Northeastern Misses the Playoffs, Who Should Take the Blame?

March 4, 2012


Here is the deal: Northeastern should never be missing the Hockey East playoffs.  NU is in Boston, they play in a historic rink, with a brand new weight room.  They get to play in the Beanpot.  They have great student support. They offer good academics.  Hockey is the biggest sport on campus. And now with GONUxstream, you can watch all home games for free.  With all these assets, they should be an attractive option to both coaches and recruits.  And that should be turned into positive results on the ice.  Or at least the ability to finish in the top 8 of a 10 conference that features several teams that do not have these assets.

But in 2 out of the past 3 years, that has not happened.   And for some reason, most people seem OK with it.   I don’t care about how bad this team has been in the past.   Losing is unacceptable.  And people need to start acting like that.   So who is to blame for the failure?  Well a lot of different people, some more than others.  But here is a good start if you are looking to play the blame game.  (and you should be.   If you support Northeastern and you are OK with mediocrity, you are part of the problem)

The Players

The problems run deeper than just the players on the ice, but this is probably the best place to start.   Being bad is one thing.  Being talented and wasting it is an issue.   This team was very much the latter.   This team was talented enough to make the playoffs.  They showed that with wins over Notre Dame (x2), Michigan, Lowell, BU, and Minnesota.  But that effort was not brought on a consistent basis.  It was actually a rare occurrence.  There were far too many games that this team was outworked by an opponent who just wanted it more.   And when you miss the playoffs by 1 point, its hard to forget about all of the winnable games that were lost because of a lack of effort.    The way the team quit in the Beanpot was beyond embarrassing.  And if any fan stopped going to games after that, I would not blame them.  When a team plays like that, it doesn’t deserve support.   The worst part of the season may have been the final game.  With nothing to play for, the Huskies played their best game of the season.  They finally looked like they cared.   And they showed their potential.   To finish behind less talented teams, like Providence is just unacceptable.  (This cannot be applied to the few guys that absolutely worked their asses off every chance they got: Mike McLaughlin, Robbie Vrolyk, Zak Stone, and Steve Morra.   There were a few others, but these 4 guys didn’t take a single shift off all year, despite their teammates not returning the favor).

The Coaching Staff

No coaching staff will ever be perfect, but this group left a lot to be desired this season.  Early in the season, spreading out ice time was a huge issue and it took far too many 3rd period/OT collapses before Madigan decided to change it up.  Eventually they got the lines to click and got the ice time figured out and thats when the win streak happened.  By the end of the year, there were so many injuries that the lineup was going to a mess no matter what.  You can’t blame them for that.  But here is what you can blame them for: SPECIAL TEAMS.  Here are the facts.  The Huskies in even strength situations: +21.   The Huskies during Special Teams situations: -17, including scoring just 21 PP goals while giving up 11 shorthanded ones on their 153 power plays.   If you had to pick one single reason why the Huskies missed the playoffs, this would absolutely be it.   Northeastern’s complete and year-long failure on special teams, especially the power play made them a team that was fighting for a playoff spot instead of home ice.   It took the coaches over half the year to figure out the passive box wasn’t working on the PK.   And they never figured out how to fix the PP or even who to put on it.  The stats are bad enough but when you add in how demoralizingeffect  giving up a shorthanded goal had on the team  and their playeafter that, its just brutal.   How many times did the Huskies not convert on a PP late in the third in tied or 1 goal games?  A million?   Just unacceptable.  Even if you don’t have the pieces to have a great power play, you should at least figure out a way to stop the other team from scoring while you have the man advantage.  The one other thing you can blame the coaches for is their refusal to go with Witt.  They stuck with Rawlings through stretches where he clearly didn’t have it and Witt never got a chance.  So by the end of the season, it was either stick with a struggling Rawlings or go with the guy who had seen the ice 4 times all season.  There was no reason for them to be in that situation.  They should have known what they had in Witt.  He turned in a tremendous performance in the final game and with a little more ice time, the Huskies may have picked up that 1 point they needed.

Peter Roby

You’d think the Athletic Director would work hard to make sure the school’s biggest sport is successful, but Roby does just the opposite.   He suspended Greg Cronin during the crucial stretch of last season for sending too many texts to kids that had already committed.   Possibly the most minor violation possible.  One that probably happens all over college sports.  He made it impossible for Cronin to do his job, and basically forced him out.  Whether you liked Cronin or not, him leaving set the program back.  If Cronin stays, so does what would have been one of the best recruiting classes Northeastern ever had. (led by Johnny Gaudreau who has flourished at BC) And there is a chance Jamie Oleksiak would have stayed. Dan Cornell did a great job this season but the difference between him and Oleksiak is just enormous.  Roby knew what the repercussions were when he forced Cronin out, but he did it anyway because Cronin actually cared about winning games and clashed with Roby over it.  When Cronin left, Roby was forced to make the biggest hire of his tenure, he conducted a “national search” and wound up with the following 5 candidates: 1. Sebastian LaPlante 2. Jim Madigan 3. Darren Yopyk 4. Mark Carlson 5. Greg Carvel.  Um what? You are telling me a head coaching job in Boston at a Hockey East, Beanpot school could not appeal to anyone better than these 5?   And then he hires the one guy out of this group with no coaching experience, and in turn pissing LaPlante off so much that he leaves the program.  If he wanted an alum to run the program, why not LaPlante?  The guy who had been an assistant with the team.  And then just to make sure the hockey team could not be successful, he limited the amount of paid recruiting visits Madigan could go on and only allowed 1 scout on the road at a time.  The man hates hockey for whatever reason.  And his Tee-Ball coach attitude is what is holding Northeastern Athletics back.  Everyone gets to play and everyone gets trophy.   If Roby had it his way, we probably wouldn’t even keep score.

Northeastern Administration

Northeastern seems intent becoming one of the top schools in the country.   But somehow it has never occurred to them that Athletics can be a big part of that.   They allowed the AD to cut football, but they still have a hockey team that plays in the premier hockey conference and a basketball team that plays in one of the best mid-major conferences.  But does the school support them? Barely.  Do they use that as an advertising pitch? Of course not.  And do they make an effort to improve Athletics? Hell no.   If you want to be considered a top school, having a well-run, successful Athletics Department needs to be part of your focus.  So when it sucks and thats not an issue, heads need to roll.  Mediocrity is not OK, and lately NU hasn’t even achieved that.   Its time for that to change and its gotta start from the top.   Fire Roby and start supporting the teams and maybe we can finally have some quality teams and the fan support they deserve.



Simple Solution: Fire Roby, Make Madigan AD, Bring Cronin Back.

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9 Comments on “Northeastern Misses the Playoffs, Who Should Take the Blame?”

  1. Eric A. Says:

    The article was spot on up until you got to the administration. You are wrong about the administration not caring about winning. It has been well known that Aoun and Roby have been at odds over the lack of success coming from athletics, especially hockey.

    Coming from USC, he has seen what athletics can do for a school, especially with alumni and donating to the school. Aoun has made is quite clear throughout the school that he wants athletics to have national success (winning, ranking, television coverage), but Roby has continued to go against him and continue his “winning isn’t the most important” objection, which is highlighted with the fact Madigan being his replacement for Cronin despite Cronin elevating the program and La-Force Mann getting an extension for Women’s Basketball and both thanking Roby with a combined 21-37-5 record. Roby will take credit for Women’s Hockey but everyone who follows athletics knows it was all Flint and he was lucky to get Flint to begin with. Not to mention Flint probably won’t stay here too long because of Roby and he is too good of a coach to not be a part of a program that winning matters.

    With the school rising in rank and an alumni that is hungry for winning, especially with hockey, and the continued failing of Roby, it is only a matter of time before Roby changes his tune to keep his job or Aoun gets rid of him with the blessing of the starving alumni who adore him so he can bring an AD that realizes winning matters in athletics, especially with your major conference program.


    • Drew Says:

      I hope thats true. And I hope this is the summer that Aoun finally gets sick of Roby’s poor performance and gets rid of him.


  2. Happy Husky Says:

    I learned a great deal in your article,it was well thought out and informative.glad you pointed out the huge blessing that GoNUXstream is I am very thankful for the free coverage as its responsible for our family becoming Huskies fans and going to as many games as we can afford,if they are reading please keep it free and use it as a platform to introduce and involve new fans.

    I am enjoying your blog,please post another article with the positive aspects of this years season and hope for the future

    Thanks again for the blog and all you have done for Huskies hockey fans and the team and school.


    • Drew Says:

      Thank you. We will have a post summing up the good parts from this season and looking ahead to next year in the next week or so.


  3. Pat Says:

    The player retention (or lack thereof) is what gets me the most. I understand that the talent retention and winning discussion is a “chicken or the egg” argument, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Teams all around Hockey East develop talent and keep it for 3-4 years.

    Looking back to 2008 at the Hockey East All-Rookie teams, Northeastern has had five players named, bu has had five and BC has had three. Of the 8 BC/bu players, all were still active this season (Coyle/Nicastro dismissed from bu during the season), while 2 (Reid and Newton) of NU’s had left after one year. Keep in mind Quailer may have only stayed because of his injury, while Rawlings stayed for the girlfriend and Bitetto is likely gone after this year.

    It seems that as soon as someone here gets close to 20-25 points in a season, they’re gone the next year. Chris Connolly for bu has put up at least 28 points every year for four years, Chris Kreider from BC got drafted 19th overall and has played three full seasons in Hockey East, and Gustav Nyquist at Maine put up 61 in one season, then came back with another 51 the next year.

    The whole recruiting issues are a whole separate discussion, but we have to put special emphasis on keeping key players around as well.


    • Drew Says:

      I agree, NU has been hit hard but early defections. BC recruits guys who care about an education and York make sure these guys are in for the long haul when he signs them. Another part of this is BC and BU can replace early departures much easier than NU can. Reid and Newton were weird situation. No one really expected them to leave right away, but they were older when they came in and there were rumors that they didn’t love playing for Cronin. Players leaving early is always going to be an issue, but I agree with you that it has been hurting NU, especially since these guys (including Bitetto) don’t seem ready to go. Its almost like they can’t wait to get out. Thats alarming


    • Happy Husky Says:

      excellent post!


  4. Anonymous Says:

    I cannot say much for the administration since I do not know them that much but I will agree that coaching or lack thereof was the main problem this year.

    I cannot emphasize enough the stubborness of this coaching staff especially, Jerry Keefe’s insistence of implementing the same players and same schemes night in and night out. Schemes that obviously were too complex to follow or not enough talent pool to execute them. He wasn’t fooling any of the crafty coaches in Hockey East with these.

    When a team struggles, like NU did this year, you need to keep things simple. This staff ran the same players out there night in and night out who did not want to pay the price given the responsibilities they were assigned.

    I am not talking about fourth line guys or freshmen that basically try to work harder given their predicaments but the go to guys like Bitetto, Saponari, Pimm, and Qualier”s of this world that would just not pay the price!!!!! And yet, these guys were killing penalties, working the powerplay, on the ice for 30 minutes a game no matter what they did. An example of a mis-managed bench was the fact that certain key elements never got to play. Manno was touted to be a power forward that could play the body and could add a little truculence to the game but this was considered too much for a coaching staff that wanted to be more holy than the Pope himself. Manson was touted as hard hitting defenceman coming from Western Canada but I saw him throw very little hits this year.

    The fourth line of Dongara-Stone-Morra showed that they could be a good energy line the last game but these coaches did not realize this until it was too late.

    Toomany teams came into our building not fearing any consequence whatsoever.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that too many of their go to guys got free passes this year. No matter how they played these coaches kept throwing them out there no matter what they did. This would not have passed if Cronin was still there. As far as I am concerned, Madigan is not the man for the job. It’s obvious Keefe and Foley were running the show. They did not let players play to their strengths and took too much “crap” from players that felt a sense of entitlement.

    I am very disappointed with this season and I do not know if it is a reflection of the AD but one thing I do know for sure is that, they are definitely a reflection of this coaching staff.

    Long Live Cronin!!!!!!


    • Drew Says:

      Thats what happens when you hire a guy who has no coaching experience. Keefe and Foley are both younger and should not be running the show. They should be assistants, which is what they were hired to do. But if Madigan doesn’t know what he is doing, then it falls on them and obviously they couldn’t handle it either. Stubbornness is a great way to put it. Whether things worked or not, the coaching staff just kept going back to the same things and the same personnel. If anyone needs to improve, its them. This team has talent and watching them get outcoached so often is really frustrating.


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