Dayton, Ohio — Last season, Northeastern didn’t earn a victory until December, starting the year with an 11-game winless streak.
This year the Huskies won their opener in style, stunning the preseason’s top-ranked team, Michigan, 4-2, in the first game of the Lefty McFadden Invitational. Keni Gibson made 31 saves between the pipes for the Huskies, while Jason Guerriero led the way with the game-winning goal along with two assists. Al Montoya stopped 30 Husky shots in a losing effort for the Wolverines.
“It was just a real smart game by our players; they deserve all the credit,” Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder said. “Jason Guerriero was a kid who almost didn’t make the trip, battled through some bumps and bruises and obviously he had a tremendous game. We need our best guys to play like that. Gibson was great in the net. I think that this team had a real dose of confidence tonight.”
Crowder said that Michigan’s top ranking was not used as a locker-room incentive.
“We didn’t bring it up at all,” Crowder said. “We just went about our job, our business. It’s just one game, and we’ve only been on the ice for three or four days, but I thought for the most part we didn’t make a lot of mental errors defensively. That’s part of the game where we’ve got a lot of guys. We didn’t change a whole lot systems-wise, and I think that showed tonight.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson was disappointed by the play of his Wolverines, acknowledging that the preseason No. 1 is a double-edged sword.
“No question,” Berenson said. “When you think you’re better and everyone tells you good you are and you haven’t played a game yet … This was a real game. There’s no more Windsors on our schedule, so you can forget about that No. 1 ranking; it’s gone. And that’s fine. We don’t deserve it anyway.”
In a rather whistle-happy game, the Wolverines got into a trouble in the second period, as the Huskies had several lengthy power plays.
“I don’t know if it was the rash of penalties that put us on our heels,” Berenson mused. “We had to kill off a five-on-three, and right at the end they scored. But we weren’t generating the offense, whether five-on-five or on the power play.
“They did a good job and kept the puck deep in our zone, and we weren’t generating good scoring chances. And we were giving up too many chances — Montoya had to stand on his head in the third period to keep the score what it was. We didn’t play well defensively or offensively.”
In a first period that featured referee Kevin Hall calling a tight game with seven minor penalties, both teams had ample opportunity to work on their power plays. With NU defenseman Chuck Tomes in the box midway through the period, Michigan notched the game’s first goal at 10:11.
Sophomore center T.J. Hensick had the puck low in the right-wing faceoff circle, and he nicely crossed the puck to Gajic, who was a few feet out from the far post. With half the net to shoot at, Gajic fired it in for the first goal of the season.
On another power play in the period’s last minute, the Huskies came close to tying the game. Freshman Josh Robertson looked confident with the puck, and after a lengthy possession the puck ended up in the middle of the crease. Montoya appeared to have no idea that the puck was there. The Huskies frantically swarmed the net, but the Wolverines dodged the bullet when the puck was cleared.
Just 13 seconds into period two, the Huskies were the fortunate ones, as Jeff Tambellini broke in and crossed to Mike Brown, and the puck went in off his skate. Hall immediately waved the goal off. But should the goal have stood?
“That’s a good question,” Berenson said. “If that goal counted, that changes the game a little bit. The pass was so hard from Tambellini to Brown that it’s hard for me to say that he directed it into the net intentionally. It did go off his foot, but was it intentional? I think there’s no way.”
Thirty-six seconds later, NU tied it. Guerriero raced into the Wolverine end and took a shot that Montoya saved, and the rebound was knocked home with the goal credited to Ray Ortiz.
Less than five minutes later, Michigan regained the lead. Senior David Moss got the puck low in the right-wing circle and made a deft move to his backhand before flipping the puck in high on Gibson’s stick side.
Another spate of penalties finally led to the game-tying goal by NU at 9:30. In the waning seconds of the power play, freshman Robertson got his first collegiate goal, trickling a shot through traffic to beat Montoya and make it 2-2.
“Obviously, it’s a great way to start out, a great feeling,” Robertson said. “I was just in the right place at the right time … It was a shot from the point, got tipped by Swiniarski. I just kind of pulled it back on the backhand, and it went through his legs.”
At 15:59, Northeastern took the lead, when Morris found Guerriero on the doorstep, where the senior pivotman calmly made a move to his backhand before slipping it in low past Montoya.
“Morris made a great play there,” Guerriero said. “We kind of made eye contact, and he put it right on my stick, gave me the time that I had. If he had held on to it, someone would have been on me. I made one little move on Montoya — he made the first move, so I kind of lucked out and put it underneath him.”
Fifteen seconds into period three, the Huskies almost obtained a two-goal cushion. Rushing on in the right wing, Ortiz fed to Guerriero crashing the far post, but Montoya stopped the tip-in attempt.
The top-ranked Wolverines had excellent chances to tie it up at the 12-minute mark. Gibson made a huge toe save on Tambellini from about 15 feet, and then — seconds later — Hensick had a good chunk of net to shoot at but missed the target.
The next several minutes featured plenty of action, as the Wolverines pressed to tie it while the Huskies effectively counterpunched with great chances for Ray Ortiz and Brian Swiniarski. With 51.3 seconds left, the Huskies iced it when Donny Grover’s slapshot from the left point beat Montoya to make it 4-2.
Northeastern (1-0-0) faces Miami Saturday, while Michigan (0-1-0) will try its luck against Boston University.