In the early part of the 2018-19 season, Northeastern coach Jim Madigan routinely faced questions about how the Huskies would move on after their top line of Adam Gaudette, Nolan Stevens, and Dylan Sikura turned pro following the previous season.
This year, it seemed Madigan would be peppered with queries about who would be playing in goal after Cayden Primeau joined the Montreal Canadiens organization after leading NU to the Beanpot and Hockey East tournament championships in his sophomore season. But the answer to who would replace the 2019 Mike Richter Award-winner has become evident after three games.
Bridgewater native Craig Pantano, a graduate transfer from Merrimack, has taken over between the pipes, allowing just one goal in each game. He has stopped 72 of 75 shots, good for a .960 save percentage as No. 15 Northeastern is off to a 3-0 start, including a 3-1 win at home over No. 4 UMass Tuesday.
“He gives you calmness,” said Madigan. “He gives you poise. He gives you leadership. He’s a quiet guy, but he’s got a unique personality, as most goalies do. “
Pantano appeared in 57 games for Merrimack, including 28 in both his junior and senior seasons.
“He’s won a lot of hockey games in this league,” said Madigan. “He’s been in every building and has won hockey games and he’s won a series, so there’s a lot of poise and composure with him. He’s giving us goaltending that’s allowing us to win hockey games right now.”
Northeastern also lost All-American defenseman Jeremy Davies from last year’s squad after he signed an entry-level contract with the New Jersey Devils. Senior Ryan Shea has taken on more of a leadership role this season.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys in that room,” said Madigan. “Guys who haven’t played Division 1 hockey who are just learning how to win a Hockey East game, and he’s leading the way that way, on the ice and off the ice.”
The Milton native who played at BC High has averaged 28 minutes of ice time this season, playing on the power play and the penalty kill as well.
“He plays in all situations,” said Madigan. “He’s just playing with confidence. He’s moving pucks. He’s simplifying his game. He’s leading out there. He’s taking charge, and he’s been good in the locker room, and we need that.”
The play on special teams against UMass demonstrated the good and the bad for Northeastern Leading, 2-1, in the third period, the Huskies were whistled for a pair of penalties, allowing the Minutemen to skate five-on-three for two minutes. NU was able to kill off the UMass power play, but found itself down a man for the final 3:03 after Brendan van Riemsdyk received a five-minute major.
The Huskies did not surrender a goal, and have gone 12 for 12 in PK situations this season.
“We implemented a few different approaches to it from last year,” said Madigan. “Coach [Mike] McLaughlin has done a really good job of getting guys to buy in. I think we have more of an identity within the unit.”
Conversely, the Huskies had a five-on-three of their own for just less than two minutes in the second period, but failed to capitalize.
“A lot of it is, you don’t have a lot of time to work on it early in the year because of the limitations on your practice time in the preseason, “ said Madigan about the power play. “We’ve had some good looks. We just need to play together a little bit more.”
Northeastern is back in action against Holy Cross Saturday night at Matthews Arena. The Crusaders knocked off Providence in overtime last week, 3-2.
There’s a new No. 1 team in the country — Denver — after UMass Lowell traveled to Minnesota Duluth and knocked off the top-ranked Bulldogs, 3-2, Friday night, then dropped the rematch the next night, 2-1, for its first loss of the season. The River Hawks are off to a 3-1 start.
Goalie Tyler Wall stopped 68 of 72 shots over the weekend to be named Hockey East co-Defensive Player of the Week, along with UNH blue liner Max Gildon, who had a goal and four assists in a two-game series at Miami in which the Wildcats came away with 3 points.
Boston College, off to a 2-0 start, gets its opportunity to knock off the No. 1 team when the No. 6 Eagles head to Denver for a pair of games. Senior David Cotten was named Hockey East Player of the Week after he had two goals and four assists in the wins over Wisconsin and Colgate, while freshman goalie Spencer Knight posted the first two wins of his career, as well as his first shutout, to be named the conference’s Rookie of the Week.
Lift your voice
The players and coaches aren’t the only ones adjusting to the new season. The fans are shaking off the rust too. That was evident in the third period Tuesday night at Matthews Arena, when the NU Pep Band performed “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. Typically, the students in the DogHouse sing along, and will continue to belt out the lyrics even when the action resumes on the ice and the band stops playing.
That was not the case in the home opener, with students barely heard over the band. Maybe it was because the game was played in the middle of the week. Or maybe the new members of the student body just haven’t learned the words to a one-hit wonder from when they were toddlers. The Globe was unable to confirm reports of graduate transfers being recruited to lend their voices.