BOSTON -- Several close losses and injuries to key players put Northeastern in yet another hole from the outset, but the Huskies’ upward trend continued Friday night with, again, the start to the season’s second half.
Thanks to senior assistant captain Zach Aston-Reese’s second hat trick in as many games and five other players finding the back of the net and a career-high 38 saves from sophomore Ryan Ruck, the Huskies coasted to their sixth consecutive non-conference win ― an 8-2 decision over Clarkson at Matthews Arena.
“I thought our energy was good to start the game,” said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan, whose team stands just 1-6-2 in Hockey East play despite a 7-7-4 overall record.
“We got a couple (goals early), got a break on that second goal and it was a snowball effect from there. We were good around the net, I thought we were opportunistic around the net.”
Aston-Reese ― whose 17 goals rank second in the nation, only to Union’s Mike Vecchione ― was the Huskies’ offensive leader once again as he also scored three goals in a Dec. 18 win at Michigan State.
The Staten Island, N.Y., native moved into a tie for 29th on Northeastern’s all-time scoring list with 117 career points with his third collegiate hat trick, which he finished with an unassisted tally 13:41 into the third period.
Aston-Reese is one of just two players in college hockey with eight power-play goals or hat tricks in back-to-back games on the season. He is tied with Robert Morris junior Brady Ferguson for the national lead in the former category.
“He’s in a good zone,” Madigan said of Aston-Reese, who has scored 11 goals and seven assists in his last seven games. “He’s shooting the puck well, getting it off quickly. He had a couple good chances earlier in the first period and could have had five or six there, and he stuck with it. It shows me the maturity because he was a little frustrated there.
“If he’s not the best college free agent, I haven’t seen who’s better than him.”
Additionally, sophomore Adam Gaudette tied a career-high with four points, scoring a goal and adding three assists.
The Golden Knights used all three goaltenders in the contest, and Aston-Reese scored against all three ― once shorthanded, once on the power play and once at even strength.
“My shot has been something I’ve been working on after practice with John Stevens and (junior linemate Dylan) Sikura, and it’s starting to show,” said Aston-Reese. “We’re just playing off each other well and I’m getting some fortunate bounces.”
Sophomore Lincoln Griffin lifted the Huskies just 47 seconds into the contest, then junior defenseman Garret Cockerill added the game-winner less than two minutes later. Those two markers gave Ruck all the support he would need for his seventh win.
Griffin intercepted a pass in the right circle en route to scoring the game’s first goal, his fifth of the season. After fellow Thayer Academy product Adam Gaudette fired a shot on Clarkson freshman Jake Kielly, Griffin got to the front and banged in the rebound.
Cockerill’s fourth goal of the season came unassisted at 2:17, as his shot from the right wall bounced off a defender and past Kielly, immediately after the Huskies settled for dumping the puck into the offensive zone.
Gaudette sprung Sikura through the neutral zone and Clarkson’s defense for a wrister on the power play at 7:54. Freshman Matt Filipe extended NU’s run to four goals at 11:49, taking senior and fellow Malden Catholic alum Brendan Collier’s nifty feed through the crease for third goal of the season.
“(Clarkson is) an aggressive team with the way they forecheck and the defense are up,” Madigan said. “They have some great gaps, and it created some opportunities for us on odd-man rushes and at the net. I thought, for the most part, we stuck with our game plan.”
The visitors got one goal back at 15:31 as junior Nic Pierog finished defenseman Terrance Amorosa’s feed on a 2-on-1, but Aston-Reese reestablished NU’s four-goal lead on a shorthanded odd-man rush with senior Tanner Pond just 92 seconds into the middle frame.
Gaudette became the third Husky to the ten-goal mark this season at 8:19 of the second, switching roles with Griffin by cleaning up a rebound on the doorstep. Aston-Reese’s man-up tally came at 13:59, at the end of an outstanding passing sequence with classmate John Stevens and Gaudette.
“There’s just a lot of chemistry (on the line) right now,” said Aston-Reese. “I don’t even need to really look anymore. I can just know when I’m going to get the puck and when those guys are going to be open.”
The teams traded single goals in the third. Before Aston-Reese’s third goal of the night, Clarkson senior Perry D’Arrisso scored on a 2-on-1 rush shorthanded at 8:01.