Boston, MA – Opening Night at historic Matthews Arena, the oldest barn in America, was a raucous affair as last year’s regular season Hockey East champs, Massachusetts, took on the reigning Hockey East tourney champs in an early season power struggle. 2,707 in attendance were treated to what could also be a finals pre-view come March.
Matthews has been a house of horrors for the Minutemen. The last time UMass won on the Huskies ice was almost five years ago. Coach Greg Carvel has yet to taste victory at NU as head coach of the Minutemen. Tonight wouldn’t be any different as Northeastern won 3-1, on 34 saves from graduate transfer goalie Craig Pantano. A Jordan Harris penalty shot goal in the second period would be the difference maker.
The opening period was fast-paced and physical but rather sloppy, whether or not that was nerves or the smaller ice surface, both teams had trouble connecting on passes or maintaining a steady control of play. UMass was called for two penalties in the period. The first for Tripping by Jake McLaughlin at 7:32 and the second to Jake Gaudet for Elbowing at 19:98. The Minutemen somehow outshot the Huskies 9-4.
The second was more frantic than the first with the Huskies opening on the carried over penalty. Tyler Madden had the best scoring opportunity of the power play when he took a pass onto his backhand for a stuff attempt in front of Minuteman goalie Matt Murray. Murray was stellar all night, despite getting the loss his play kept UMass in the game. Three minutes into the period the Minutemen were down two men as Jack Suter was called for Interference, followed by Zac Jones being sent off :08 seconds late for Slashing. The junior keeper made a number of save on the five on three as he stonewalled Zach Solow in the crease, then two beautiful saves on Grant Jozefek while in a split then on Solow again. Murray followed that up with a glove save to force a stop in play.
The penalty kill gave the Minutemen some life but they were not able to sustain much pressure in the period. The Huskies finally broke through against Murray at 11:37 of the second when Matt DeMelisscored his first NCAA goal by roofing a rebound out front over Murray as the keeper fell forward to try to make a save. The Minutemen had their first power play opportunity at 12:02 when Jeremie Bucheler was sent off for Interference. This was when Pantano started to shine through, he made two saves on John Leonard and a third on Mitchell Chaffee as the visitors started to get something going with the man advantage.
The tide ultimately turned on this game on Harris’ penalty shot. He was slashed by Philip Laganuv on a turnover opportunity. On the shot, Harris corralled the puck from the center ice face-off dot, skated to the left side of the ice making his way in on Murray, he skated across the crease from left to right, made a deke that got Murray to move and shot back across his body for the 2-0 Huskie lead.
Seven penalties and two back to back coaches challenges took away from the flow of the game in the third but the action was still intense. It was the first conference game for each team, who both expect to compete for league titles, so the excitement in the building was able to be sustained throughout the stoppages. The Minutemen had a five on three of their own at 3:01 when Riley Hughes and Harris were called for Roughing and Hooking.
UMass’ freshman forward Jeremy Davidson, seeing his first action of the young season, freed the puck from a scrum on the boards and passed to Matthew Kessel on the blue line. The defenseman walked in and unloaded a bomb that beat Pantano and cutting the Huskies lead to 2-1 with 13:12 to play.
At the 16:57 mark Brendan van Riemsdyk was assessed a Five Minute Major and a Game Misconduct for Spearing. This gave the Minutemen a five minute power play to end the game. The Huskies penalty kill did a great job of thwarting any Massachusetts chances, and whatever did manage through to Pantano he turned them away. Solow sealed the game for Jim Madigan’s squad when he scored the empty net goal at 19:48.
“I think the game had a little bit of everything,” said Madigan afterwards. “Up and down, special teams, both teams had a five on three for roughly two minutes. I think we’re all trying to work out the kinks, coaches, players, referees. It’s early in the season so execution might not be where you want it to be. At he end of the day, I’m really proud of our guys, how they battled and competed. I thought we got better as the game went along. Second period we started creating some offensive zone possession time that resulted in our first goal. Made a good play that resulted in a penalty shot. They battled, they’re hard, they’re a real good hockey club (refering to the Minutemen), that’s why I was proud of our guys, we battled, we competed. We showed some resiliency.”
“When we play in this building it’s usually a five on five,” said Minutemen coach Greg Carvel. “It becomes a grinding game. It felt like it was the first period neither team had a scoring chance. The second period we didn’t manage the puck very well, didn’t win many battles, and took a lot of penalties. I thought Northeastern controlled the second, we kind of turned in the third, but their goaltender (Pantano) played well, we had a few chances in the third to tie it up, but couldn’t find a way.”
Massachusetts hosts Union on Friday and Saturday this weekend at the Mullins Center, puck drop is 7:00 pm both nights. The Huskies meanwhile will host Holy Cross on Saturday at Matthews Arena, puck drop is 7:00 pm as well.