Northeastern Edges Merrimack 1-0 to Earn 1st Championship
North Andover, MA – The Northeastern Huskies are the Hockey East regular-season champions for the first time in school history after beating the Merrimack Warriors 1-0 in front of a sold-out Lawler Rink (attendance 2,549) on Merrimack’s campus. Junior forward Aidan McDonough blasted a one-timer past Merrimack goalie Hugo Ollas with 9.3 seconds remaining on the clock for the improbable finish. McDonough’s 23rd goal of the season broke a scoreless tie and propelled the Huskies into first place overall on the last day of the regular season.
“Jack (Hughes) made a really high-end, skilled play and threw a no-look backhand to me in the slot,” said McDonough of his game-winning strike. “I just kind of whacked at it, and it went in.”
On Saturday, the Huskies were aware that the Massachusetts Minutemen could not earn a point against Boston College at the Mullins Center in Amherst, MA. They knew that the only way they could leapfrog the Minutemen was a regulation win. A tie would give Massachusetts the edge on head-to-head records (2-0 vs. Northeastern this season).
“I think there were two minutes left, and I turned to coach (Mike) McLaughlin and said ‘we have to win this in regulation.,'” McDonough said when asked about being resigned to a tie late in the game. “I knew we had to get it done in the third period. You have to have belief, but you never know how things are going to turn out. I’m just happy they did.”
The atmosphere at Lawler Rink, the conference’s smallest arena and ice surface, was electric from start to finish. With playoff seeding still on the table, the Huskies knew it wouldn’t be an easy task.
“We knew the deal going into today,” Northeastern’s first-year Head Coach Jerry Keefe. “At the end of the day its another game, but Merrimack, I give them a lot of credit. They played really well tonight. That was a heck of a hockey game. There’s not a lot of room out there, both teams competed really hard. You had to work for every inch that you had. We were fortunate to be able to make one play there at the end of the game.”
Merrimack statistically had the edge in the game. TheWarriors outshot the Huskies 29-28, won the face-off battle 56% to 44%, and blocked more shots than the Huskies 21-11. As Keefe said, it came down to one play, which was in their favor.
“I thought it was one of the best games of the year,” said Merrimack Head Coach Scott Borek. “Both teams played really hard. I thought both teams played really well. We had some great chances and their goalie played really well. The had some great chances and Hugo (Ollas) played really well. It’s really obviously disappointing to have that get away from us, like that but it was a really good hockey game. A really good hockey game.”
The outcome was so improbable that the championship trophy wasn’t even in the arena.
After the congratulatory handshake line, the Huskies waited on the ice expecting to celebrate with their hard-earned reward. It was somewhere else entirely. Keefe looked dumbfounded as he mouthed, “Where’s the trophy?” towards the press box.
Despite McDonough’s heroics, the game was a battle between Northeastern’s Devon Levi and Ollas. Levi turned back all 29 Warriors shots for his 10th shutout of the season. Ollas, a freshman, stopped 27 of 28 and was equally as spectacular. The duo traded stops all-night as their teammates zipped all over the small Merrimack ice sheet.
“I’m just really excited for our guys,” said Keefe. “To win the Hockey East regular-season championship is a really hard thing to do in this league. There’s a lot of really good teams. I’m proud of the way our guys stuck to it and found a way to win there.”
The Warriors will host Maine on Wednesday in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs. The time has not been determined. The Huskies are off until Saturday, when they host the lowest remaining seed.