By: Jarett Leonard
Looking to return to the Beanpot final after missing out last season for the first time in four years, Northeastern University will meet Harvard University in the first semifinal match-up on Monday night.
Northeastern advanced to the championship game in three straight seasons from 2013 to 2015 but fell to Boston University in the first round a year ago. The Huskies dropped all three of those finals, but the experience this year’s senior class gained from those games combined with their run in the Hockey East and NCAA tournaments last year was invaluable for Coach Jim Madigan’s squad.
“There’s other distractions that come into play when you get ready to play in the Garden,” Madigan said. “Your focus and your preparation has to be better and those older guys having gone through it with three Beanpots and for our seniors they’ve been in two Beanpot finals, so they’re smart enough to help our younger guys out in terms of preparation and getting ready to play that game.”
Northeastern has four Beanpot titles to its credit but has not captured a championship since 1988. Harvard is also in a long title drought, with its most recent in 1993, but the Crimson have also struggled in recent years, having not reached a championship game since 2008. Still, Coach Ted Donato is confident his team has what it takes this season to contend.
“I think our guys are very well aware of the lack of recent success so I think they’ll be focused,” Donato said. “We have a senior group that’s accomplished a lot, going to the NCAA tournament and the ECAC championship the last couple of years. This is a box they haven’t checked and I think they’re really determined to play well here.”
While both power plays sit in the top three nationally, Northeastern’s second-ranked unit enters the game red hot while Harvard’s has been cold as of late. The Huskies have scored 10 power play goals in their last four games and have recorded a power play goal in all but three of their 27 games this season. Harvard, on the other hand, has only succeeded on one of its last 14 man-advantages over the Crimson’s last four games, but Madigan is not taking them lightly.
“Harvard is such a smart team and a puck moving team with skilled players that you have to limit their chances on the power play,” he said. “Our guys know that and I know we’ll have discipline. Now we just need to make sure we don’t have careless stick penalties and getting tripping calls, we just need to be smart with our sticks.”
Senior Zach Aston-Reese and junior Dylan Sikura lead the Huskies offense, as Sikura’s 46 points is tied for the nation lead with Union’s Mike Vecchione while Aston-Reese leads the country in goals with 22.
“It’s more than just scoring, he works hard off the ice and he brings a lot of other intangibles to the ice,” senior John Stevens said of his classmate Aston-Reese. “He’s a very strong player, good defensively, so he can do it all and he’s been awesome for us this year.”
Senior forward Alexander Kerfoot tops Harvard with 27 points on nine goals and 18 assists. Fellow senior Sean Malone’s 13 goals are the most this season for the Crimson while freshman Adam Fox leads the team with 23 assists.
In goal, Harvard junior Merrick Madsen is in the top 20 in the nation in both goals against average (2.20), save percentage (.918), and wins (20). Sophomore Ryan Ruck, who had a stellar freshman campaign for the Huskies a year ago, has not seen the same success so far this season. He has compiled an 11-10-4 record with a 3.15 goals against average and a .890 save percentage over 26 starts.
After dropping three straight contests, Harvard is unbeaten in its last five games following a 5-2 win over Dartmouth on Friday to avenge an 8-4 loss to the Big Green in mid-January. Malone had two goals while Madsen stopped 28 of 30 shots to lead the Crimson.
“Heading to the Beanpot, you want to be feeling good about your team, you want your team to have confidence and you want to carry momentum,” Madigan said. “You’ve got games leading up to the Beanpot where you want to continue that momentum, and that keeps our focus, which is what I like.”
Northeastern enters the game coming off a late loss to UMass-Lowell on Friday that ended a four game winning streak. The Huskies led 3-1 early in the second period but allowed the next three goals, and after tying the game midway through the third period, surrendered two more in the final six minutes to fall to the Riverhawks, 6-4. Sophomore Adam Gaudette and freshman Matt Filipe each scored twice.
“I think Northeastern has our attention,” Donato said. “They’re a very talented and dangerous team that I would expect will be a very tough out at the end of the season. We know that we’re going to have to play our best to have success in the Beanpot.”
The game will feature five Hobey Baker Award nominees, as Aston-Reese, Sikura, Kerfoot, Malone and Harvard freshman defenseman Adam Fox were all nominated for the award given annually to the top player in the nation.
Puck drop Monday is scheduled for 5 p.m. at TD Garden in Boston and will be followed by BU-BC at 8 p.m., with the winner of each contest meeting in the Beanpot final the following week.