236 days ago, Kendall Coyne suited up for her final game as a Husky in Matthews Arena.
229 days ago, Kendall Coyne’s hopes for a Hockey East title were cut short by a 4-3 loss to Boston University in the conference semifinals.
222 days ago, Kendall Coyne played her last game of collegiate hockey.
Despite the coming and going of another off-season and a new crop of freshmen coming in, the name murmured on Huntington Avenue is still of the U.S. Olympian, now a Minnesota Whitecap.
A Patty Kazmaier winner, NCAA Woman of the Year finalist, and nominee for a Globie, Coyne was the face of Northeastern hockey for years. Number 77 put up 249 career points (141 goals and 108 assists), had a +/- of 147, and scored a whopping 19 game-winning goals in her career.
But this is a new season and a new time. Not only has Coyne moved on, but blueliners Jordan Krause and Tori Hickel have left as well. Krause had a breakout season in 2015-16, tallying 30 points and putting up top defensive pair minutes. Hickel enjoyed her success, with 8 assists and anchoring the blue line with her veteran experience in the conference.
The question being asked on Huntington Avenue is “How can this team compete without the greatest player in program history?” Losing a 50-goal scorer is no laughing matter, and without a generational talent in Coyne the rest of the roster has to step up and make a splash in Hockey East.
Is there enough talent to carry the Huskies back into the consideration as one of the top teams in the country?
Old Dogs, New Tricks
Denisa Křížová, who played the entire season on the same line as Coyne last year, recently recorded her 100th career point and owns the team lead in goals (5) and points (10). Křížová was second on the team in each of these categories to end the season, so it would follow she is the best offensive producer at this point in the season. In order for NU to have the same success they enjoyed last year, Křížová is going to have to become their new go-to scorer.
In the NWHL’s entry draft this season, now seniors Hayley Scamurra and Paige Savage were selected by Buffalo and Connecticut, respectively. Scamurra has resumed her top line duties again this year and is fifth on the team with five points through seven games. Savage recently exploded for four points against Boston University, bringing her total up to seven on the year.
McKenna Brand has seen regular top line minutes as head coach Dave Flint shuffles his lineups with some frequency — Brand has taken well to this role, however, and notched four goals and four assists so far. Heather Mottau has been taking top-four even-strength minutes as well as power play time and is fourth on the team with six points.
Sophomores Don’t Always Slump
Morgan Crane has also appeared in five games already, after only appearing in 11 games the entirety of last season. Although she does not have a point yet, she has been a presence in the offensive zone and the goals, surely, are soon to come.
Kasidy Anderson (7-9-16 last season) has two goals and two assists through seven games. She has also seen an increase in ice time and has been shooting the puck much more frequently than last season (1.75 shots/game in 2015-16, 2.29 in 2016-17).
Maddie Hartman has refined her defensive play this season and is making an impact on the blue line. With the departures of Krause and Hickel, she has been a regular top-pair defender.
Brittany Bugalski faltered a bit in her first start against St. Lawrence, but has righted the ship, sitting with a .939 save percentage and 1.65 GAA. She was also named the WHEA Defensive Player of the Week.
Flint has brought in a very talented recruiting class this season. Forwards and defenders have already made an impact on this Northeastern team.
Matti Hartman (not to be confused with Maddie Hartman) notched her first collegiate goal against Lindenwood. Paige Capistran did the same against conference rival Boston University. Codie Cross has four assists through seven games, and Bailey Coyne (yes, younger sister of Kendall) has two helpers so far.
Start How You Finished
Last season NU ranked 2nd in every major category in Hockey East, including goals for (4.29 G/GM), goals against (2.47 G/GM), power play percentage (21.5%) and penalty kill percentage (84.8%). They ended the year ranked No. 6 in the USCHO poll and opened up this year at No. 9.
Currently the Huskies have the third best offense (3.29 G/GM) and fourth best defense (2.29G/GM). Both sit behind some programs, such as Providence, Vermont and UConn, that historically have not been as competitive in conference play, and the thicker Hockey East schedules coming up could shift the tides on those numbers.
The NU penalty kill is third in the conference at 91.4%, but their power play is only 17.4%. Not scoring on special teams in big situations was a huge problem for Northeastern against tough opponents last year. Top goal scorers like Křížová and Brand are going to have to be able to capitalize on these situations or it could be a long season for the Huskies.
Barbito’s Brutal Truth
Last year Northeastern defeated Boston University 7-1 to open their conference schedule. This year the Huskies defeated the Terriers 6-2 to start their Hockey East season. Both years they had played an out-of-conference schedule that included St. Lawrence, Syracuse and Lindenwood. By all means, these are very similar starts in back-to-back years.
And yet, it would be irresponsible of me to say this year will end like last year did. Yes, there is a lot of talent on this team. Křížová is emerging as a top scorer in the conference, Bugalski is taking her next steps in development as a goaltender, and the team looks like they are beginning to come together to win tough games.
There is no #77 on the ice, however. This is blatantly obvious. Coyne brought a tough mindset and two-way play that was second to none. I can still recall leaving Walter Brown Arena after the Beanpot semifinal last year and hearing someone say, “She played the most complete game of hockey I have ever seen.” You cannot just replace that overnight.
But Flint and the team realize this. Their goal should not be to find the next Kendall Coyne. It needs to be to find their own identity as a powerful Northeastern team.
There will be a deep Hockey East playoff run for Northeastern. There will be a possible Beanpot for the Huskies. But another national tournament appearance?
I would be hesitant to bet on that.