easier for the Huskies after the holidays as a 15-1-2 Quinnipiac team visits Matthews Arena on Jan. 2, 2016.