BOSTON -- Even with the skill Northeastern’s lineup has, not every game is going to be pretty over the course of the lengthy college hockey season.
Friday night was one of those nights at Matthews Arena.
Down a goal with less than half of the third period to play, the Huskies dug deep to snag a 2-1 win over Vermont, as sophomore defensemen Ryan Shea and Jeremy Davies each scored goals within the final 8:10 of regulation time.
“This is one of those types of games where you can get frustrated a little bit because the other team’s goalie (Vermont sophomore Stefanos Lekkas) played really well and they did a good job clearing rebounds,” said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan, whose team moves to 5-1-0 in Hockey East play for the first time since 1985-86.
“We only had 27 shots, but I thought we had some quality looks, two posts and a crossbar, and we weren’t able to capitalize in the first two periods. Particularly in the third period, I liked the way we stayed with it, knowing we’re going to have to get an ugly goal and grind it out.”
Goaltending was a key on both sides in the low-scoring affair, which was the Huskies’ first victory by a 2-1 score since a Dec. 19, 2015 win over Michigan State. Lekkas held the hosts’ potent attack off the board in a 14-save first period, while Northeastern freshman Cayden Primeau made half of his 20 stops in the final frame.
Ebbs, Flows …
Sometimes, hockey is a funny game.
The opening 20 minutes were about as lopsided as they come, although the scoreboard read 0-0 when the buzzer sounded. Northeastern had a whopping 36-10 advantage in shot attempts in the opening period, and not a single one of Vermont’s came from Grade-A range.
Just 1:14 into the second period, it was Vermont freshman Alex Esposito who scored the game’s first goal, burying a rebound from sophomore linemate Derek Lodermeier’s backhanded shot from the top of the crease.
It forced the Huskies to play from behind after the second period for just the second time in 11 games this season, and it was one of those nights where the sheer will to win would trump the Huskies’ skill. Play in the defensive zone has been a letdown to Northeastern in the past, but it has been a concerted effort this year.
“I think we’ve defended a lot better this year, and that was part of what we tried to work on from Day One,” Madigan said. “This league’s a tough league. We’ve tried to instill in our players’ minds that we’re going to have to win 2-1 and 3-2. It gives the team confidence … that if we’re up one or down one, we’re still in the game.”
Both Northeastern goals came off the sticks of blue liners, and were tallied in complete opposite fashion. Shea let a wrister sail through traffic that screened Lekkas at the top of his crease at the 11:50 mark. At 17:48, Davies took senior Dylan Sikura’s cross-ice pass, sped past a defender, and ripped the game-winning shot across the grain, off the left post and in.
While not the most comfortable of situations to be in with the game on the line, the Huskies pulled through in support of their confident rookie stopper, who improved to 3-2-1 on the season with the victory.
“We’re going to be in situations like that over the course of this year,” Primeau said. “We were only down 1-0, so it wasn’t the end of the world; if we get one, it’s a tie game, we’re back in it, and who knows? And, we came back.
“We have some of the best guys in the nation, so playing with them every day and building off of practice and knowing how they play, I have a lot of confidence.”
… and Big Saves
The ebbs and flows of Friday’s game have been true in describing Primeau’s season, too. After all, that’s natural for a freshman.
On this night though, he came through in the clutch with multiple stops that could be placed in the game-saving category, including a pad stop on Esposito’s shorthanded breakaway just before the Huskies tied the game.
“That position is a tough position to play, and he’s getting better,” Madigan said. “We’re starting to see that consistency, which is really good. Certainly, our players have a lot of confidence in him, and at the end of the day, he was the difference in the game. We got two goals, but he kept us in the game and allowed us to get the win.”
Early on, a majority of the saves were being made in the other net. Similarly, Lekkas, whose 345 saves in just 11 games are a nation-leading mark, kept the visitors in what finished as their fifth one-goal game of the season.
“Our game got better as it wore on,” Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “I thought Northeastern looked pretty dynamic in the first period, the first 10 minutes in particular. Obviously, they launched a lot of shots at us and our goaltender allowed us to stay in the hockey game.”