BOSTON — The core struggles that the Northeastern Huskies and Maine Black Bears have each faced this year were on display for 2,938 to see at Matthews Arena Friday night. It was fitting that the game ended as a 1-1 draw, realistically helping neither side in a year where they both desperately need every possible point.
The deficiencies that have put these squads in ninth and 10th place were, in a sense, complimentary. The Huskies, who are struggling for defensive consistency, found a Maine team that could not finish on their best chances, despite throwing 43 shots on goal.
“There were a lot of shots that were just [barely] blocked,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said after the game, adding that his team was working on different offensive schemes. “We’re getting there — it’s not there yet. At least we’re thinking [the plays] better.”
Conversely, each team’s strengths were seen — the flashy breakout plays of Northeastern’s Cody Ferriero and Kevin Roy were matched by the vastly improved play of Maine’s Martin Ouellette, who stopped all but one of the Huskies’ 32 shots. Ouellette has now allowed just 15 goals in his last 9 games.
“I thought they got very good goaltending, [Ouellette] made a couple of good combination saves in the third period,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said, adding that his goalie, Rawlings, made 42 saves of his own. “Both goalies were the story of the game.”
That was definitely true in the second half of the game; all of the scoring came in the first 26 minutes.
The Huskies, as they have in 10 of their 18 games this season, lit the lamp first. At 16:06 into the period, Roy — who has carried the banner for Northeastern’s offense all season as a rookie — followed up a shot from the right circle, retrieved Ouellette’s rebound and flicked it through a pile of traffic into the back of the net.
Northeastern outshot Maine, 13-10, in the first period, but as the game transitioned to the second, the Huskies grew more tentative with the puck, hesitant to pull the trigger on scoring chances and nervous when clearing the defensive zone.
The Black Bears took advantage, immediately controlling the pace of play. At 5:27 into the frame, the early pressure paid off. Adam Shemansky, circling behind the net, found freshman Bill Norman near the goal line, and on the acute angle, Norman sniped the top right corner of the net for his first career goal, tying the game.
While the second period was lacking in Grade ‘A’ chances, Maine littered the Northeastern zone with shots, posting 18 to Northeastern’s eight, and that trend continued into the third.
Despite this, Northeastern’s defense — a liability late in games this season — began to make key stops, though sometimes it took what Madigan called a “second layer” of defense to close down a scoring chance after a lapse elsewhere.
The anchor for the defensive effort was sophomore transfer Dax Lauwers, who skated with poise throughout the game, delivered some solid hits, and gave up his body on multiple occasions to block shots.
“He would stand in front of a bullet,” Rawlings said of Lauwers. “He would do anything to just block shots. He knows his role and he does it very well.”
Lauwers wasn’t confined to a single role during the game, though. At the start of overtime, he bailed out defensive partner Josh Manson on the backcheck, breaking up a Maine two-on-one by tipping a saucer-pass with his outstretched stick. His tenacious play seemed contagious, as the Huskies unselfishly blocked several shots late.
“It’s the type of game we want to play here — hard-nosed, get in front of pucks, take the body,” Lauwers added. “We’re definitely getting better as a defensive corps, working together, better in the zone, more comfortable.”
Still, both Northeastern and Maine are looking for more than just marginal improvement. Each team has just one win apiece in their last 11 Hockey East games, and the opposition won’t get any easier. Maine will travel to North Andover, Mass., tomorrow night to face Merrimack, while Northeastern will face rivals Boston University and Boston College next weekend.