We didn’t make the trip out to Notre Dame and now we must live with that regret. Some members of the Doghouse did make the trip though. Sean Hathaway was one of those people and he has been kind enough to write about his experience for us. Here is his recap of his weekend in South Bend.
There’s a certain mystique surrounding the University of Notre Dame, especially in regards to athletics. Even though that mostly refers to the storied (but declining) football program, the Fighting Irish boasted the number two ranked team in the nation when Northeastern came to town. So when the Huskies brought their brooms to South Bend, can you really blame me if I characterize the weekend as magical?
With the season seemingly on the brink, the Huskies have managed to overcome the growing pains of a program in transition, behind the bench as well as on the ice. And after digging themselves into a sizable, albeit manageable, hole, this team is clawing itself out, playing up to its abilities.
It took 30 seconds for Northeastern to get on the score sheet on Friday. And after less than five minutes of play, ND’s starting goalie, Mike Johnson had been chased after surrendering three goals, making no saves. This was only the start of what would prove to be a long night for the home team as the Huskies hung nine goals in front of a stunned crowd.
Such a gaudy goal total would catch the eyes of anyone, with good reason. But the story of that night was not the score line as much as how it was achieved. The 9-2 result was a representation of just how good this team can be when it clicks. And it’s about time.
After much line juggling, it seems the staff has finally found the right combinations. Garrett Vermeersch, who fans had been perpetually criticizing, calling for him to be benched, has blossomed skating with the highly skilled Saponari and Karlsson. His first goal Friday (an absolute snipe under the crossbar) was an exquisite display of ability and should make team highlight reels for some time.
But really, the talk of line adjustments has to start and stop with the Ferriero – Pimm – Quailer line. It seems obvious to say, given the amount of scoring this trio did, that they dominated Notre Dame, but man were they hot. The chemistry and feeling these three have for one another is a joy to watch and make them a threat to score every time they step out of the ice. It’s refreshing to see Quailer and Ferriero, especially, play up to the expectations of fans after a disappointing 2010-2011 campaign. It’s also refreshing to see this pair, who spent the first few games in the press box because of suspensions, step up in leadership roles in captain Mike McLaughlin’s absence; Saturday’s struggle saw this line provide both goals, carrying the team to victory.
In addition to meeting expectations, certain players have thus far, exceeded them. Widely. Dan Cornell and Ludwig Karlsson, may be freshmen but neither play the part. Filling the skates of Jamie Oleksiak was always going to be a tall task – excuse the pun. Seemingly out of nowhere, Cornell has stepped up and provided solid defense and has equaled the intensity of his partner Anthony Bitetto. After scoring Friday night, maybe we’re in for a more complete game from college hockey’s most angry man (seriously, watch his roster video). Karlsson, meanwhile, has been a revelation. A jack-of-all-trades, he may very well be the best forward on the team. He competes in all three zones and wins seemingly every puck battle in the corner. His ability to facilitate or finish makes him a perfect complement to Saponari while his soft hands leave me wanting to refer this Swede “the Masseuse” (somehow I don’t see that catching on).
Fellow rookies Joseph Manno and Adam Reid have also pitched in, the former scoring a pair against BC while the latter scored his first collegiate goal against ND, breaking through the defense. The Reid goal was a glimpse of the power possessed by a true freshmen still getting accustomed to his big frame, so let’s hope there’s plenty more where that came from. It’s a shame that goal was overshadowed by more aesthetically pleasing efforts (the aforementioned Vermeersch goal and the almost as eye popping Justin Daniels contribution) but when you score nine, some are bound to get overlooked.
Likewise, so will great goaltending. Even though the story of the weekend was all the goals, Chris Rawlings deserves his due for two stellar performances. In spite of all the disappointment that has characterized the beginning of this season, Rawlings has played his best hockey. The man once referred to as the Roberto Luongo of Hockey East due to his inconsistent play has been the team’s MVP. All weekend, every ND fan I talked to made it a point to share their admiration of his play. It was like Thiessen was back between the pipes.
So it goes without saying that Rawlings is a part of my three stars for the weekend. His lateral movement stymied Notre Dame’s big guns and kept NU alive Saturday when the offense couldn’t repeat the previous night’s output (not that anyone expected them too). Northeastern outscored Notre Dame 11-3 this past weekend but was outshot 50-35. Goaltending, ladies and gentlemen.
Karlsson’s four helpers and invaluable intangibles land him second star nods from me. This kid’s going to be a real contender for Hockey East Rookie of the Year. I just hope he’s wearing black and red come October.
As far as the first star goes, I’m going to cop out and say the entire Ferriero – Pimm – Quailer line. The fluidity and unison of the line make me feel a bit better about picking three guys for one spot but it’s really hard to weed out which one deserves honors more than the others. I expect big things from this line in the coming months, particularly Ferriero who appears to have finally learned to channel his energy and play at the level we all thought he could.
Now I would be foolish to completely ignore my surroundings in this write up. I grew up in the Boston area so, like anyone with a conscious, I developed a real hatred of BC; the pompousness, the entitlement, the lack of self-awareness. When I boarded the plane for Chicago Friday morning, I expected to enter a Mid West BC, one way worse. I quickly came to find this was not the case whatsoever. Instead, I found everyone (and I mean every single person) in South Bend, Indiana was nothing but friendly and cordial. Depending on what arena I’m in, I expect a certain amount of chirping, and that’s okay – it’s part of the experience. At Notre Dame, there was none of that. Not because of apathy…but because of politeness. It was all quite strange but still enjoyable. Fans; arena staff; students; locals, all had nothing but kind words to say about the team and its fans.
And then there’s the Compton Family Ice Arena, the new home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team. Matthews will always be the top college rink for me (partially because of the history, partially because of the set up and partially because I’m an admitted homer). I have to say, though, Compton is second with a bullet. Its set up is very much the same as Matthews while incorporating that famous Notre Dame prestige in a way that was visible without being overdone or nauseating (BC). But I will say that having two separate videos play before the team comes out is a little much. My one true knock is that unfortunately, unlike Matthews, the band plays in the balcony above the goalie while the students sit below. I’ve always hated when schools do this because the glass serves to swallow the voices of the students (which is made 10 times worse when someone like bu makes no noise to begin with).
For me this weekend was a nice Hockey East preview. I (hopefully) got to see what kind of Northeastern would run out for UML and the 2012 portion of the season as they try to build off this recent run of success. Beating Notre Dame twice as well as Michigan, the week before, is fantastic for the team but Saturday is business time. Hockey East points are still needed so the team needs to capitalize on the momentum or it will unfortunately be of little importance. Although, I must say, it was quite the conference welcome to Notre Dame. When they do eventually join Hockey East, I truly hope NU athletics can arrange for affordable weekend trips out to Indiana. As great as this past weekend was, it was a shame so few people got to experience it. I can’t encourage people enough to make this trip if possible when it comes around again. It’s definitely worth it.