BOSTON — Last year, Northeastern was one of the most dominant teams in college hockey but left a lot on the table, losing in the Hockey East semifinals and then falling to Michigan in the opening game of the NCAA tournament.
One year later, with a much different team, the Huskies have already crossed one off one of those “bucket list” items from a season ago, winning the Hockey East championship on Saturday, 3-2 over Boston College, and now will work to win games in the NCAA tournament beginning next weekend.
“We started the season with a lot of people questioning whether we were going to have a good team losing [Nolan] Stevens, [Adam] Gaudette and [Dylan] Sikura,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “These guys worked hard every day and came to the rink wanting to get better.
“We are a different team, but we still have good players. We knew our offense would be spread out. It was just a quiet confidence with this group. They don’t really get rattled.”
They certainly weren’t on Saturday, despite watching a 3-0 lead heading into the second shrink to a one-goal margin after Oliver Wahlstrom and David Cotton each struck on the power play in the first 117 seconds of the middle frame.
Somehow, the Huskies then tightened everything up and found a way to win, the third Hockey East title for Northeastern in three tries, with the other two coming in 1988 and 2016.
While the game on the ice was a gem, an instant classic by many standards, a moment early in the this took the breath away from many in attendance as Boston College’s Logan Hutsko locked legs with teammate David Cotton and fell to the ice awkwardly. After a nearly 10-minute delay, Hutsko was taken off the ice on a stretcher and was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.
The initial report, though, from BC coach Jerry York was promising.
“First and foremost, the most important thing, Logan is moving his fingers and toes,” said York. “We are cautiously optimistic he’ll he okay. He had a situation where he broke his neck three years ago in junior hockey, so they’re being really cautious. But he’s conscious and we hope for the best.”
The moment was a jarring one on Saturday and, though it didn’t take any polish off the trophy that Northeastern won, it did have an impact on their coach.
“My first thought is that my thoughts and prayers are with Logan Hutsko,” said Madigan upon taking the podium in victory. “It’s tough when you see a young man on the ice like that. So we hope that he’s doing well.”
The game itself was a great – and maybe typical – back-and-forth postseason affair.
Northeastern jumped out to the early lead based on their top line’s play.
Matt Filipe buried a blocked shot at 2:39 of the first to give the Huskies a lead and then a rebound shot from Brandon Hawkins at 5:08 gave the Huskies a 2-0 lead early.
The power play gave Northeastern a 3-0 lead as Hawkins connected on his second of the game just 12:15 into the game.
Somehow, though, BC stayed the course.
In the second, the Eagles’ response was quick.
Wahlstrom buried a puck just 18 seconds into the frame on the power play. And after a penalty to Jeremy Davies at the 52-second mark, Cotton’s tally at the 1:57 mark renewed the crowd’s interest.
Early in the third, the injury to Hutsko hardly demoralized the Eagles. If anything, the club had more jump but couldn’t solve Northeastern goaltender Cayden Primeau, who finished the game with 38 saves and was named tournament MVP.
Boston College had its best chances in the closing minutes, including a shot by Wahlstrom with less than five seconds remaining in regulation that Primeau moved left to right to stop.
The loss ends the season for the Eagles, who struggled in out-of-conference play and also lost seven of eight heading into the postseason.
Northeastern, though, knew its NCAA destiny and will be a No. 2 seed when the brackets are announced on Sunday. The hope for the Huskies, though, is to improve on its last two performances which included a loss to national champion North Dakota in 2016 and last season’s fall at the hands of Michigan.
“[The NCAAs] are the next stage to out evolution as a program,” said Madigan. “The first time we played a great North Dakota team that ended up winning it all. Then last year, we all thought we left something on the table and we lost to ta good Michigan team.
“Now we’ve got to win the games in the [NCAA] tournament to bring our program to the next level.”