BOSTON -- With the likes of Dylan Sikura, Adam Gaudette and Nolan Stevens in the lineup, Northeastern knew that its offense was all but a sure thing entering this season.
Just one weekend is in the books, and it sure is a sure thing. Sikura and Gaudette finished as two of four Huskies with three-point nights, teaming up on three different goals en route to a 7-0 win over Atlantic Hockey foe Sacred Heart at Matthews Arena Saturday night.
“I thought tonight was a lot better effort in how we played, particularly in the second and third periods,” said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan, whose team improved to 2-0-0 for the first time since 2013-14 following the weekend’s 7-3 and 7-0 results. “I just thought we got back to our foundation and how we need to play.
“I liked our approach and our mindset. These games are hard to play when you’re up by a few goals like we were, and I liked the way our guys, for the most part, kept their composure.”
Sikura scored back-to-back goals to open the game for the hosts and added an assist to junior linemate Gaudette. The senior winger’s game-winning goal came just 3:47 in. In all, nine different players recorded points in the game in which the Huskies held a 35-18 shooting advantage.
LOTS OF OFFENSE, BUT...
Scoring was the obvious story for the Huskies, but Montreal Canadiens goaltending prospect Cayden Primeau pitched an 18-save shutout in his collegiate debut. While Primeau was not tested in great quantities, Madigan left the game impressed with his new goaltender’s play.
“I thought he made some real good lower-body saves with his legs,” Madigan said. “I just liked that he played with some poise and composure, particularly from a freshman in his first game. It was warm in the building, so pucks were jumping a little bit and he had to be on his toes.”
Primeau made five saves in less than seven minutes to keep the Huskies ahead by two goals in the first period, and then saw the most action in an eight-save second.
Madigan split the weekend in goal after junior Ryan Ruck made 19 stops on 22 shots in Friday’s series and season opener. Primeau’s play has created a competition in the crease that the Huskies have not seen in years, as Ruck started all but one game last season and 26 consecutive to end his freshman season.
The aforementioned forwards were all expected to be big contributors to the Huskies’ play again, but freshman Zach Solow could not have asked for a better collegiate debut weekend.
Solow entered Northeastern with the credentials to make an impact as the reigning USHL Forward of the Year for the Dubuque Fighting Saints, and he backed it up with two more goals in the contest. He leads the Huskies with six points on the season after scoring twice and adding two assists in the opener.
“We saw last year in his junior league that he’s a smart, cerebral player and he’s got deceptive quickness and speed, but he thinks the game really well,” Madigan said. “We lost John Stevens who was probably the smartest player we’ve had during my six years, but he has some of the same ingredients.
“He’s got to continue playing with a little bit more pace, which he’ll work on as he gets acclimated to the college game, but I’m obviously really happy with his weekend.”
Sophomore Matt Filipe was Solow’s primary assistor on both goals, two plays that showed what the newcomer is capable of producing for Madigan’s club. Filipe drove down the wing, around the net and found Solow crashing down the slot 11:25 into the second period before he followed up a rebound for the game’s final goal at the 1:20 mark of the third.
Solow was also on the receiving end of SHU sophomore Austin McIlmurray’s hard hit along the boards that resulted in a major boarding penalty with 1:10 to play in regulation, but Madigan confirmed he would be OK following the game.
SPECIAL PLAYERS MADE SPECIAL PLAYS
Sikura and Gaudette, surely two popular preseason choices to win Hockey East Player of the Year, were held out of the goal column in Friday’s opener despite posting two assists apiece, but both returned in a big way in this one.
The Blackhawks prospect made dazzling plays to score the game’s first two goals, amassing his first multi-goal game since scoring a third-period natural hat trick last Jan. 27 at UMass Lowell.
At 3:47, the senior took a feed from Gaudette, who corralled the puck from defenseman Garret Cockerill, sped into the zone and rifled a wrister off the right post and in past Sacred Heart senior Nathan Perry. Sikura did it by himself in a 4-on-4 situation at the 9:31 marker, going coast-to-coast for a snapper over Perry’s blocker.
“We got off to a great start with a 4-0 lead, but it wasn’t like we played well,” Madigan said. “Sikura made a couple nice plays, which he can do, and scored.”
While Sikura did score himself for the first two times this season, it was a positive sign for the Huskies to see other names contribute to the scoring. Among those was sophomore Grant Jozefek added his third goal of the series 17:31 into the first period after scoring just once in 10 games last season.
The two reversed roles with 1:26 left in the second period as Sikura fed Gaudette for a one-timer from the left circle and his 22nd career power-play goal.
“I thought we had a lot of depth this weekend,” Sikura said. “I know that was kind of a concern for us last year, but it’s good to see guys like Jozefek, Filipe and obviously a freshman Solow helping out. When they leave me, (Gaudette and Stevens) off the scoreboard on the first night and we still get seven, it’s refreshing.”