When Greg Cronin left last summer, he left behind a program that was trending upwards. The team was coming off a strong second half that included a huge playoff victory at BU. The overtime loss in the Beanpot and the 1 goal loss in the Hockey East Semifinals, both to BC, were tough to swallow, but it was hard not to be proud of the team for really turning it around after a rough start.
Fueling the optimism was the fact that the recruiting class coming in was considered to be Cronin’s best yet. Despite losing the top scorers to graduation and early departures, people were definitely excited about this team and the future of Northeastern hockey.
When Cronin left, that optimism took a hit. No matter who they brought in, the new coach was going to have to steady the ship and keep all of the recruits on board before anything else. Unless they hired from within (Sebastien LaPlante), that was always going to be a tough task. Even with LaPlante, they likely would have lost one or two. But overall, it seemed like the next coach that came in would have a solid base and they would pick up where Cronin had left off.
When Jim Madigan was hired, he decided not to take that course. He chose to blow up the foundation Cronin built and start down his own path. Most of the time when a new coach comes in, they do clear out memories of the old regime and craft the team into their own model. Madigan’s supporters this year have been quick to point out that Cronin did the same thing when he came in. To be fair though, the situation Cronin walked into was a far cry from the one Madigan did. Unlike when Cronin came in, Madigan had plenty of talent to work with. Still, he decided that he was better off doing things his way and getting his guys in.
Was this the right move by Madigan? We can’t say. Not now at least. If Madigan brings in his guys and can get a Beanpot or an NCAA tournament win, I don’t think anybody is going to still be upset about missing the playoffs this year. But if Madigan’s plan can’t take the program to new heights, then it will probably feel like he did waste what Cronin left here.
Either way, its too early to tell if this the right course of action or not. But its the course Northeastern is on. For the second year in a row, its been a difficult summer for Northeastern and when the team takes the ice next season, it will be one major step closer to a Madigan-designed team. “Cronin’s guys” have been heading for the exits: some by their own will (Bitetto), some because they had no reason to stay (Dongara). There will be more departures before this summer is over. Besides Chris Rawlings, Luke Eibler will probably be the biggest reminder of Cronin next year. Look at the likely Top 6 forwards
1. Ludwig Karlsson (never played for Cronin)
2. Vinny Saponari (never played for Cronin)
3. Braden Pimm (3rd/4th liner under Cronin)
4. Garrett Vermeersch (Member of Cronin’s Doghouse. 4th liner in Cronin’s last season)
5. Cody Ferriero (President of Cronin’s Doghouse. Suspended once, benched multiple times in just 1 year under Cronin)
6. Adam Reid or Joe Manno (never played for Cronin, Manno committed to Madigan)
Defense isn’t much better. Just Drew Ellement and Luke Eibler will have played under Cronin. And of course, Madigan has gotten commitments from his own recruits and let some of Cronin’s go (McKee, Renz).
Its a bit shocking when you look at it. Obviously Madigan was going to mold the program in a way that suited him, but it is surprising just how quickly he has cleared out Cronin’s guys. And for fans who watched Cronin turn this program around, that can be a little hard to swallow. All will be forgiven if Madigan can win, but right now it feels like Northeastern hockey is back to square 1 and it might take a few years for this plan to get going.