BOSTON — There is always an obvious contrast in postgame comments from winning and losing coaches.
But after St. Lawrence (6-3-2, 0-2-2 ECAC) emerged with a 5-2 romp over Northeastern (4-7-1, 2-6-1 Hockey East) at Matthews Arena on Friday, the topic of conversation barely touched specific plays on the ice and became a stark comparison of intangibles defining each team’s identity – heart, character and compete level.
For the Saints, after being ripped apart by Quinnipiac on home ice just one week ago, putting all of those qualities together during the week led to their dominating win on Friday night.
“Our game plan was to come out and compete real hard for 60 minutes,” said St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel. “We’re not a real high-skill team. We try to be a high character team. And I thought we played like we wanted to tonight.”
On the flip side, some of those intangibles have been lacking for Northeastern of late. Huskies coach Jim Madigan showed visible frustration with his team’s effort level Friday night, an issue which had been nagging for several weeks in conference play.
“We have to take stock in that locker room and [find] which way we want to go,” Madigan said. “We can continue feeling sorry for ourselves, have a little pity party, or we can decide we want to be like men and answer the bell. Each and every one of those guys in that locker room was challenged tonight to see how they want to respond.”
Early on, it seemed like Northeastern was up to the task. At 13:25 into the first period, Ludwig Karlsson was handed the puck from Vinny Saponari in the right-wing corner. Karlsson walked into the right circle and ripped the puck top-shelf past Matt Weninger (21 saves) for his fifth goal of the season to put the Huskies up 1-0.
The lead proved to be fleeting.
With just a minute left in the period and the Huskies pressing in the offensive zone, Drew Ellement pinched in from the top of the slot to aid Saponari, who had lost the puck from a stick check along the wall. Ellement was unable to retrieve the puck, leading to a rush for the Saints, and a scramble for defensive coverage for the Huskies. The resulting chaos drew several shots towards net and a rebound bounced to Jeremy Wick on the left side. Wick then found Greg Carey at the top of the crease, who deked past Bryan Mountain to tie the game.
“We’ve had that happen to us the last couple games, where we let up a goal late in the period, in games where we were ahead and playing really well,” Carvel noted. “It was definitely a momentum changer; it was a huge goal for us.”
The change in momentum continued through the second period as the Saints put up 16 shots, peppering Mountain (34 saves) and pinning the Huskies deep in their own zone.
Midway through the period, Gunnar Hughes picked up his third tally of the year, stuffing it past Mountain from behind the net on a power play.
While the lead was only 2-1 for the Saints at the time, less than two minutes later, a bad bounce became the dagger, as Kyle Flanagan blasted a loose puck into a wide-open net after an initial shot from Patrick Doherty was blocked. Another bounce went the Saints’ way in the third, when Huskies’ defenseman Dax Lauwers inadvertently knocked the puck into his own goal while sliding back to block a centering pass.
St. Lawrence’s relentless forecheck was part of the pregame approach for Carvel, forcing the Huskies to lose battles along the wall. Helping the Saints control the puck was their advantage in the faceoff circle, winning 43 of 65 draws on the night.
“I knew our guys would come out hard tonight,” said Carvel as his team ended a four-game winless streak. “We had a good week of practice after being pretty much embarrassed on our home rink. It was a really good St. Lawrence hockey game because we were physical and pressured them.”
The loss was the seventh for the Huskies in their last 10 games and Madigan acknowledged that his players were struggling to find the motivation to step up and help the team improve.
“Each and every one of them needs to look deep inside themselves and say ‘What more can I do for the team and what more can I do for myself?’” Madigan said. “A lot of times in that locker room, when we talk about how we want to play, not everyone understands that we’re talking about each and every one of them. Some of them will separate themselves and say, ‘It’s not me; they’re talking about the next guy.’”