Penalties add up in season-opening loss

Penalties add up in season-opening loss

By Matt Nielsen

The Northeastern men’s ice hockey team opened the 2006-2007 season on the road Tuesday evening at No. 1 Boston College. It marked the beginning of a tough opening stretch for the Huskies, which also includes games at Vermont, Boston University, and two games at Michigan.

The Huskies came out strong in the first period, with memories of last year’s opening game, a tie against BC, in their heads. Sophomore center Joe Vitale was all over the ice for much of the first frame, putting a shot on goal, laying several jarring hits, and playing solidly on the penalty kill. Also playing well on the penalty kill was senior defenseman Steve Birnstill, who broke up several centering passes in front of the net during an early 5-on-3 power play for BC. Penalty killing would be the name of the game as NU sent five men to the penalty box in the first period, beginning a trend that would ultimately cost them the match.

After a scoreless first session, the Huskies opened the scoring in the second when sophomore forward Dennis McCauley received a pass from freshman forward Chad Costello in front of the net, which he redirected into the net for an early 1-0 lead.

The Huskies had a chance to go up 2-0 when BC sent two men to the penalty box within 20 seconds of each other halfway through the period, giving the Huskies a 5-on-3 for more than a minute and a half. However, Northeastern’s power play unit didn’t look nearly as sharp as their penalty kill, as they spent a minute of that time setting up their offense and cycling the puck. The momentum shifted in the Eagles favor when Northeastern failed to capitalize on the power play.

“For 35 minutes I was entirely satisfied with our play,” head coach Greg Cronin said. “Then we didn’t get much out of that 5-on-3, just a few shots, and it turned around after that.”

At 14:50 in the second period, the Eagles senior forward Brian Boyle collected a rebound from junior forward Dan Bertram, and slipped it past Husky freshman goaltender Brad Thiessen, whose stick was trapped under a pile of skaters in front of him, leaving the net open. Only 40 seconds later, senior forward Joe Rooney sped down the ice and scored just over Thiessen’s left shoulder to give the Eagles a 2-1 advantage.

After collecting nine penalties in the first two periods, the Huskies came out in the third and promptly sent two more men to the box, giving BC another two-man advantage. The Eagles capitalized when sophomore forward Brock Bradford scored an easy goal off of a pass from Bertram. The Huskies’ problems with their own power play unit continued when, at 10:48 in the third, they allowed a short-handed goal to Boyle. The Eagles put the game away for good at 16:44 with their fifth goal, scored by sophomore forward Andrew Orpik.

The Huskies never quit, however, as freshman forward Randy Guzior scored with less than two minutes remaining in the game, showing the Eagles their mettle.

Mike Morris, the Huskies senior captain and former first-round NHL draft-pick, played in his first game in more than a year. Morris missed all of last season due to a concussion. He wasn’t a factor in the opening game, but Cronin said he doesn’t believe his performance Tuesday is indicative of his true potential.

“Keep in mind, it’s been a long time since he’s been out there,” Cronin said. “I don’t think we should judge him on anything he does out there for the first several games.”

The Huskies’ problem throughout the game was penalties. Northeastern sent 13 men to the box, and despite a solid penalty killing performance and steady goaltending from Thiessen, the No. 1 team in the country eventually made them pay.

“The penalties were mind-numbing,” Cronin said. “It isn’t even as if our penalties were smart ones.”

Still, Northeastern’s team appeared to be an improvement over last year’s squad, a team that only won three games all year.

“Northeastern is vastly improved over last year,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “Even though we had some close games against NU last year, you could see that they are really a step up this year.”

York collected his 750th win Tuesday evening.

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