The Takeaway: Maine, Northeastern split points in 1-1 draw

Posted by: Michael King

BOSTON — In a battle between a pair of struggling Hockey East squads, Northeastern and Maine skated to a 1-1 tie at Matthews Arena Friday night. The contest remained close for the first two periods, despite seemingly adequate power play opportunities for each team.

Senior Chris Rawlings offered a strong performance in net for the Huskies, making 42 saves. His counterpart, Martin Ouellette, was also impressive stopping 31 opportunities. But the Black Bears decidedly generated more of the chances.

What I Saw

In overtime, both teams traded scores chances but neither could break the stalemate. Maine played its strongest period in the third but failed to generate the one opportunity that could solve Rawlings. The Black Bears likely were more deserving of the two points, but ties in Hockey East on the road are almost always a commendable achievement — especially for the last place team.

There was a tinge of controversy to start the second as Rawlings stopped a Black Bear onto the top of the net, which then fell into the crease and was whacked through his legs. But the referee deemed the puck to be iced and blew the play dead. But Maine finally levelled the score several minutes later after freshman Bill Norman scored on a one-time shot on a pass from Adam Shemansky behind the net.

In the first period, defenseman Josh Manson almost started the scoring for Northeastern during the second minute. He recovered the puck from a busted 2-on-1 odd man opportunity with a great chance to beat Ouellette. But the sophomore pushed it just wide of the net.

Near the end of the period, Kevin Roy failed to convert an equal quality chance. The freshman came off the bench after a penalty to Dax Lauwers expired and deftly handled a three-line pass. Roy, now in on goal alone, did trick Ouellette enough to a shot past the junior. However, Roy amended for the lost opportunity as he scored on a rebound chance in front of the net less than a minute later.

What I Thought

Both teams certainly needed two points from this game, as the contest represented both Hockey East bottom-dwellers. Given the tough schedules remaining for each team and the perpetual strong depth of the conference, it remains to be seen if either squad can string together enough strong performances to reach the playoffs. With UMass Lowell on a five-game winning streak, and the other mid-tier HEA consistently earning points, it’s hard to identify whom these teams could catch.

The Northeastern power struggled throughout the night on four opportunities, including two in the second period. The Huskies generally experienced difficulty cycling the puck around the zone and creating chances. The team’s only occasionally successful hockey play was to give the puck to Roy near the right halfboards and let the freshman phenom create something, anything.

Ouellette gave the Black Bears a strong game in net. Though his record isn’t among the league’s best, his .920 save percentage suggests he has the talent to be an above-average goalie. He made several key saves in third period, including a slew of shots from a Northeastern barrage with seven minutes left. He certainly benefits from a disciplined defense that is coached to block shots and clog the center of the ice.

A scrum in front of the Northeastern net broke-out immediately after the final horn sounded. Evidently the players from both teams wanted to unload their frustrations from a hard-fought, physical hockey game. And judging from the noise made from the crowd at that moment, it was the most exciting part of the evening.

What They Said

“We had a lot of chances to take the lead, Rawlings was very impressive,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said of his team’s 43-shot performance. “I was proud of how we kept pushing as the year went on. That was a good sign.”

“This was a game last year that I think we win with our power play,” Whitehead said. “But we’ve seen some progress and we’re starting to get some points. We’ll keep building. The idea is there and the chances are there, so we just have to keep going.”

“I like the way we responded from our game last weekend,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said about his team’s first game since falling to Bentley, 6-3, last Saturday. “I would like to have us had more sustained offense as the game went on. It’s our first point in the league for 2013, so we’ll take that and build on it.”

“We were working with the defense on giving me a better eye for the shot and a better chance to save the puck,” Rawlings said of his team’s focus in practice this week. “Dax [Lauwers] would do anything to block a shot for me. He knows his role and does a great job,” he added about one of his more reliable shot-blocking defensemen.

What Else You Should Know

With the Huskies returning to the form required to play hockey on a consistent basis, Friday night’s game was its second since the New Year. Having no game Saturday, Northeastern begins a stretch of twice-weekly competition next weekend against Boston University and Boston College. The match-ups could be a preview of how the Beanpot unfolds as the Huskies meet BU on February 11th and could face BC in the final if it defeats Harvard in its opening round game.

Due to an unusual scheduling quirk, Maine faces Merrimack in three consecutive games over the next week. The Black Bears play Saturday night in North Andover, and then the Warriors return the favor next week with a pair of games up north.

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