I don’t know Chris Rawlings personally, but from what I hear he sounds like a good guy. His career at NU has had its share of highlights and its share of lowlights. And had he left after this season, I think his legacy would have been a positive one in most people’s eyes. Unfortunately he didn’t leave after this season, and whether its right or wrong, he may have just become one of the biggest villains in recent NU hockey history.
Since he stepped on campus, Rawlings has had his eyes on pro hockey. He has spent the offseasons attending NHL Development camps for various teams and it he had left after his freshman or sophomore year no one would have been surprised. In fact, it was a bit surprising that he did come back this season for his Junior year. As the story goes, he stayed, despite offers from Philadelphia and Columbus, because his girlfriend still had 1 year left at Northeastern.
So everyone, including the coaching staff, assumed he was leaving after this season and planned accordingly. For the coaches, that meant getting one of the best goalie recruits in the country back on board after Cronin left and getting him prepared to matriculate this fall. For the fans, it meant looking forward to seeing that recruit/savior, Jon Gillies, next season.
Elite goaltenders are hard to find, but they are the great equalizer in hockey. Look at Merrimack or Lowell or Northeastern in 2008-2009 or even the Bruins last year. If there is one guy on the ice that can help your team punch above its weight, its your goalie. Gillies is one of these elite guys. So its no surprise that the Quebec Remparts, who owned his QMJHL rights, were also very interested in him. It didn’t help that their GM/coach is a guy named Patrick Roy. What goalie wouldn’t want to learn from him?
But Gillies continued on his patch for Northeastern. He signed his NLI for 2012, reaffirmed his commitment, and was even sporting the red and black N on his goalie helmet. There was still a chance that the team that took him in the NHL draft this summer would push him to the Q, but it finally seemed reasonable to expect Gillies to be here in the fall and to be excited about it.
Then the plan fell apart. Rawlings faltered down the stretch and probably played himself out of a contract (or at least a good contract) and decided to come back for his final season. Gillies decided he didn’t want to a waste a year of development backing up or, at best, splitting time with Rawlings. So Northeastern is now left with 1 more year of Rawlings instead of 2-4 years of Gillies.
Madigan did the right thing in releasing him from his NLI. The situation that Madigan presumably sold Gillies on was impossible, and it would be unfair to make Gillies come here and slow down his development.
So now a guy that Northeastern desperately needs will go off and be successful somewhere else. Since he is released from his NLI, that could be another college. Either way it will be painful for Northeastern fans who already have to deal with watching Johnny Gaudreau dominate at BC.
For Northeastern, it is just another reminder this program is headed in the wrong direction. That NCAA tournament bid was just 3 years ago, but things have been so bad since then that sometimes it feels like 10. Hopefully this is the low point, and its all uphill from here. But thats what everyone thought last summer too, so who knows? Lets just hope there is some good news soon.