Boston, MA- The Northeastern University Huskies and Providence College Friars have authored quality seasons. Both teams have secured spots in the NCAA tournament, but both also wanted to win the Hockey East Tournament to validate their excellence. The regular season meetings between these two proved entertaining, with both going to overtime. The third did likewise and PC barely got the edge at the Garden.
The first period opened with a beautiful display of skating and passing. The game was played with an air of respect and skill as opposed to the desperation surrounding the earlier BU vs BC game. Despite that, the first goal was an ugly one. Davis Bunz fired a shot on net that was knocked down and tipped in front by Vimal Sukumaran. Cayden Primeau got his pad on the goal, but could not control it and Providence led 1-0 halfway through the period. Northeastern won the shot total 13-9, but couldn’t wrestle away the lead.
Northeastern thoroughly dominated the shot totals in the second period, 17-6. Hayden Hawkey held firm in the Providence net for most of the frame, though. The Huskies also got three power plays in the period, but the second leading power play in the nation was shut out in the period. They still tied the game on special teams, though. With 3:53 left in the period, Biagio Lerario took a roughing penalty. In the final seconds of the power play, NU’s top line cleared the puck with their sights on the net. Adam Gaudette dropped the puck to Dylan Sikura who fired it by Hawkey to tie the game just before the second intermission.
Northeastern depended on their top unit for most of their season’s offense. Early in the third period, though, their second line clicked and gave the Huskies the lead. John Picking shot on Hawkey. The puck bounced to Austin Goldstein and the Saugus, MA, native potted the go-ahead goal with 3:03 gone in the period. Providence went into desperation mode, trying to force overtime.
Northeastern allowed Providence to dictate the pace and was outshot 15-8 in the period. In the final two minutes, the Huskies clung to their 2-1 lead and needed a little more defense to secure a trip to the Hockey East Title game. That didn’t happen. Instead, Kasper Bjorkqvist landed the equalizer with 1:51 left in regulation. For the first time since 1989 and only the second time in Hockey East history, both semi-final games went into overtime.
The overtime looked like the first period, even skating with pretty plays and punctuated with some brutal hits. The teams matched each other with three shots a piece. Halfway through the overtime, Providence tilted the ice their way and landed the knockout. Tommy Davis shot on Primeau. The rebound came to Brandon Duhaime and the sophomore from Parkland, Fl, sent the Friars to their first Hockey East Championship Game since 2001.
Huskies head coach Jim Madigan was surprisingly calm after the game.
“It was a great college hockey game. All three games we played with them went to overtime. Unfortunately, we came out on the losing side of the ledger twice. They’re a good team. Congratulations to Providence. It’ll sting for us. We had some goals and we had a good group of guys to accomplish those. One of them was winning Hockey East. Despite sowing up a spot in the NCAA Tournament, this one is special. This is a tough league. When you get here, you want to make the most. We won the championship two years ago and we wanted that again this year. Because of our good regular season, we can move on. So we’ll focus in on that.”
The loss drops Northeastern to 23-9-5. The Huskies will play in the NCAA Tournament and await their fate on Selection Sunday.
Friars Head Coach Nate Leaman was subdued but clearly relieved after the game.
“Our games with them have been outstanding this year. We came out with the start we wanted and we survived their power play. We made a push after their rebound and we played our best hockey in the overtime.”
Providence improves to 23-10-4 on the year. Hayden Hawkey recorded 38 saves in the victory. The Friars will play in their first Hockey East Championship game since 2001 on Saturday night. They face the Boston University Terriers seeking their first Hockey East Title since 1996. Puck drops at TD Garden at 7 pm.