The North­eastern Uni­ver­sity men’s hockey team won the Hockey East cham­pi­onship on Sat­urday, com­pleting a his­toric turn­around and securing its first appear­ance in the NCAA tour­na­ment since 2009.

The win marked the Huskies’ 13th con­sec­u­tive vic­tory, the nation’s longest cur­rent win­ning streak, and cat­a­pulted the club into the con­scious­ness of the col­lege hockey cognoscenti.

Here, head coach Jim Madigan reflects on Northeastern’s remark­able run and looks ahead to Friday, when his club will face off against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The team began the season 1–11-2 and then did a 180, com­piling a 21–2-3 record down the stretch en route to the con­fer­ence title. To what do you attribute the remark­able turnaround?

The turn­around is a tes­ta­ment to our young men. Tac­ti­cally, we put more of an emphasis on defending better and our players bought into it. Because of the early-​​season injuries to for­wards Kevin Roy and Dalen Hedges, we knew we had to play a cer­tain style to be suc­cessful, a style focused on defense, which led to us spending more time in the attacking zone.

When did you hit the turning point in the season?

We were in Northern Ire­land. It was the day after Thanks­giving and we had just lost to UMass-​​Lowell 3–2 in over­time. We played a great game against one of the top teams in the country and we walked away thinking we could play with the best.

Shortly after that, we played Boston Col­lege in a home-​​and-​​home series. We took away only one of a pos­sible four points, but we led for five of the six periods and were the better team. We were still fragile coming out of that weekend, but we were building up more and more confidence.

Freshman goal­tender Ryan Ruck has been a rev­e­la­tion, starting all but one of the team’s past 25 games and com­piling a 2.26 goals against average and a .912 save per­centage in his first season of col­lege hockey. Are you sur­prised by his per­for­mance, par­tic­u­larly during the 13-​​game win­ning streak, when he’s allowed just 26 goals?

Ryan has gotten better and better as the season has gone along. Early on, he was strug­gling, but we stuck with him and he’s built up his con­fi­dence. The tech­nical part of his game has improved, while his mental tough­ness has been one of his greatest attrib­utes. He doesn’t get too high or too low, and you need that from a goalie. Goalies are going to give up bad goals from time to time, but it’s how they respond that’s impor­tant. And after giving up a goal 15 sec­onds into the Hockey East semi­final game against Boston Col­lege, he bounced back and bat­tled. He has a great demeanor and a great disposition.

Kevin Roy was picked by some col­lege hockey experts to be a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award this season. But he strug­gled in the first half of the year, amassing only five assists in the first 11 games before missing the next 13 with an injury. Since his return, how­ever, he’s scored 10 goals and tal­lied 10 assists, looking more like the player everyone expected to see in October. In your view, what’s been the biggest dif­fer­ence in Roy’s game since his return to the lineup?

Early in the year, our team was strug­gling and Kevin was putting pres­sure on him­self to score because he’s the cap­tain and the leader of the team. And then he got a con­cus­sion and was out of the lineup for two months. But once he returned, he got his timing down, he got his hands and his feet aligned, and he’s gone on an unbe­liev­able tear. Kevin has scored at every point in his career, whether in junior hockey or at the col­le­giate level—and when he does score, he scores big goals, over­time goals, goals that impact the game.

Roy_Kevin_1400

Kevin Roy has scored 10 goals since his return to the lineup. Photo cour­tesy of North­eastern Athletics.

In what ways does he make his line­mates better?

Because of his high-​​end skills and his play­making ability, he draws the atten­tion of two defenders, which cre­ates open­ings on his ice and allows him to find open players. He’s like No. 1 pitcher in base­ball who’s expected to shut down the oppo­si­tion and set the tone for the rest of the staff. Roy is expected to draw atten­tion and make big offen­sive plays.

Zach Aston-​​Reese and the Stevens brothers have car­ried the offense for much of the season, com­bining to score one-​​third of the teams goals. Who is one less-​​heralded offen­sive player who you think could make a big splash in the NCAA tournament?

Actu­ally it’s the line of Adam Gaudette, Dylan Sikura, and Mike McMurtry. All three have played well all year long, each scoring about 30 points. And we need that line to be good for us in the national tour­na­ment. They had a great weekend at the TD Garden (where the Hockey East semi­final and cham­pi­onship were played), scoring big goals and making great plays. When they score, that takes the pres­sure off the No. 1 line.

North Dakota is unques­tion­ably one of the best teams in the nation, ranked No. 3 in both the USCHO​.com and USA Today/​USA Hockey Mag­a­zine polls. What’s the key to beating them and advancing in the NCAA tournament?

They’re a hard team to play against. They have a good blend of skill and grit and phys­i­cality. And they can beat you in a number of ways, whether in a high scoring game or tight checking 2–1 type of game. There’s no doubt about it—we’ll have to bring our “A” game on Friday. As I told the players ear­lier in the week, while we haven’t played North Dakota this year, we have played North Dakota-​​like teams all season long and have had success.

I’m looking for­ward to watching our players respond in a big atmos­phere. We’re excited to be back in the tournament—for the first time since 2009—and we believe we’re building a sus­tain­able pro­gram, with this year being the cul­mi­na­tion of the past two years. We have a really good future ahead of us. Suc­cess breeds success.