Men’s Hockey: Huskies step up, fill in for ailing key players

Men’s Hockey: Huskies step up, fill in for ailing key players

After scoring two goals in the last four games the men’s hockey team unlocked the secret to scoring: bench your leading scorers.

With four of the Huskies’ top six scorers missing from the lineup Monday in the Beanpot consolation game, the team topped Harvard 3-1.

“It’s a huge game,” said head coach Greg Cronin. “Harvard was scraping and clawing just like we were for a win. We had five of our top players out. … That’s a heck of a cast missing from our bench.”

But Cronin can’t claim brilliant coaching for the lineup changes. He can thank the flu and a series of injuries that have plagued his stars.

Morris has been hampered by a back injury since the Huskies topped Maine 6-1 Jan. 26. The senior captain scored his seventh goal of the season in that game but has been kept off the scoreboard since.

After missing last season with a concussion he has been in and out of the lineup this year. He has missed time with a neck injury and was out for all of December after an appendectomy.

“It is obviously a detriment to us whenever he is out,” Cronin said after Morris was sidelined in December. “He is one of the best players in Hockey East and the core of our offense.”

Costello missed Monday’s game with an upper body injury. The freshman is the Huskies’ leading scorer this season with 10 goals and 10 assists.

Junior Jimmy Russo has been out since he took a hit into the boards in last Monday’s 4-0 loss to Boston University that landed him on the ESPN highlight reel. The play was No. 5 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays the next morning. Russo has four goals and eight assists this season, including two game-winning goals.

Sophomore forward Joe Vitale and freshman defenseman David Strathman missed the game because of a flu bug that has been going around the locker room, Cronin said.

“I think it’s huge to win when you’re missing guys like Morris and Vitale and Costello,” said senior forward Ray Ortiz. “It’s a lot of points right there. But that isn’t an excuse. You can’t say these guys are out so we’re not going to show up tonight. You have to try that much harder.”

Senior defenseman Steve Birnstill notched the second goal of the game and his second of the season. Northeastern was on a power play with Harvard’s David MacDonald in the penalty box for tripping. After a faceoff in the Harvard zone, a Harvard defenseman tried to clear the puck along the boards. Birnstill knocked it down, took it toward the net and shot it into traffic. The puck bounced off the boards behind the net and back into the crease, where a Harvard defenseman knocked it past senior goaltender Justin Tobe at 15:54.

“Sometimes you just have to have the puck luck,” Cronin said. “We haven’t lately, but tonight things were going our way.”

With holes to fill, senior Aaron Moore was in the lineup for the first time this season. Moore didn’t fit in the new lineup when Cronin took over the head coaching job before the 2005-06 season, but has continued to practice despite not playing in games.

“I was really happy for the seniors who got to play in this one,” Cronin said. “Particularly for a guy like Aaron Moore who hasn’t played all year but has put in the effort. He really hustled out there.”

Ortiz said the team knew their lineup would look different for this game but had no idea how drastic it was until game time.

“We showed up at the rink and we’re just like all right there are the lines,” he said. “We show up and whatever line we’re in we’re playing. That says a lot about our team that we can just show up like we did today.”

Cronin said the team will take any win, even one with a sloppy undertone.

“With that many guys hurt or sick this was just a game where we had to bite and scratch and claw to get a win,” Cronin said.

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