Northeastern: Huskies find answers since New Year

Northeastern: Huskies find answers since New Year

By Matt Nielsen

The Huskies have been a different team since the new year began. On Dec. 31st we’re told to “ring out the old, ring in the new,” and though this saying was meant to persuade mankind to behave better than they did the previous year, the words can also be applied to the Northeastern men’s hockey team.

This year, the Huskies rang out a 5-10-2 start to a season that saw the temporary loss of vital players to injury and a struggling special teams unit, and rang in a 5-2-2 stretch including key wins over Boston College and Maine. The team struggling in December to stay out of last place in the Hockey East standings is now comfortably in postseason position and continues to gain ground on its conference rivals.

“In the beginning of the season we were a young team, and kind of immature,” said sophomore forward Joe Vitale. “We had a lot of questions, we didn’t know what our identity was, but we learned a lot in the first half. After Christmas we sat down and set some realistic goals, and we’ve really come together since.”

The team heads into the Beanpot Tournament with a 10-12-4 overall record. Northeastern sits in seventh place in the Hockey East, three points behind Maine. NU has played a tough non-conference schedule, with wins over then-No. 6 Michigan at Ann Arbor, Holy Cross and Union College.

In Greg Cronin’s second year as head coach, seniors like Mike Morris and Steve Birnstill have been instrumental in the Huskies’ recent success. However, some underclassmen have had an equally significant impact.

There is Vitale, who carried the team in the first few weeks of the season while Morris got his legs under him (after missing a year due to an aggravated concussion after a car accident). Vitale is tied for fourth on the team in points (6-7-13).

Freshman forward Chad Costello has been a valuable addition to Morris’s scoring line, leading the team in goals scored and points (10-10-20). The other member of the Morris line, freshman Kyle Kraemer, is third on the team in points (5-9-14).

But the Husky freshmen can do more than score. Perhaps the best player on the team this season has been goaltender Brad Thiessen. The freshman has played all but three games for the Huskies, and has allowed only 2.43 goals per game. He was especially strong in January, allowing only 1.45 goals per contest, with a .943 save percentage, and was named Hockey East’s Co-Rookie of the Month. Thiessen said he is looking forward to playing in his first Beanpot Tournament.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting,” Thiessen said. “Everybody says it’s a great atmosphere and it’s definitely going to be a new experience for me. I know it means a lot to Boston.”

Thiessen will have to play his best if he wants a shot at the pot, as the Huskies haven’t won a Beanpot since 1988. They have played in four Beanpot finals since then, with their last in 2005 After beating Harvard in double overtime to reach the final, the Huskies played Boston University tough and forced the game into overtime before ultimately losing 3-2.

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