Is it great momentum or horrendous momentum? If you’re a glass-half-full Husky fan you can point to the seven-of-eight points your team earned over the final two weekends to come oh-so-close to a playoff berth. Only BU’s overtime goal at New Hampshire denied that quest. You can also point to the 11-7-5 record from December on.
If, however, you’re a glass-half-empty Husky fan, you don’t want to hear about near misses. All you know is that the team opened last season 0-9-2 to all but bury itself before the Thanksgiving leftovers had been consumed. And the bottom line was a second consecutive year in the cellar with no playoffs. You’re not a happy camper.
While there is some cause for concern, there’s even more reason for cautious optimism.
“We have a good mixture of kids here,” coach Bruce Crowder says. “If we can get our key players playing the way they should play and we get our role players bringing it up a notch and helping out offensively and chipping in here and there, then it’s going to come down to goaltending. If you’re an NHL coach or the Nashua PeeWee coach, you’ve got to have the guy between the pipes being a difference-maker.
“That’s why throughout the league, there are some question marks. There are a lot of good goalies that graduated last year so it’s going to make it interesting how quickly the replacements get up to speed.”
Enter Keni Gibson. The senior netminder took Northeastern by storm as a freshman back in 2001-02, going 14-5-1 before running out of gas and losing his last five contests. Ever since, he’s been perceived as having fallen short of what that initial promise showed. In fairness, the other five guys on the ice for Northeastern the past two years have all too often fallen short themselves, often by greater margins than Gibson. But such is the goaltending position. Gibson needs to reach higher heights more consistently in this his senior year.
“There’s no doubt that we need Keni to be a difference-maker,” Crowder says. “He has had some ups and downs, but he had a great second half last year. He had some key shutouts against UMass and BC and Maine throughout the year. So there’s no doubt that he can do it.
“I think part of his great run in the second half was the time we were able to have Tim Heneroty come in and mop up. He pushed Keni a little bit and that’s what we’re looking for again this year, too, that we’re going to get some great play out of both of those guys and Gera [Adam Geragosian]. It’s going to be very interesting competition for that number two spot.”
More maturity on the blue line should help whomever is between the Husky pipes. The group is lead by seniors Tim Judy and Jon Awe, but it’s collective fortunes likely ride on the shoulders of sophomores Brian Deeth, Bryan Cirullo, and Steve Birnstill. The trio had some growing pains as 18-year-old freshmen, but turned the corner midseason and will be expected to contribute in a significant way.
“The three of them got a lot of quality playing time last year and there were times when they had a chance to sit, too,” Crowder says with a rueful laugh. “They knew that was a reality, too, if they didn’t play well. we knew we were going to have bumps in the road, we knew that we couldn’t expect unbelievable things out of kids that age back there and at times we had to live with them and at times we had to give them a rest.
“For the most part, it was a good learning experience for the three 18-year-olds all around. They got better as the year went along, which is what we wanted to have happen. They definitely played their best hockey at the end of the year.
“With the combination of the competitiveness that Tim Judy brings to the table and the play we got out of [Jonathan] Koop at times last year, I like our D. I really do. With Johnny Awe, [Donny] Grover and Chuckie Tomes, we’ve got eight kids who have played before and they all had pretty good games throughout last year. That’s going to bode well for us. We’ve got some tough decisions to make in deciding the six who will play.”
The forwards are led by Jason Guerriero, Mike Morris and Brian Swiniarski, but this is not a group with significant scoring depth. Ray Ortiz and Yale Lewis made good impressions as freshmen. Their ability to step up into larger roles could go a long way in determining how productive the group collectively will be.
“Eric Ortlip is a kid that we look to replace,” Crowder says. “He’s a kid who had a great year for us last year in all respects. I just think as a whole that we have to find a way to score more goals. I know there are mandates from the NCAA on cutting down the [interference] away from the puck and maybe that will open things up a little bit.
“We’ve got to get more offense and we’ve got to get better on the defensive side. We’ve got to get better on our power-play and penalty-killing percentages. If we can handle those four things, obviously it’s going to make us a better team.”