Northeastern builds on the positives, but defense needs to improve

Northeastern’s Kevin Roy led rookies nationally with 1.17 points per game last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

There is only one direction for Northeastern to go and that is up.

A season after a disastrous finish in which the Huskies won just once in their final nine games while trying to make the playoffs, Northeastern will look to build upon the positives of a season ago.

The good news is that all 11 teams in Hockey East will make the playoffs, thus ending NU’s two-year postseason drought. But if this team is to qualify as anything but the 11th seed, there will have to be significant improvement.

The No. 1 area that needs a boost is defense. Northeastern allowed a league-worst 97 goals in Hockey East play and a 3.47 goals against average overall ranked 55th of 59 teams nationally.

“It starts with team defense,” said coach Jim Madigan, entering his third season. “It’s not just goaltending. It starts from the goaltender out. It’s goalie, defenseman and forwards. It all starts there from our perspective.”

Captain Josh Manson will leading the charge defensively. He and Dax Lauwers will be the top two returning defenseman and are critical to Northeastern’s improvement in limiting quality chances.

Team defense is certainly a concern but the biggest red flag to this Northeastern defense (and team) is in goal. According to Madigan, all three goaltenders returning from last year — Clay Witt, Bryan Mountain and Derick Roy — are all competing for the top spot.

“From the outside, I think people see a little uncertainty [in net],” Madigan said. “From my end, I see three athletes who are competing for the No. 1 job. With competition brings out the best in everybody.”

While defense is a major concern for the Huskies, the offense brings with it some confidence. The return of Kevin Roy, who last year was one of the top rookie goal scorers in the nation, was a major positive for Northeastern.

“If you look at Kevin last year, he was the leading freshman point-getter in college hockey until he got hurt [missing the final seven games with injury],” Madigan said. “For him, he needs consistency. He knows he came dominate. Now it’s just going out and dominating each and every game.”

If anything, Madigan will look to bottle up some moments of success from last season, including a solid start to the season and an upset win over Boston University in the Beanpot semifinals. Memories of that success are what Madigan hopes can translate into additional and more consistent success this season.

“We’ve got the personnel to win in this league,” Madigan said. “We have to play better team defense and get a little lucky without losing key bodies on the injury side.”

About the Huskies

2012-13 overall record: 9-21-4

2012-13 Hockey East record: 5-18-4 (10th)

2013-14 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): 11th

Key losses: F Vinny Saponari, F Ludwig Karlsson, F Garrett Vermeersch, G Chris Rawlings

Players to watch: F Kevin Roy, F Braden Pimm, F Cody Ferriero, D Colton Saucerman

Impact rookie: Freshman forward John Stevens could be a candidate for the Hockey East all-rookie team. Last year playing in the USHL for Dubuque, he helped lead his team to the Clark Cup and was the team’s rookie of the year.

Why the Huskies will finish higher than predicted: A season ago, there were flashes of brilliance for the Huskies. With talented forward Kevin Roy returning, they could surprise some teams and finish near the middle of the pack.

Why the Huskies will match their predicted finish: The reality is Northeastern doesn’t have the depth of many of the other teams in the league. With little experience in goal, it could be a long year if one of the team’s goaltenders doesn’t emerge as a standout.