The Northeastern men’s ice hockey team (25-13-1, 15-8-1 HE) fell to the University of Connecticut (20-16-0, 14-10-0 HE) in a disastrous Hockey East semifinals matchup March 18.
The defeat came after the program’s first Hockey East regular season win and a 3-2 quarterfinals knockout of Boston College’s men’s ice hockey team (15-18-5, 9-12-3 HE).
Northeastern, a team that bounced around the Hockey East rankings all season, gained momentum towards the end. Before March 18, the team had won six of its last seven games. Their March 12 quarterfinals victory gave the team a chance to redeem themselves at TD Garden after their heartbreaking Beanpot Finals loss to Boston University (19-13-3, 13-8-3 HE) which ended their bid for a fourth-consecutive win at the tournament.
Prior to the semifinal game, Northeastern and UConn faced each other twice during a late February weekend series in which the Northeastern Huskies dominated.
Northeastern sophomore goaltender Devon Levi made a triumphant return from the 2022 Winter Olympics that weekend, making 100 saves on 103 shots on goal, while his teammates snuck eight goals past UConn graduate student goaltender Darion Hanson.
The team’s energy was high going into the championship weekend, but it disappeared once the players stepped on the ice.
Levi was uncharacteristically sloppy throughout the semifinals match. Eleven minutes into the first period, UConn freshman forward Chase Bradley brought the puck up the right side of Northeastern’s zone. Surrounded by Northeastern defensemen, he flicked the puck toward UConn sophomore forward Nick Capone, who was waiting at the corner of the net. Capone sent the puck across the front of the net towards junior forward Vladislav Firstov, and Levi failed to follow. Firstov tapped the puck into the wide open left corner of the net, giving UConn a 1-0 lead.
As the end of the first period closed in, Northeastern grew hungry to tie the score. Two minutes after UConn’s goal, Northeastern received a penalty for slashing, giving the team the advantage it needed. After grabbing the puck and skating towards the net, sophomore forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine got caught in a mess of UConn defensemen. He passed the puck behind him to senior captain defenseman Jordan Harris. Harris drove the puck towards McDonough, who answered UConn’s goal with a back-door snipe, Northeastern’s only goal that night.
UConn, determined to regain its lead, pushed more players towards the net and crowded Levi with six minutes left in the second period. After UConn’s Bradley fired two back-to-back shots into Levi’s pads, UConn junior defenseman Roman Kinal flew up the ice and shoved the puck into the net before Levi could react.
UConn scored a third goal just five minutes into the final period, solidifying its lead for the rest of the game. Sophomore forward Ryan Tverberg, in an unassisted effort, took the puck around the front of the net, spooking Levi and drawing him out of the crease. Tverberg was left with a wide open slot for his shot.
In an attempt to even the score, Northeastern pulled Levi from the ice with three minutes remaining in the third period. Forty-six seconds later, UConn senior forward Marc Gatcomb scored an empty-net goal. Levi returned to the net for exactly one minute, then skated out of play again for the remainder of the game.
The final score was 4-1, sending UConn into the championship match against the University of Massachusetts Amherst (22-12-2, 14-8-2 HE) March 19. UMass won the game 2-1 in OT.
In the post-game press conference, UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh spoke about his team’s newfounded ability to penetrate Levi’s defensive wall.
“We talked about having two guys on the net at all times,” Cavanaugh said. “The last time we played [Northeastern], we got a lot of shots, but we only had one guy at the net. Very rarely are you going to beat [Levi] with just one guy on the net. ”
Although the loss took Northeastern out of the Hockey East tournament, there was still hope for an advancement to the NCAA championship. Northeastern ended the season in 12th place nationally, leaving its fate in the hands of each divisional championship round.
The Huskies advanced to the first round of the NCAA Championship tournament, losing 2-1 in OT to Western Michigan University (26-11-1, 14-9-1 NCHC) March 25 at the DCU Arena in Worcester, a painful end to a historic season.