Excited by progress, Northeastern sets sights on a Hockey East title

Kevin Roy followed a 17-goal freshman season with 19 goals as a sophomore (photo: Melissa Wade).

The 2013-14 season was almost a season of fairy tale and lore for the Northeastern Huskies. Picked to finish in the basement, Northeastern played strong from the start but faltered in the latter stages of the season, missing the NCAA tournament near the bubble.

But the taste of success is one that coach Jim Madigan enjoys and hopes can propel the 2014-15 edition toward greatness.

“We’re excited about the progress we made last year, but the end of the season was not how we wanted to finish,” said Madigan. “I thought our kids worked hard right down to the last weekend. But at the end of the day our goal is to get to the Boston Garden and we failed at that.

“If anything, it’s fueled us this spring and summer.”

For Madigan, there is plenty to be excited about. Northeastern returns what may be the best forward in the league in Kevin Roy, who posted 19 goals and 46 points a year ago as a sophomore and could be an early contender for the Hobey Baker Award.

Many worried Roy could have been among the many that made the dash for the NHL at the end of last season. The fact he did not is hardly lost on Madigan.

“I think Kevin, and the Anaheim Ducks who drafted him, realize Kevin has accomplished some good things here,” said Madigan. “But there’s still more for Kevin to accomplish. I think if you asked Kevin that, he’d be saying the same thing.”

Add to that Mike Szmatula, a rookie who lit up Hockey East with 39 points a year ago, and it’s clear that the Northeastern offense will pack a punch.

“Mike had an unbelievable playoff and I thought he was the best player on the ice in the three-game series [against New Hampshire],” Madigan said of Szmatula.

Defensively, things will begin in net with redshirt senior Clay Witt. An afterthought a season earlier, Witt took the reins in goal last year and brought himself to national prominence with a .932 save percentage and a 2.37 GAA.

“When you have an all-star goaltender and a leader in Clay Witt, that provides us with some leadership in the locker room,” said Madigan. “Clay played 34 out of 38 games last year. So expect him to carry the bulk.”

In terms of the next step for the Huskies, Madigan is thinking large and believes his team should be able to challenge for the Lamoriello Trophy this season.

“For us, the goal is to win Hockey East, and we believe we have the components to do so,” said Madigan. “You build from the goal out and we have an all-star goalie, an all-star defense and I think two of the top forwards in the league. The next step for our program is to get back to the Garden and win the championship.”

About the Huskies

2013-14 record: 19-14-4

2013-14 conference record: 10-8-2 (tie, fourth)

2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fourth

Key losses: D Josh Manson, F Braden Pimm

Key returnees: F Kevin Roy, G Clay Witt, F Mike Szmatula, D Colton Saucermann

Why the Huskies will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: This team was one weekend away from being a top-three team in Hockey East a year ago. Inexperience led the Huskies to a slow finish and cost them an NCAA bid. This team has all the tools, but can they meet expectations?

Why the Huskies will finish lower than the coaches poll: And expectations are the biggest factor for this club. Last year’s team overachieved significantly. But now with a target on their back, are the Huskies ready to put together back-to-back solid campaigns?