The Takeaway: Northeastern Ties UMass, 3-3

Posted by: Joe Meloni

by Joe Meloni

Ultimately, they won’t be satisfied with the point, but the Huskies will take it right now since they were two seconds from beginning the season with a loss. Given the way things are looking at Maine right now — NU trailed the Black Bears, 4-1, in the second when I started writing this — that point Braden Pimm’s shoulder stole from UMass is looking pretty good.

Pimm received credit for the goal, but UMass junior Rocco Carzo’s failed clear with 12 seconds left in regulation gave the Huskies that final chance to best UMass goaltender Kevin Boyle.

What I saw

  • Boston University transfer Vinny Saponari’s comfort with his new teammates grew with every shift. While he called Agganis home, Saponari made it clear he was capable of being an impact player in this league. He picked up a pair of assists in the game, including the key play on the sequence that led to Pimm’s game-tying goal with 2 seconds left.
  • The Huskies showed some serious potential on offense. The mistakes that plague early-season games where certainly there, but they pieced together some fantastic breakouts and extended possessions.
  • On the other end, Northeastern’s defensemen struggled to close down UMass forwards, allowing the Minutemen to make plays in space and along the half-wall. Against teams relying on their speed, giving them too much space is just asking for problems. The sheer size of the Northeastern defensemen will be an asset down low, but the NU blue liners showed little mobility.

What I thought

  • Anthony Bitteto is gifted offensive defenseman, but he needs to be better defensively. Without Jamie Oleksiak, who bolted for Saginaw of the OHL over the summer, Bitetto is Northeastern’s No. 1 defenseman. The Huskies’ defensemen can move the puck and contribute on offense, but Bitetto needs to become a true No. 1 in both ends to keep Hockey East’s top scorers quiet.
  • Justin Daniels is going to have a big season for Northeastern. The junior scored twice and was on the ice for the frantic scrum that led to Pimm’s tying goal. He centered Saponari and Pimm in Northeastern’s exhibition and the tie against UMass. NU coach Jim Madigan likes what he’s seen from the group, and Daniels is a big reason for that.
  • Rob Dongara is still one of the most exciting players in Hockey East. He reminds me a lot of former UMass player Will Ortiz, but with a greater upside. He finished his freshman season with six goals and eight assists, and the dynamic winger should improve on that this season. Dongara doesn’t have a second gear, which makes him such an offensive threat, but it can get him trouble at times.

What they said

“There was that long stretch where we had the man advantage but couldn’t convert. That was really draining on the team. In a short period of time this year, we’ve got some confidence in that formation and that set. We’ve got the right personnel, I just don’t we executed.” – Northeastern coach Jim Madigan

Alone, the comments don’t seem to mean too much, as most power plays around the nation are still finding their way. But Northeastern’s power play was consistently a split-second away from an easy goal for Saponari, Garret Vermeersch or the other snipers Madigan fixed at the top of the face-off circles. When the Northeastern power-play units get their timing straight, it could be a major source of offense. The Huskies finished the game 1-for-6.

Remember, Cody Ferriero and Steve Quailer were absent from the NU lineup, serving suspensions. Both players figure to see time on the man advantage and will only make it better.

What they didn’t say

Madigan mentioned that the Huskies were “short-staffed” in their season opener but did not provide any insight regarding the return dates for Ferriero, Quailer or freshman Ludwig Karlsson. Ferriero and Quailer are currently out of the lineup for rules violations dating back to last season, while Karlsson should make his debut Friday night at home against New Hampshire.

Madigan said after NU’s exhibition that Karlsson had some issues gaining eligibility, leading to his absence for at least the opening weekend.

What else should you know

  • Northeastern returns home next Friday, hosting New Hampshire in another Hockey East game to start the season. While the Wildcats struggled on both ends in their season-opening loss to Boston University, it’s clear UNH has the speed and talent to exploit type of flaws Northeastern showed against UMass.

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