Boston — If any sports fan needed convincing that college hockey was a great product, Friday’s 4-4 tie between Beanpot rivals Boston University and Northeastern should have sold them.
The raucous crowd at historic Matthews Arena provided a great atmosphere as the defending Hockey East champion Huskies battled neck-and-neck with the Terriers, this year’s favorite in one of college hockey’s top conferences.
“I thought it was obviously an entertaining college hockey game with two teams who played hard. The fans got their money’s worth. There was a lot of excitement in the building. It was great to see the building full. Our doghouse was loud and got us going,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan.
The game had a little bit of everything: transition goals, power play goals, a shorthanded goal, and a goal with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
In a back-and-forth early season game, there was plenty of emotion. Each team had one of their top players issued a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
“We lose one of our best players for 10 minutes because he wants to celebrate. I know that’s the generation we live in, but that’s not what BU hockey is about. That was addressed and people won’t see that again out of our team,” said David Quinn.
The game’s number one star was BU freshman Clayton Keller, the seventh overall selection of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2016 NHL Draft. His first period shorthanded goal was a thing of beauty, albeit off a terrible turnover by a Northeastern defender. He batted the puck to himself in midair before reaching around and tucking it past Ryan Ruck to knot the score at one.
Gaudette Emerging as Super Star
It’s entirely possible that there has never been a more under-appreciated player in Hockey East than Northeastern sophomore Adam Gaudette. Outside of the Huskies’ locker room, the 2015 fifth round pick of the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t get close to the recognition he deserves.
Gaudette scored a key third period goal Friday night to extend his goal scoring streak to five games.
“I’m just trying to shoot the puck more. I’m trying to get shots from everywhere. I’m trying to change the angles, get it on net whenever I can,” said Guadette. “My shot’s always been a big part of game.”
“Offensively, he’s explosive when he gets inside that blue line. He has a real good shot. He curls it back in. He has a couple of goals like he did tonight,” Madigan added.
Gaudette, who was drafted out of Cedar Rapids in the USHL, has always been known as a two-way center, but he’s elevated his game and become a big time pro prospect.
While his shot is what most fans will notice, he made a key block on the penalty kill in the third period and made countless good plays throughout all 200 feet of the ice Friday night.
“He’s been really good from day one. He’s playing 200 feet, and responsible. He’s in a zone,” said Madigan.
Sweeney Checks in on McAvoy, Forsbacka Karlsson
Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney was at Matthews Arena Friday night to take in the game and check in on prospects Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
It was a perfect example of how plus/minus can be a deceiving statistic. McAvoy, the Bruins first round pick in this past summer’s NHL Draft, was -2, but his play was very good overall.
Especially in the first two periods, McAvoy’s ability to break the puck out of his own zone was crucial to the Terriers keeping possession going in their favor. His skating, vision, poise and ability to slow the game down are all elite. He made several very good lead passes and can skate the puck out of trouble.
“Obviously, he’s got incredible skill. He’s got great poise with the puck. He’s been doing that for a long time. It’s why he’s a first round pick and so highly thought of,” said Quinn.
He’s able to make zone entries and pull up to start an offensive zone play. The other skill that was on display Friday night was his ability to protect the puck with his footwork and size. He is able to quickly change which side of his body the puck is on to keep it away from opposing players coming at him.
In his defensive zone, McAvoy is able to close quickly with his explosive stride. He has a good reach and does a good job staying in position to defend against his man more times than not.
Forsbacka Karlsson was held off the score sheet, but don’t let that fool you. He went 17-6 on draws, which is obviously a big reason BU had such success on the possession front through two periods.
“The face-off obviously determines a lot. You’re not chasing the game when you’re winning face-offs. Having a guy like him certainly allows you to control the game a little bit more. It gives you an upper edge on the other team. You can have more puck possession. He’s been great on face-offs for a long time,” Quinn said.
As Quinn talked about a few weeks ago, few players in college hockey have the skating ability and hockey IQ that the Stockholm, Sweden native possesses.
“We use him in so many situations. He’s got such poise. He’s so elusive. He’s a great skater. It’s an underrated part of his game. He’s shifty. He’s tough to defend. He’s got a great stick. He’s got a great head for the game. He’s got incredible composure and mental toughness. It’s why we use him to the point of exhaustion,” said Quinn after his team’s 3-0 win over Quinnipiac.
Huskies’ Rookies Impressing
Madigan and his staff welcomed three NHL Draft picks to campus as part of the 2016-17 freshman class, and all three are transitioning nicely to the college game.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Matt Filipe picked up the secondary assist on Dylan Sikura’s goal that evened the score, 3-3, but the shift exemplified the type of player he is.
Towards the end of his shift, his dogged forecheck down the left wing prevented BU from starting its breakout. While the former Cedar Rapids RoughRider won’t wow you with his hands or puck skills, he does a great job doing the little things and playing heavy on pucks.
“He’s a big body who is fast, physical and strong on pucks. When he’s moving his feet and taking pucks to the net, those are good things for us. He continued to stay on it and got the puck to Aston-Reese. He did a real nice job on the forecheck,” said Madigan.
“His game is continuing to mature and develop. It will over a period of time, similar to what Adam Gaudette went through last year. He’s in a good spot. He just has to be aware of situations a little, but we’re happy with his play this early in the season,” Madigan added.
Defensemen Ryan Shea (Chicago Blackhawks) and Jeremy Davies (New Jersey Devils) are more regarded for their offensive capabilities from the point, but both proved more than adequate at both ends of the ice Friday night.
“They’re real smart players. When you’re intelligent players, you can pick up things a little bit faster regardless of your class year. They’re smart. They know where to go on the ice. They’ve played a lot of hockey,” said Madigan.
Shea’s shot from the point with 55.6 seconds left was tipped home by Zach Aston-Reese to force overtime. The duo combined for six shots on goal and eight blocked shots.
“They’ve got good stick skills to balance with their intelligence. They’re going to play an awful lot for us this year. Eight games into it, they’re playing in key situations. Defensively, they’re getting better and better each game. They’re not afraid to block shots,” Madigan explained.