WORCESTER, Mass. — Following his team’s 3-2 loss to No. 2 Michigan in the NCAA Regional Semifinals, Northeastern hockey coach Jim Madigan walked into the press conference and, from the get-go, his attention was concentrated on the opponent.
His words marked a cornucopia of compliments for the winner’s top line of seniors Tony Calderone, Dexter Dancs and junior Cooper Marody.
“They’re good players,” Madigan said. “Marody, Dancs and Calderone have a nice blend, with a playmaker in the middle in Marody, a shooter and a guy with some speed on the left side. Hey, we knew they were a good line.”
Affectionately known as “DMC,” the trio produced all three goals — and a plus-three rating — against the Huskies Saturday night. Dancs scored one and Marody two, including the game-winner with 4:30 remaining in the third period.
Early the past week, Michigan coach Mel Pearson hinted at playing “strength-on-strength” hockey, matching the Wolverines’ top skaters against the Huskies’ lethal line of Hobey Baker finalists Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura and captain Nolan Stevens.
And the strategy paid dividends. Michigan continuously stifled the speed, skill and power of the “Big Three,” tallying all three goals when they were on the ice and resulting in a minus-three rating.
However, beyond discussing Michigan’s success in the battle of the best forward lines, Madigan also noted the more nuanced and unnoticed impact of Dancs, Marody and Calderone that extends well beyond their ice time and stardom.
“They’re smart, intelligent players,” he said, noting how a workmanlike efficiency and constant puck possession in the Wolverines’ offensive zone negated the Huskies’ scoring opportunities. “And they set the table for the other lines.”
True to Madigan’s praise, freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes notched two quality scoring chances and junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi fired five shots, including three consecutive in a 30-second span while paired with Marody and linemates.
Despite not finding the back of the net, accelerated play from secondary contributors — some stemmed from “DMC” — will be essential against a well-rounded Boston University in today’s Regional Finals matchup. With 12 players drafted by NHL teams, the fourth-seeded Terriers don’t have a high-profile top line like Northeastern, but feature a wealth of elite scorers who are adept at changing a game’s momentum at moment’s notice.
“BU’s got a really good team,” Pearson said. “They have more depth, they have more weapons and we’re going to have to understand that.”
Just look at Boston University’s upset, 3-1 win over No. 1 Cornell: all three goals came from freshmen, including defenseman David Farrance’s game-winner, just his third on the season. While veterans didn’t make the stat sheet, newcomers led the way to the next round.
Though recognizing the proficiency of all four Terrier lines and his own top line’s performance Saturday, Pearson also acknowledged his team’s improvements top to bottom.
“I like the depth of (our) team,” he said. “Second half, we’ve seen that. We’ve seen some of our guys step forward, some of our freshmen and sophomores take a big stride, and that’s a big reason we had a great second half like we did. I like our depth, and that makes us dangerous. It’s going to be a heck of a hockey game.”
Pearson singled out sophomore defensemen Griffin Luce and Luke Martin and junior defenseman Nicholas Boka for their spirited play against Northeastern. Freshmen forwards Dakota Raabe and Jack Becker could be included too, as they are among the underclassman who continue to elevate their play in critical games.
Nevertheless, Pearson also saw lapses in decision-making that need to be addressed before facing Boston University.
“I thought some guys really stepped up, but you could see at times, we were a little nervous with the puck,” Pearson said. “We panicked a little bit, and some of our youth came forward tonight in that third period when we just wanted to get rid of it instead of trying to make some plays. We have to continue to grow in that area.”
The Wolverines will have to grow quickly if they’re to topple one of America’s hottest teams.
Owner of an eight-game unbeaten streak, the Terriers started the season 8-11-1 and far from postseason conversation. But they went on a late, 13-2-3 tear, including four straight conference tournament wins — two in overtime — to sneak into the Tournament. And now they’re one game from returning to the Frozen Four for the second time in four years.
But Michigan enjoyed a nearly-identical path to the Regional Semifinals.
After their first 20 regular-season games, the Wolverines were unranked at 8-10-2 with no NCAA Tournament berth in sight. But sweeps against ranked opponents Minnesota, Penn State and Notre Dame were catalysts to a second-half resurgence. Michigan went 10-3-1 to finish the campaign with Calderone, Marody and Dancs heading the progression.
That line continued to lead the way Saturday night, successfully containing the three Husky standouts and proving the only resources necessary to pull out the win.
But the trio needs lively assistance from other forwards and defensive pairings on Sunday to stop a balanced Terrier attack and advance to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2011.