BOSTON, Mass. — It’s been the Northeastern way the last two years. Dig a crater of a hole in the standings in the early going, then crawl out of it and be near-unbeatable down the stretch.
Last year, the Huskies opened the season 1-11-2. They didn’t win their first league game until Jan. 15. But from early February on, they won 13 straight with the finale being the Hockey East championship game, the program’s first title.
The year before that, they opened 0-8-1, but posted a nine-game undefeated streak starting in mid-January.
This season, it looked like it might be more of the same, despite their status as reigning Hockey East champions. Five league games in and they were still waiting for their first win, their 0-3-2 record relegating them to last place.
Fortunately for them, the mini-crater of 0-3-2 didn’t get any deeper. Northeastern took a commanding 5-1 lead early in the third and although Providence came roaring back, the Huskies held on for a 5-4 win.
“We talked about it all week, how important this game would be to turn things around and start closing the door,” Zach Aston-Reese said. “We just got away from our identity a little bit after the first two weekends. We were trying to be too fancy around the net. We talked a lot this week about getting back to scoring greasy goals and that’s what we did tonight.”
Although the final 15 minutes weren’t pretty, the Huskies got off the schneid.
“The kids knew going into this weekend that we didn’t have any league wins,” coach Jim Madigan said. “They didn’t need me reinforcing it. What we needed to do was to get back to our foundation, our staples.
“We talked early in the week about playing with more urgency in our game and how we hadn’t had it. We focused on that and playing fast.
“We don’t talk much about winning on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We talk about doing all the right things in practice and if we do that, that will lead to the wins on Friday and Saturday.”
Aston-Reese scored his one hundredth career point with his first of two goals, the latter being the game-winner even though it had appeared to be just icing on a 5-1 cake.
“Once it’s 5-1, it’s tough to keep a team on all cylinders,” Aston-Reese admitted.
It almost cost them.
“It’s a learning experience,” Madigan said. “It’s nice to learn from that experience when you win versus when you don’t win. We hung on at the end. That’s not how we want to win. Our kids see that so they know we’ve got to be better and not put ourselves in that position in the future.”
And with their first league win on Nov. 18, albeit to give them a 1-3-2 record, they’re almost two months ahead of last year’s championship-bound pace.
“Not that that’s our measuring stick,” Madigan said.
Other Hockey East games:
New Hampshire 6, Massachusetts 2
Tyler Kelleher’s five points on a goal and four assists propelled the Wildcats to a 3-1-1 league record and third place in the early season standings. UMass fell to 1-4-1 in league play.
No. 5 Boston University 2, Connecticut 1
BU jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead, then rode goaltender Connor LaCouvee’s 28 saves to the win. It was LaCouvee’s first start.
Vermont 6, Maine 2
The Catamounts scored four times in the second period to seize a 4-0 lead they would never relinquish. Rob Darrar scored twice in the decisive period, including the game-winner.
No. 9 Notre Dame 4, No. 6 Massachusetts-Lowell 1
After losing 4-1 the previous night, Notre Dame turned the tables on Lowell with a mirror image win. Andrew Peeke broke open the 1-1 game midway through the second period and minutes later Bobby Nardella extended the lead.
No. 11 Harvard 5, No. 3 Boston College 2
BC saw its 10-game unbeaten streak snapped by Harvard. The Crimson scored three times on seven power-play opportunities.
Wisconsin 3, Merrimack 2
Wisconsin took a two-goal, first-period lead and though Merrimack came back to twice narrow the margin to a single goal, the Badgers held on for the win. Brett Seney scored both Merrimack goals.