Men’s Hockey: Huskies drop pair to Maine, remain in seventh place

Men’s Hockey: Huskies drop pair to Maine, remain in seventh place

By Matt Nielsen

The men’s hockey team (12-16-5, 8-13-5 Hockey East) needed just one point in their weekend series with No. 18 Massachusetts (16-11-5, 13-9-3 HE) to clinch the seventh spot in the Hockey East playoffs. The Minutemen proved too much for NU, however, and swept the weekend series, winning 2-0 Friday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst and coming from behind to a 5-3 win Sunday afternoon at Matthews Arena.

The first period belonged to freshman goaltender Brad Thiessen Friday night, as the Minutemen controlled the puck for the entire period and peppered Thiessen with 18 shots, all stopped by the freshman. But UMass’ domination of the puck meant few offensive chances for Northeastern, and the period ended in a draw.

The second frame was even until 17:04. With UMass on the power play, senior forward Matt Anderson received a centering pass in front of Thiessen and netted it for his sixth goal of the season.

The Huskies turned it on late in the third period and recorded a few good scoring chances, but with only a minute remaining and down by one goal, they pulled Thiessen in favor of an extra attacker. As time ran down, Minutemen junior defenseman Mike Kostka scored on the Huskies’ empty net and the game ended 2-0.

Thiessen kept Northeastern in the game, turning away 40 of 41 shots faced. But UMass sophomore goaltender Jon Quick stopped all 22 shots he faced for the shutout.

“Brad has been bailing us out the last few games,” said junior forward Jimmy Russo.

The Minutemen came out firing again Sunday, scoring the first goal of the contest only a minute into the opening period. Sophomore forward Cory Quirk scored his 11th goal of the season backhanding it in from in front of the net.

Northeastern answered with a goal six minutes later. Sophomore forward Joe Vitale jumped out of the penalty box and received a pass from senior forward Bryan Esner. Vitale shot the puck, and the rebound was batted into the back of the net by freshman forward Chris Donovan.

Before the first period ended, however, UMass reclaimed the lead on Anderson’s seventh goal of the season and second of the weekend.

The Huskies were on the power play for the first five minutes of the second period, after UMass senior forward Kevin Jarman received a game misconduct for hitting from behind. But the Minutemen penalty-killing unit looked impressive, keeping NU at bay for all five minutes.

Eight minutes into the period the Huskies tied the game at 2-2 when Vitale found freshman forward Chad Costello in front of backup goalie Dan Meyers. Costello beat Meyers for his 11th goal of the season.

Halfway through the second period the Huskies took the lead 3-2 on Esner’s third shorthanded goal in his last four games, and fourth of the year, assisted by senior forward Ray Ortiz.

The Minutemen dominated the rest of the contest. They tied the game a minute later with a 5-on-3 goal from junior forward P.J. Fenton. UMass took the lead before the second period ended, when freshman defenseman Justin Braun beat Thiessen for his fourth tally of the season. Finally, Kostka scored his second empty-net goal of the weekend to ice the game, 5-3.

“It was a great team win,” Anderson said. “We got a tremendous effort up and down the lineup.”

Thiessen’s four goals allowed were the most since the opening round of the Beanpot Tournament, when he allowed four to Boston University.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he usually is,” said head coach Greg Cronin. “I thought the turning point of the game was when they were given a five-on-three. It’s tough, because at that point in the game we had kind of established control.”

Meanwhile Providence College, which entered the weekend six points behind Northeastern and in eighth place, won its only game this weekend, a 7-1 rout of New Hampshire. With two games remaining against perennial Hockey East bottom-feeder Merrimack College, the Friars have a chance to tie NU in the Hockey East standings. In that scenario, conference tie-breaks would force the Huskies into eighth place, pitting them against one of the best teams in the country in the first round of playoffs: the Wildcats of UNH.

The Huskies still have a chance to secure the seventh playoff spot, but it would take at least a tie against rival BU tonight at Matthews Arena.

“We need to get back on track,” said senior defenseman Steve Birnstill. “The playoffs don’t start in a week and a half, they start Wednesday.”

If the Huskies do retain the seventh place playoff bid, the first round of the playoffs would be a Boston affair, as Northeastern would play either BU or Boston College, depending on the Eagles’ series with UNH this weekend. Tonight’s game at Mathews starts at 7:30.

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