Last year proved to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde one for Northeastern. After breaking out to an 11-8-5 record, culminating in an undefeated January, the Huskies were looking like an NCAA bubble team. Then they lost seven of eight games in February and finished with nine straight losses and 11 out of 12.
They won’t have an easy row to hoe this year either, with tough nonconference games against Wisconsin, St. Lawrence, St. Cloud, Dartmouth, Rensselaer and Notre Dame, not to mention additional ones in the Beanpot against Boston University and either Boston College or Harvard. Adding the always-tough Hockey East games, Northeastern will likely be playing one of the 10 toughest schedules in the country.
“We have a lot of things to prove,” says coach Bruce Crowder. “We’ve got ourselves a tough schedule, but in the past we’ve tended to play well against good teams. I hope we can make a statement or move ahead a little bit.”
Before coming to Northeastern, Crowder led UMass-Lowell to two NCAA quarterfinal appearances in a three-year span, coming within an overtime loss of reaching the Frozen Four. The drive to duplicate that success at Northeastern, however, has stalled.
Even so, this year may be a unique one.
For the first time, Crowder will have a Northeastern team consisting entirely of “his” players. That is, ones that he and his staff recruited.
— Northeastern head coach Bruce Crowder
“Now if we don’t do well,” Crowder quips, “It’s all my fault!”
Even more importantly, this year’s squad will be much more heavily laden with upperclassmen than any he’s had at Northeastern.
“If you want to be successful in college hockey, you have to have your seniors carry the ball,” says Crowder. “We have seven seniors this year and in my first four years here we only had nine total.
“You can feel a lot more maturity within the guys. They’ve got a bit of an edge on them. They want to prove something to the rest of the hockey community that they can play.
“We can’t use any of the excuses that we’re young anymore. We’ve got 16 juniors or seniors that are in the lineup. It’s time for these guys — especially the seniors — to step up and make a name for themselves in Division I hockey.”
The starting point for making a name for themselves will be on the blue line. Northeastern can boast one of the stronger defensive corps in the league.
“It’s our best position without a doubt,” says Crowder. “You look at the top five guys in [John] Peterman, [Mike] Jozefowicz, [Jim] Fahey, [Rich] Spiller and [Arik] Engbrecht. Those five guys are as good as anybody that I’ve had play defense for me. They’re mobile. They’ve got hockey sense and they’re going to be a very big part of this team this year.
“Our biggest thing defensively is that we’ve got to stay healthy. That’s one of the things that has hurt us in the years gone by. We lost Engbrecht for a year, we lost Aaron Toews a few years back, we lost Peterman for most of last year and we lost [Brian] Sullivan from the Beanpot on.
“We have to stay healthy. If we can have those five guys play 35 games for us, I think we’re going to be pretty successful.”
The picture is considerably less clear in goal. Two years ago, Jason Braun saw the bulk of the action as a freshman. Last year, Mike Gilhooly did the same thing. Both had their moments, but neither one made anybody forget about Marc Robitaille, the All-American who preceded them. Also in the mix is Todd Marr, a redshirt freshman, who played juniors over the second half of last year.
“I think the jury is still out,” says Crowder. “We need one of those guys to step forward and through his actions tell us that he’s the number one guy. It’s my job and no one is taking it from me. That’s done by hard work, being a leader and obviously keeping the pucks out of the net.
“Basically, we’re asking this guy to stop the first one. We have enough experience defensively to have guys clearing the puck away. The guys know what our system is defensively. They’ve been working on it for two or three years now as individuals, so that really shouldn’t be a problem.
“You need the kid to pull you out of the fire and make spectacular saves at times, too, but I don’t think it’s like we have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores in front of them this year. His job isn’t going to be like it was a couple years ago.”
The one other major question involves the Huskies’ anemic offense. In many games, the Huskies held the advantage territorially and in the shot totals, but couldn’t bury the puck.
“When we went through our tough stretch in February where we only won one out of eight games, I think we probably outshot everybody in those games,” says Crowder. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean diddly at that end of the night except on the score sheet and it still doesn’t mean diddly there.
“We need Brian Cummings to come to the forefront like he did his freshman year. This is his senior year. If Matt Keating can give us 20 points, I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape.
“Graig Mischler is another guy. He led our team in scoring last year [with 23 points] but if we’re going to make hay in Hockey East, we need our leading scorer to have 35-40. So you run down the list: Willie Levesque; Mike Ryan is going to be a year older and a year stronger; we’ve got a freshman, Scott Selig, who has some offensive ability and another freshman, Ryan Dudgeon.
“The guys that consider themselves offensive guys or go-to guys need to fulfill those roles.”
Ultimately, though, Crowder considers goaltending to be the make-or-break position.
“You’ve got to have a kid who’s going to stop the puck and be the difference maker,” he says. “A team is not going to be successful without it.”