This weekend, the Boston College hockey team looks to continue their winning streak with a home-and-home series against the Northeastern Huskies. NU has struggled to start the season, posting a 2-11-2 record, but they showed some signs of promise last weekend in Belfast, losing to UMass-Lowell in overtime before crushing Colgate in the consolation game.
Joining us to preview the Huskies is Ryan Fallon, sports director of WRBB Sports, 104.9 FM, Northeastern student radio. Thanks to Ryan for joining us and answering our questions; you can follow him on Twitter at @rtfallon45.
BCI: First thing's first - how was the experience of traveling to Belfast for the team (and the press covering them)? What was the atmosphere like at the tournament? Do you foresee this being a successful recurring event?
Ryan: Belfast was fantastic. The people, both around the city and at the arena, were incredibly friendly and welcoming. They were really excited to have us there. I know there was some skepticism about this tournament, myself included, but after seeing it from the Belfast side it makes a lot of sense. It was a community event - both days the arena was packed to the brim with groups of kids and local fans in their Belfast Giants jerseys. I felt like I was at an AHL game or a minor league baseball game with the constant entertainment and promotions. I mean they had a SANDWICH CANNON firing foot long subs into the crowd (which should immediately be added to every Hockey East rink). It was a heck of a lot of fun. They really love their hockey too. We interviewed one Belfast Giants fan at the Northeastern-Colgate game, and she said that the quality of hockey was better and much faster compared to what they're used to seeing.
I'm not sure how viable it is long-term, just because I think a lot of it was the novelty. I could see it struggling if and when teams start visiting multiple times. But for at least the next 5 years or so, it can be very successful.
BCI: On to the hockey - for the second straight season, NU came in to the year with some heightened expectations but enters December having to climb out of a huge hole. What has gone wrong for Northeastern so far this year?
Ryan: To be blunt, just about everything. The goaltending has been inconsistent. The special teams are near the bottom of the conference. The offense has had trouble finishing scoring chances. Everyone was expecting 40 points from Kevin Roy, but he doesn't have a goal yet and now he's hurt. The biggest issue might be the first period, where they're being outscored 22-4 (!!). Ten of their fifteen games this year they've trailed at first intermission and they haven't once had a lead at that point.
It's been frustrating to watch, but to see them sink this low is kind of incredible. They have the talent to be better. They will go long stretches of games controlling the pace of play, racking up shots, and winning loose pucks in the neutral zone. Yet they struggle to find the back of the net and are prone to letting things spiral after a giving up a goal on a breakaway or the penalty kill.
The possession stats are somewhat exaggerated due to the four games versus Colgate and Bentley, but I still think they're crazy. CHN has them at tenth in the nation in Corsi For at 55.3%, but they have the eighth worst shooting percentage (7%) and are dead last in save percentage (.870). I have to think they'll turn it around to some degree because of that.
BCI: There were some glimmers of hope at the Belpot with NU taking UML to the brink, then clobbering Colgate. Do you get the sense that this could be a moment where NU turns the corner? What were they doing differently that allowed them to break out and play two better games over the weekend?
Ryan: Maybe. If the Huskies had beaten almost anyone but Colgate, I would say yes. Both of NU's wins this year have come against the Raiders and this was a team that got blown out by Brown the night before, 5-0. So I'm still skeptical. It was definitely encouraging though. The third period against Lowell was actually a really well played period defensively until Saucerman took the penalty with a minute left. I also liked how aggressive they were on the other end. We saw more screens and scrums in front of the net and fewer perimeter shots, especially in the Colgate game. I think that's the kind of thing the offense needs to have more of right now. It helps that they got some solid goaltending for pretty much the whole weekend too.
BCI: What's the prognosis on Kevin Roy? In his absence, who needs to be more reliable on offense for the Huskies?
Ryan: We don't have much information on his injury, but I would be surprised if he's out long term. Between him and Dalen Hedges being hurt and nonexistent in the score sheet this year, NU has needed a bunch of guys to step up. Probably the best line they've had all year is whatever line the Stevens brothers are playing on. John and Nolan have combined for 9 goals and have been one of the few regular scoring threats. Zach Aston-Reese is finally starting to score consistently with a team-leading 61 shots. Dylan Sikura has made huge strides in his sophomore year and might be the most talented offensive player they have on the ice right now. Keep an eye on Sam Kurker - after scoring 24 goals in the USHL last year I'm surprised he's only got one to this point.
BCI: How would you evaluate the performance of NU's freshman class so far this season?
Ryan: They've played solidly, but there's plenty of room for improvement. Ryan Ruck took over when Derick Roy struggled out of the gate and he's now started 9 of the last 11 games for Northeastern. While his numbers aren't impressive (2.98 GAA, .891%), he's started to settle in and stem the bleeding. The goaltender I've seen the last couple weeks won't cost you games, but we haven't seen him show the ability to steal any games either. At least not yet.
Adam Gaudette has been the other big freshman contributor, a Vancouver pick who's stepped into the top six forwards and hasn't missed a beat. He's going to be the Huskies' best center and soon. One guy I'd really like to see them use more is Eric Williams. He's a puck-moving defenseman with an absolute missile for a shot. Lincoln Griffin has held his own in regular playing time and shown flashes of scoring talent but hasn't done much beyond that.
BCI: What do you think Northeastern would consider a successful weekend against BC?
Ryan: With the way the season has gone to this point, any points would be a success. Especially with how BC has played this year (strength of schedule aside). Ultimately, Northeastern really needs at least two points. They're dangerously close to hitting 2016 without a conference win.
BCI: Do you get the sense that there's building pressure on Jim Madigan as head coach, or does his job seem safe for now?
Ryan: At this point, his job is safe. He's a Northeastern guy, a lot of people around the program love him, and he's done a great job of getting talent here on campus. At some point, though, the team does need to start winning. I think if the second half of this season is as bad as the first half (instead of another hot streak like the 14-win stretch last year) then this conversation will gain steam.