A year ago at this time, Northeastern bench boss Jim Madigan had barely unpacked his office when he was forced to be thinking about serving as head coach for the first time in his career.
Hired in August, Madigan had just two weeks before players arrived on campus and a short six-week window before the Huskies played their first game.
Needless to say, that lack of adjustment period played a major role in Northeastern missing the Hockey East playoffs, losing a tiebreaker with Massachusetts for the final spot.
This year, that lack of a learning curve is something Madigan hopes can help.
His team will get a lot of help by some talented returning forwards. Last year’s rookie phenom Ludwig Karlsson will be joined by guys like Garrett Vermeersch, third on the team in scoring last season.
“We return five of our top six forwards,” Madigan said. “And the additions we have made up front, we feel like we have a good complement of forwards who can score some goals.”
If there is one area for concern it is on the blue line. Northeastern lost offensive-minded defenseman Anthony Bitetto to the NHL. Add to it that defense was the Achilles’ heel for last year’s squad and it’s no surprise Madigan identifies team defense as his No. 1 concern.
“We’ll be a little young on the back end,” Madigan said. “Losing a kid like Bitetto last year, we lose a lot of skills. But our forwards are good enough that if we move the puck quickly we’ll be good.”
The highlight for the offseason may have been Madigan’s ability to attract blue-chip recruit Kevin Roy. Originally committed to go to Brown, Roy’s late change of heart to join his brother Derick, a freshman goaltender at Northeastern, was music to Madigan’s ears.
“Any time you can attract a top player and you watch a player and see what he is capable of doing is great,” Madigan said. “He’s a hell of a player. He’s smart, he’s heady, he’s a goal scorer. Now it’s making that adjustment to college hockey.”
If there is any dark horse in Hockey East this year, it has to be Northeastern. And if all that Madigan speaks of comes true, this could be a team that turns some heads.
About the Huskies
2011-12 overall record: 13-16-5
2011-12 Hockey East record: 9-14-4 (tie, eighth)
2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: ninth; Dave: eighth
Key losses: F Mike McLaughlin, D Anthony Bitetto
Players to watch: G Chris Rawlings, F Ludwig Karlsson
Impact rookie: F Kevin Roy
Why the Huskies will finish higher than predicted: There is a lot of experience on this team and coach Jim Madigan, in his second year, will be much more settled in this season than last.
Why the Huskies will finish lower than predicted: Northeastern lacked consistency much of last season. If it doesn’t bring the same night-in-night-out effort, it could be another year without playoffs on Huntington Avenue.