This Week in Hockey East: Northeastern seeing Murphy ‘carry the load the whole year’ from between the pipes

Northeastern goalie Connor Murphy has gone 9-8-3 with a 2.66 GAA, a .912 save percentage and a pair of shutouts this season (photo: Jim Pierce).

Connor Murphy has played roughly 1,100 more minutes than he did a year ago.

He went into the season expecting to fight for the top Northeastern goaltending job with Devon Levi, who spent the first part of the season with Team Canada for World Juniors.

But Levi broke a rib, and hasn’t seen game action with Northeastern yet.

That opened the door for Murphy to seize the No. 1 goalie position, and with Levi still not back, with no competition.

No one expected him to play as much as he has, but he’s kept the Huskies afloat in a strange season.

“Connor’s done a great job,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “He got an opportunity to play right off the bat and has played well and continues to make great strides and improvement during the course of the year. He’s had to carry the load the whole year.”

Murphy, who this season has a .912 save percentage, played just 42 minutes as a freshman and knew he’d have his work cut out for him to challenge Levi, a top goalie prospect who was representing Canada on the world stage.

This season has been a different world. He’s ended up playing nearly every minute in net for the Huskies, all while juggling a difficult role as a goalie in a season where prep work has become nearly impossible.

“Connor’s a very balanced, level young man, and he does a good job controlling what he can control,” said Madigan. “When an opponent changes, he doesn’t get worked up about it, just focuses on who the next opponent is, he’s very even-keeled.”

His first game this season came in December when Levi was in Canada and it had been a year since Murphy saw any game time. A month later on January 13, he earned his first career shutout.

By February, he topped his career-high with a 38-save performance against UConn. His growth was rapid, and Madigan credits more consistency.

The price to consistency is sometimes burn out too, something Madigan and co have tried to avoid. Murphy has played all but 15 minutes of the Huskies’ goalie minutes this season, a monolithic workload for a guy who barely played two periods a year ago.

“He played an awful lot with a very good team in Carleton Place (in juniors), he came in and always played the majority of the games,” said Madigan. “Goalies need to play games, and the fact he played really well in junior and only got better says that.”

That’s not to say it has been a flawless adjustment; Northeastern hasn’t had a ton of opportunity to face quality opponents with the way the schedule has fallen for them, and in the eight games against top-five teams this season, he has allowed three or more goals in each instance.

It’s a different feel than if Levi had been ready to go during the season. If he is at any point going forward, and next season, Murphy has done his job enough to create some internal competition and push him, something Madigan said is healthy for the position.

UMass is going to be a challenge. In two games with the Minutemen this season the Huskies dropped each of them — one 4-3 and the other 5-3 –, with Murphy in net. One-goal losses are tough all around, and relying on an offense to out-score four tallies isn’t a simple recipe for success.

Murphy has continuously gotten more comfortable though as the season has gone on and he’s adjusted to playing in Hockey East. It’s an opportunity no one expected, but it’s one he’s made the best of.

“He didn’t get the opportunity to play much his freshman year here at Northeastern,” Madigan said. “That’s what makes his season this year all the more remarkable. Goalies do need games, and when he played in December it had been a year since he played.

“He’s done a great job here.”

League awards

Player of the Year – Matt Boldy, Boston College
Honorable mentions: David Farrance (Boston University), Zach Solow (Northeastern)

Coach of the Year – Albie O’Connell, Boston University

All-Rookie Team
F Nikita Nesterenko, BC
F Josh Lopina, UMass
F Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Northeastern
F Dylan Jackson, Northeastern
D Eamon Powell, BC
D Aaron Bohlinger, UMass
G Drew Commesso, BU

Rookie of the Year – Josh Lopina, UMass

Best Defenseman – Jordan Harris, Northeastern

Best Defensive Forward – Marc McLaughlin, Boston College

Goalie of the Year – Filip Lindberg, UMass