October 20, 2013

Freshman class helps Huskies stay unbeaten

By Joshua Kummins

BOSTON -- After finishing in the cellar of the Hockey East standings last season, not much was expected of the Northeastern Huskies entering 2013-14.

NU freshman Zach Aston-Reese has points in three of his first four games. (Photo: Joshua Kummins/New England Hockey Journal)

After sweeping Alabama-Huntsville in straight games last weekend at Matthews Arena, the challenge heightened a bit over the third and fourth contests of the year with a home-and-home series against regional rival Holy Cross.

It was safe to say, the Huntington Hounds passed the test, and did so with relative ease.

Redshirt freshman Derick Roy made his second start in a row on Friday night and led the charge with 26 saves in a 3-1 victory. The NU offense struck for five goals at home on Saturday and swept the weekend once again, upping the count to 4-0-0 on the year.

For head coach Jim Madigan, who is revving up his third year behind the bench at his alma mater, the weekend brought forth quite a bit to like.

"I am really pleased with the way our kids performed over the weekend," Madigan said. "For six periods of hockey, I think we had one tough period and that was the third [Friday]. ... I really liked the way we started and showed some poise, continued to play with our demeanor and disposition."

In the 5-2 win Saturday, NU received goals from five different skaters and posted an impressive 3-for-7 mark on the power play. Through four games, the Huskies seem to have made much improvement in that department as the man advantage is currently clicking over 30 percent.

"Geesh, I thought we could have been 5-for-7, but the way their goalie [junior Matt Ginn] played was amazing. ... I thought we were moving the puck very well. Our forwards were moving; they weren't stationary, and that's the key," Madigan said. "There's a lot of skill out there and hockey sense."

The Huskies pressed Ginn and the Crusader defense with 53 shots on goal - a mark that NU has already hit twice. The Ontario native's 48 stops were penned into the Holy Cross record books as the third-highest total a Division I goaltender has amassed in school history.

Two of NU's five scorers on the night were rookies chipping in with their first collegiate goals. The class has been very solid collectively and that trend continued with an eight-point Saturday night.

New Yorker Zach Aston-Reese has now posted points in three of the first four games, chipping in with three assists for his first multi-point effort. Coming from a high-quality program like the USHL's Lincoln Stars, he sees the transition going rather smoothly.

"There are a lot of skill guys on the team, so that makes it easier," Aston-Reese said. "The older guys have really welcomed us in and got our confidence up." 

After sophomore sensation Kevin Roy opened the Saturday scoring with a power-play marker 1:29 into the proceedings, Mike Szmatula made a fantastic individual effort a couple minutes later to skate down the ice and beat Ginn on the high glove side for his first goal.

"Every night, every single guy on our team just tries to do what they do best to try and help our team win," Szmatula commented after scoring his seventh and eighth points through half as many games. "My job is to chip in offensively and defensively as well. It's nice, so more importantly, we're winning." 

After commenting once again about the team's ongoing goaltending battle in the wake of Chris Rawlings' graduation, Madigan praised the play of his freshman class, and the two sitting at the podium to his left.

"The transition to college, for them, has been a smooth one at this point in the season. ... These two guys play to their strengths each and every night - they play 200 feet, they are intelligent hockey players, and they are humble young men. That's what's going to sustain us."

Off to a four-win start for the first time since 1993, next weekend brings a pair of road games for the Huskies as they travel to the North Country to battle another former ECAC foe, the Skating Saints of St. Lawrence, for the second year in a row.

"We were smart, [especially in the third period]," Madigan said. "We stayed above the puck. We were extremely disciplined. I thought we finished it off really strong. We will have to continue that as we go into next weekend and beyond."

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