Agonizingly close last year, Northeastern looks to forward depth

So close and yet so far.

Northeastern finished four points out of third place in Hockey East last season but also a point out of the playoffs, a single point behind a Vermont team that went on to the NCAA tournament.

Just brutal.

With a healthy percentage of that so-close group coming back, however, the Huskies appear poised for a strong season.

In goal, Chris Rawlings returns following a roller-coaster freshman campaign that saw him go 15-14-2 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage, numbers that earned him a spot on the league all-rookie team.

“One of the things that Chris has got to learn is that when he has a bad period or a bad game, it’s over, it’s in the rear view mirror,” Northeastern coach Greg Cronin says. “If he can do that, he’s going to be real special.”

Three of last year’s top four scorers return. Wade MacLeod, Tyler McNeely and Garrett Vermeersch form the offensive core along with Steve Quailer, who was sidelined all of last year by injury. Alex Tuckerman and Steve Silva will be looking to rebound to 20-point form.

“We have six forwards who have scored 20 points in their careers,” Cronin says. “So there’s a lot of substance there.

“McLeod and McNeeley are our headline guys and Steve Quailer is an NHL-quality player. Garrett Vermeersch is a tremendously talented guy. The Daniels twins [Justin and Drew] were like two popsicle sticks, 158 pounds last year. They’re 190 and 180 now.

“There’s more depth up front than we’ve ever had, and I’m really pleased with that.”

On defense, Drew Ellement, Drew Muench, Randy Guzior and Mike Hewkin return, but Cronin sees the incoming freshmen holding the key to how good the Huskies can be.

“Our defense is either going to be really, really good or very, very average,” he says. “We’re getting bigger D now. I’ve always wanted bigger D, but we were garage-sale shopping for recruits the last three years so we didn’t have that luxury of getting the quality big guys.

“[But now we’re getting] Anthony Bitetto, a USHL all-star. He’s a 6-2, 210-pound smashmouth defensemen who’s going to help us right away.

“Jamie Oleksiak is a 6-7, 245-pound 17-year-old who played two years in the USHL, which is unbelievable to think about. He played as a 15-year-old in that league.

“The last guy is Luke Eibler, who’s 6-4, 180 pounds, a very offensively gifted kid.

“If those three guys develop and can get an identity on our team, we’re going to be great. If they don’t, we’ll be average. Those guys are going to be critical to determine whether we finish fifth or we finish first.”


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