Fast starts have not been one of Northeastern’s strengths in recent years. But that changed this season when the Huskies, under second-year coach Jim Madigan, won their first two contests, against Merrimack and defending national champion Boston College. It is the first time the team has begun 2-0 since the 1999-2000 season.
Nothing is won in October, of course, but Madigan said the plan has been to concentrate on the first 10 games and go from there.
“We’re obviously excited just about our start,’’ said Madigan. “It was a focus for us. We’re happy being 2-0 and we’ve had the focus be on the first 10 games and they’ve responded very well.’’
The names have certainly changed from last year. There are nine freshmen on the roster and several players have moved on (Justin and Drew Daniels, Rob Dongara, Anthony Bitetto, Alex Tuckerman, and Luke Eibler).
“There are a lot of new faces,’’ said Madigan. “What I’m feeling is we have a year to work with this team and they know how we want to play. We know what type of players they are so we can put them in situations to be successful. Our players know the systems we want to play and the style we want to play.’’
In the first two games, the Huskies played with hunger and energy from the opening minute.
“Up front, we’ve got five good lines and we want to be more of a puck-pursuit team,’’ said Madigan.
“I think we do have that type of chemistry and talent up front where we can skate and play the game fast and that’s going to be an emphasis for us this year, pushing the tempo.
“Playing that way, I think, makes you successful and pushes teams beyond their comfort level.’’
Merrimack and BC proved to be good tests of the Huskies’ new style.
“It was great to play Merrimack and BC right off the bat because They’re two teams that skate hard and work hard and pursue pucks,’’ said the coach. “How we wanted to play was going to be measured real early in the year, because if you didn’t measure up, if you didn’t pursue pucks and weren’t strong on pucks, we weren’t going to be successful.’’
“From a coaching respect, that’s good. Now maintaining that focus and pace, it’s one thing to do it for two games; now we have to do it for 34.’’
One of the keys to the season will be the play of senior goaltender Chris Rawlings. He has been excellent at times but not as consistent as he could’ve been. Madigan said Rawlings has worked hard to be the team’s stabilizer.
“He’s a quiet kid, he’s a self-motivator,’’ said Madigan.
“He’s a senior, and the last couple of years, we’ve had a younger defense corps. He knows it’s up to him to step up and we need him. He’s taken steps of addressing it and understanding it.
“We all have strengths and weaknesses, and you’re only going to get better if you focus in on your weaknesses or areas where you‘re less strong, and Chris has done that. We’re excited for him and he’s looking to make sure his best year is his senior year.’’
The tests continue Saturday when the Huskies travel to Chestnut Hill to take on the Eagles again. That night, the NCAA championship banner will be raised at Conte Forum.
, and Madigan said it will serve as a motivator to his team.
“What they’re doing is our goal,’’ said Madigan. “For us to get to where we want to get to, we have to beat the best, and BC has proven they are the best in three of the last five years.”
The coach’s message is “one day, let’s be where they are, raising Beanpot banners and national championship banners.’’
A Bentley bent
When the Harvard men’s team opens its season Oct. 27, there will be a large cheering section at Bright Center representing Bentley, the Crimson’s opponent. Bentley, which is playing Harvard for the first time in the sport, has sold its entire 750-ticket allotment for the game . . . Maine (1-2-0) is the only Hockey East team that has played three games. Despite its record, there are plenty of positives to note. The team’s penalty killing has been stellar (8 for 8). Goaltender Dan Sullivan has a 1.53 goals-against average and .942 save percentage . . . One of the top matchups of the week will be Friday night when No. 9 UMass-Lowell (0-0-1) travels to Magness Arena to take on No. 8 Denver, which is playing its first game of the season. The River Hawks will follow up Saturday with a trip to World Arena in Colorado Springs, where they will face Colorado College (2-0-0).
Heading northNo. 11 Boston University (1-0-0) travels to Durham, N.H., to take on New Hampshire (2-0-0) Saturday night. The Whittemore Center is one of the toughest rinks for opponents in Hockey East. The Terriers are the only opposing team in the league with a winning record there (11-8-5). In the first three meetings between BU and UNH last season, BU won by a combined score of 11-2 . UNH’s only victory was in double overtime during the league quarterfinals, but the Terriers prevailed in the best-of-three series . . . . . . Providence (1-1-0) will have its work cut out during its two-game set against No. 4 Miami (2-0-0). The squads have squared off six times, each winning three . . . Merrimack (1-1-0) will log some serious air miles this weekend when it plays in the Alaska Gold Rush tournament, squaring off against Alaska Friday and Alaska-Anchorage Saturday. Of the six goals the Warriors scored in their first two games, sophomores accounted for five of them.