This Week in Hockey East: Madigan solidifying spot as one of Northeastern’s top coaches of all time

Jim Madigan - The visiting Northeastern University Huskies defeated the Boston College Eagles 5-2 on Saturday, December 9, 2017, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.The visiting Northeastern University Huskies defeated the Boston College Eagles 5-2 on Saturday, December 9, 2017, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Jim Madigan has had a hand in four of the five Beanpot titles for Northeastern – two as a player and two as a coach (photo: Melissa Wade).

When he was hired in 2011, his hiring turned a lot of heads and usually for the wrong reasons.

When he led his team to the Hockey East title in 2016, most still had their doubts.

But now that coach Jim Madigan has led his team to a Beanpot title, the first in 30 years for Northeastern, it seems that many – particularly alumni and those who open their wallets to support Northeastern hockey – are finally ready to accept Madigan as one of the best coaches in school history.

The school won its fifth Beanpot on Monday night in the tournament’s 66-year history and ended the longest drought between victories. Madigan, though, now has his fingerprints on four of those five Beanpot titles, having won two as a player, one as an assistant and now one as head coach.

“When you’re around enough, you win,” laughed Madigan. “But then you lose.

“For me, this was about our players and our team. Coaching is great because being around these young men, it keeps you young. You see how hard they work.”

Youth is interestingly part of the Madigan equation.

As mentioned in the opening, Madigan’s hiring as head coach turned heads because of his age. Two other Hockey East teams had openings that same summer – Providence and UMass Lowell – and both turned to younger coaches.

At the time, Madigan was 48, not ancient by any means, but Nate Leaman was 38 and Norm Bazin was 40. The difference might seem insignificant, but coupled with the fact that Madigan hadn’t been a head coach and wasn’t behind a bench for more than 20 years caused some to reserve their opinion.

And the early days on St. Botolph St. weren’t easy.

Coming off some limited success under Greg Cronin, Northeastern had high hopes. But 13-win and nine-win seasons to start under Madigan left the vocal alumni frustrated.

Even when the Huskies won their first Hockey East title since 1988 two years ago, that season began with a 1-11-2 skid that took eyeballs away from the program.

That season, though, should have taught anyone familiar with the program that the future was bright.

Last season, Zach Aston-Reese was included in the Hobey Hat Trick. And even though the season ended with a thud in the Hockey East quarterfinals as Northeastern was swept by Boston University, the knowledge that Northeastern was building towards the future was evident.

There simply was too much talent. But for too many around the NU program, what they noticed was a 4-3 loss to Harvard (which, by the way, was a Frozen Four team last year) in the Beanpot semifinals. The overly singular focus seemed crazy from a far, but watching the reaction since Monday’s win in the finals, maybe it’s a little clearer.

Northeastern celebrated Monday’s title with a rally inside Matthews Arena on Tuesday befitting a national champion. Jim Madigan, in his brief comments mentioned a couple of times that there’s still a lot of hockey left to play. It’s a good thing, because it felt like most of the NU community thought the season was over. Champion crowned.

But that is the stiff reality now facing Northeastern.

Starting this weekend with a two-game road series against a red-hot Vermont team, Northeastern still has a lot of work to do if the program wasn’t to celebrate something significant – namely another Hockey East title or a national championship.

This team is too good to just settle for a Beanpot. This team was too good to not make the NCAA tournament, something that is in real danger if Northeastern doesn’t win a decent majority of their remaining games.

The one positive that these Huskies have, though, is Madigan. Believe it or not, he’s been through every trench at this point. This trench probably doesn’t feel deep – trying to rally a Beanpot champion to additional postseason success. Boston College, Boston University and Harvard have all done it. Jim Madigan, though, has the map to navigate these final five weeks before NCAA selections are made.

The message to Northeastern’s faithful is clear: Celebrate, revel and run this Beanpot in the faces of every BC, BU and Harvard fan out there. But if you’re true fans, make sure you’re ready to cheer this team on for eight more weeks.

Madigan will be cheering (and coaching his butt off). And he could use a few more faithful alongside.

Greenway’s Olympic contributions are immediate

Boston University’s Jordan Greenway, the only current member of a Hockey East team playing with Team USA at the Olympics in South Korea, took little time to prove he belonged.

Halfway through Team USA’s opener with Slovenia, Greenway and his 6-foot-6 frame poked home a rebound for his first goal of the tournament.

The marker gave Team USA what seemed like a secure 2-0 lead. But Slovenia, to its credit, clawed back scoring early in the third and again late with an extra attacker, to force overtime and eventually earn the 3-2 victory.

Greenway was pretty impressive and, during the broadcast, color commentator Mike Millbury mentioned that he may be ready to head to the NHL directly from the Olympics.

Hockey East fans, and particularly BU supporters, have to hope this isn’t the case. The large-framed forward is fun to watch and, even if playing in the NHL next season seems inevitable, hopefully Greenway respects his teammates enough to finish the season he started.

You simply never know the potential.

Boston College’s Jekyll & Hyde

Has anyone watch Boston College play in Hockey East games?

The team seems solid and borders on unstoppable.

BC holds a slight lead for the top spot in Hockey East, with a single point lead over Providence and a two-point cushion over Northeastern.

But have you checked BC’s PairWise Ranking?

The Eagles, sitting at 23rd in the PairWise, likely must win the Hockey East tournament to earn an NCAA bid. A non-league record of 0-7-3, culminated by two losses in the Beanpot, have basically done in the Eagles.

It’s a strange predicament for BC. Certainly it’s never the worst to know exactly what you have to do to earn an NCAA bid – in BC’s case, advance through the best-of-three quarterfinals in Hockey East and then win both games at the TD Garden.

What is peculiar is knowing this team could win the Hockey East regular season and be nowhere near an NCAA bid. That’s simply not usual for Hockey East.