Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Northeastern

For the second part of "Know Your Enemy," we take a look at the first local matchup of the 2010-11 season, the front-end of an away-home weekend against Northeastern University.

Northeastern

Nickname: Huskies
Location: Boston, MA
Founded: 1898
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: 1982
Coach: Greg Cronin (6th season)
2009-10 Record: 16-16-2 (11-14-2 HEA, 9th place)
Series: RPI leads, 25-16-1
First Game: January 9, 1954 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: October 28, 2005 (Troy, NY)
Last NU win: November 29, 2008 (Troy, NY)

2010-11 game: October 15, 2010 (Boston, MA)
Key players: F Wade MacLeod, sr.; F Tyler McNeely, sr.; F Garrett Vermeersch, so.; F Justin Daniels, so.; F Mitch MacMillan, fr.; G Chris Rawlings, so.; G Clay Witt, fr.

Northeastern tends to be one of the more common non-conference opponents for the Engineers among the major conferences. Although there's no yearly game as there is with BU, the Huskies do seem to pop up on the schedule more frequently than some other programs, seemingly about every other year or so. They're one of a handful of teams that have won the RPI Holiday Tournament more than once.

NU definitely lives in the shadow of BU and BC - and on a historical level, Harvard as well. One needs to look no further than the yearly Beanpot tournament to see this illustrated. Over the 58 years in which the tournament has been held, Northeastern has come out on top only 4 times (all during the program's heyday in the 1980s), by far the least among the Beanpot schools. They've finished in 4th place, losing both Beanpot games, 50% of the time.

Much like Colorado College, Northeastern's long hockey history is filled with an awful lot of difficult seasons. A member of the original ECAC, the Huskies did not make any meaningful impact on the conference during the first two decades of its existence, but that began to change in the early 1980s.

1982 was a banner year for NU - two years removed from their first Beanpot triumph, the Huskies won the ECAC championship to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. They made the most of their experience there, reaching the Frozen Four before bowing out to eventual national champions North Dakota. Three seasons later, NU would break from the ECAC to be an inaugural member of Hockey East, and early on they enjoyed some success, winning the Hockey East title in 1988.

But since then, Northeastern has largely fallen back into its old ways of typically being an also-ran within Hockey East. The Huskies have made two NCAA appearances since their 1988 Hockey East title, in 1994 and 2009, but they still haven't advanced in the tournament since 1982.

Last season, the Huskies were caught in the muddled middle of Hockey East, missing the playoffs by a single point - and finishing just 4 points out of third place. A reversal of fortunes in their final weekend of the season against Boston University could have seen them finishing in third instead of the Terriers. Instead, their season was over. As non-playoff years go, however, NU had one of the better years that one could expect, finishing with a .500 record overall and nearly .500 in Hockey East as well. It was a tough finish for a team that had reached the NCAA tournament a year prior, but the early loss to the pro ranks of Hockey East Player of the Year Brad Thiessen, the goaltender who had led the Huskies into the tournament in 2009, was a big setback.

The current edition of the Huskies got another gutshot recently when sophomore-to-be defenseman Jake Newton, one of the standout players on the team last season as a major offensive threat from the outside, signed with the Anaheim Ducks, foregoing his last three years of college eligibility. But it's not all bad news. The Huskies do bring back a decent amount of scoring potential, especially in MacLeod and McNeely. MacMillan joins the team from Alberni Valley, where he played with Johnny Rogic for Nolan Graham, as the reigning Coastal Conference MVP with 61 goals in 59 games, and should quickly become another scoring threat for NU.

The drawback, though, is Northeastern's terribly young defensive corps. As we've seen in Troy, having a dearth of experienced leadership on the blue line can spell disaster. Mike Hewkin will be the only senior defenseman on the team, backed by a glut of freshman and sophomore blueliners. If this young corps can congeal satisfactorily, Northeastern can be a very dangerous team to play against. The Engineers, in this sense, will be fortunate to be playing the Huskies early in the season.

In net, Chris Rawlings didn't come anywhere close to matching Thiessen's standard with a wildly erratic freshman season, but he was never intended to come in and be the number one goaltender right away - he was supposed to be Thiessen's understudy last season. This year, NU brings in one of the top rated goaltender recruits in the nation in Clay Witt, who should get drafted in Los Angeles this month. Time will tell whether the job is up for grabs or whether Rawlings or Witt will be the go-to-guy from the beginning.

RPI faces the Huskies in what will be their third consecutive road game to start the season, but this will be a "one-night stand" in Boston. They'll more than likely sleep in their own beds the night before and certainly the night after, as they have a home game the following day. If the first weekend in Colorado isn't successful, this game will be an early must win, and the key, more than likely, will be RPI's experienced offensive attack jumping on the Huskies early and often and then, as was one of the issues last year, not letting up late in the game.

This should be the first major opportunity for RPI fans to see the team in a meaningful game - unless of course, you're planning to see them in Colorado. The Engineers' first few home games are all against Atlantic Hockey opponents, so getting out to Boston for this game might be a good idea. The Huskies play in Matthews Arena, the oldest surviving and operational indoor ice hockey arena in the world, and the team's loyal student section has to be seen to be believed. The Bruins, Whalers, and Celtics all once called this building home, and Matthews is one of three present-day college hockey barns to have hosted the Frozen Four (Houston Field House and Brown's Meehan Auditorium are the others) - so if you've never been, this might be your year to check it out. The building is celebrating its centennial this year, having opened in 1910.

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