Friends, we’ve almost made it back to the start of college hockey season. The offseason has come and gone, featuring both former Northeastern players making their mark in the NHL and future Huskies pledging their commitments to head coach Jerry Keefe and the Northeastern program. The Fall semester is back in full swing with the team practicing in anticipation of their first game October 7th against Stonehill, which means it’s time for the annual Northeastern Hockey Blog season preview.
Quickly looking back on the previous season: it would be foolish to not acknowledge that it was a disappointing season. With preseason expectations as high as ever, the Huskies struggled with consistency all year including a disastrous December which saw them fall into a Pairwise hole that they eventually could not dig themselves out from. There were certainly highlights, not least of which were the Beanpot victory of Harvard, Devon Levi capturing the Mike Richter Award for the second straight year, and individual honors for players like Aidan McDonough, Hunter McDonald, Justin Hryckowian, and Cam Lund. But that team fell short of what could have been an all-time Northeastern season, and now the program and players use the lessons learned to look ahead to a new start and new season just days away.
Many of the names and faces we have come to love and enjoy on the ice at Matthews Arena return for another year of Husky Hockey. Up front, the offense will be led by captain Justin Hryckowian, flanked by assistant captain Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Hockey East All-Rookie Team member Cameron Lund, and we expect to see solid contributions from lineup stalwarts Matt Choupani, and Liam Walsh up front. On the back end, the trio of sophomores comprised of Hunter McDonald, Jackson Dorrington, and Vinny Borgesi will be once again counted on to shoulder heavy minutes and provide steadying defense all year long.
This year’s Northeastern Huskies are an interesting representation of the state of college athletics. 29 players make up the team, divided into 10 seniors/grad students, 3 juniors, 9 sophomores, and 7 freshmen. In a world where the transfer portal is rampant in collegiate athletics allowing players to move around essentially freely, that often leads to a loss of depth in the non-freshman classes. To counteract this, Northeastern brought in six players as transfers, all upperclassmen. Despite losing players who were NHL draft picks and who contributed to the team previously, these changes are largely seen as a net positive for the Huskies in that the combinations of experience, attitude, and skill that they brought in will have a greater impact on and off the ice than the losses experienced by players leaving the program. Head coach Jerry Keefe said over the summer one of the goals in the portal this year was to get older, and to bring in players who had experienced the highest highs of college hockey to serve as role models and examples for their younger players, a shrewd move for a program who will once again be among the youngest in college hockey.
Picked by coaches to finish 4th in Hockey East and picked 6th by members of the media, Coach Keefe and his coaching staff have a clear vision in mind in terms of what they want Northeastern hockey to represent. You see it in the types of players they are bringing in, and the types of players that they are getting to commit for the future- they want responsible, two-way players who emphasize all three zones and all aspects of the game with equal importance, players who take pride in their defense and effort as much as they do scoring goals, and players who hold themselves and others accountable when the standard is not being met.
Over the summer, the line was used that, paraphrasing, essentially said “we want 18 Bergerons on the ice,” referencing the former Boston Bruins captain who was a perennial Selke Trophy winner as best defensive forward while also being the team’s top center and a top scorer. As this season progresses, look for that mold of player and style of game to take center stage- where all four lines embody that mindset and that attitude rather than diverting and seeking individual glory. Personally, I project that this will lead to more games where the Huskies are in it for a full 60 minutes, with a chance to win every night no matter the opponent, and fewer “nights off” where frustrations are palpable in the arena.
The Huskies lost 13 players from the roster last season to a combination of professional hockey contracts, graduation, and the transfer portal as mentioned above. To professional hockey, they saw Devon Levi (Buffalo Sabres), Aidan McDonough (Vancouver Canucks), Jayden Struble (Montreal Canadiens), and Jakov Novak (Montreal Canadiens) sign their first pro contracts.
As graduate transfers, Jeremie Bucheler (Vermont), Tyler Spott (Sacred Heart), and Riley Hughes (Ohio State) all found homes for a fifth and final year of college hockey. Underclassmen Sam Colangelo (Western Michigan), Cam Gaudette (Stonehill), and Jack Hughes (Boston University) left for other programs, while James Davenport and Chase McInnis entered the portal but did not find a new team, and Alex Mella graduated and started his career beyond hockey.
A lower-key departure from the team was volunteer goalie coach Mike Condon, who oversaw the tutelage of Devon Levi into arguably the greatest goalie in the history of college hockey. Condon retired from hockey entirely this offseason and we wish him nothing but the best going forward.
The Huskies bring in 13 players to replace the 13 they lost, with a mix of 6 transfers and 7 freshmen. Perhaps the most important of them all are goaltenders Cameron Whitehead and Connor Hopkins, as they join Grant Riley and Harrison Chesney in the goalie room and vie for the starting goalie position vacated by Levi. It is expected that Whitehead, a 2022 4th round draft pick of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, will be the projected starter once games do start and will get the bulk of minutes this season.
On the back end, Northeastern brings in five defensemen, including Michael Fisher, a 2022 3rd round pick by San Jose, a prospect who was regarded as one of the best skaters in the 2022 Draft. They bring in graduate transfers Pito Walton (Princeton), Matt Staudacher (Minnesota), and Patrick Dawson (Sacred Heart) to help round out their projected top 7 defensemen. All three bring experience, leadership, and a reputation of being responsible defensemen in their own zone, with Walton in particular being looked at as a potential offensive sparkplug from the blue line- Northeastern only had 5 goals last year from defensemen, and Walton had 7 by himself. Freshman Nolan Hayes rounds out the new defensemen, giving the staff another depth offensive defenseman.
Up front, six new forwards join the fray, with all of them expected to contribute this season to various degrees. Alex Campbell (Clarkson) was arguably the biggest transfer news of the offseason, as he has a reputation of being one of the premiere goal scorers in college hockey. Expect him to be one of the focal points of the offense this season, sliding into the role vacated by Aidan McDonough. Dylan Hryckowian and Eli Sebastian are two freshmen who we similarly expect to see contribute on the scoresheet this year and both of them have the qualities that project to high-end four-year contributors at NU. Billy Norcross, Brett Edwards, and Andy Moore round out the newcomers at forward, with Edwards bringing national championship experience from his time at Denver. Expect those three to contribute in the bottom six and penalty kill this year to varying degrees.
Replacing Mike Condon as goalie coach is Brian Mahoney-Wilson, who most recently was goalie coach for the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins for the last seven seasons. Mahoney-Wilson played his college hockey at Lake Superior State University. You can read more about Mahoney-Wilson in our article on his hiring.
We already broke down our thoughts on the Northeastern schedule 2 months ago after it dropped, but in short summary, it is laid out in a way that gives the Huskies an excellent chance to get their feet under themselves early ahead of conference play, and features matchups against non-conference foes that should aid in the pursuit of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies start against Stonehill and Bentley, sandwiched around an exhibition against Quinnipiac, before starting Hockey East play with New Hampshire.
Non-conference games against RPI and Minnesota-Duluth could prove useful if both teams can out-perform their preseason expectations, Quinnipiac in January for a game that counts will give an excellent measuring stick at the halfway point of the season, and a Beanpot rematch against Harvard will always prove challenging. After last season, you can bet the Northeastern players know that they cannot take any game lightly, and cannot underestimate any opponent on this schedule.
Players to Watch
In the lead-up to the season, the two players that are constantly being highlighted by the staff are forwards Matt Choupani and Cam Lund, both of whom seem slotted for top six roles this season and who will be looked to as big parts of the offense moving forward. Lund in particular is known for his game-breaking speed and his ceiling truly is sky-high. In addition to these two, there are three other players that we want to highlight as ones to watch this season who will be crucial to Northeastern’s success.
- Gunnarwolfe Fontaine– I know, real bold to pick the returnee with the second-most points on the team. But I truly believe Fontaine can be the straw that stirs the drink for the Huskies offense. Fontaine sits on 70 career points and is coming off a career-high 30 points last season. He’s proven himself to be a true goal scorer at the collegiate level, and with Aidan McDonough gone, expect Fontaine, along with Lund and Campbell, to be looked at to fill the void. Fontaine has reminded us of a Kevin Roy type shooter since his freshman year, and if he can continue to progress as he has each of his three seasons prior, he should help lead this Huskies team again and earn a pro contract with the Nashville Predators.
- Jackson Dorrington– Hunter McDonald got the accolades last year but let’s not overlook the steady contributions of Dorrington, who played all 35 games last year as a freshman and had the added responsibility of playing right defense as a left-shot defenseman. Dorrington brings a physical edge to the team that is becoming a dying art in the game. Though he only notched 6 assists, there is offensive upside to his game. Expect Dorrington to be relied on as a key member of the penalty and shoulder a heavy responsibility keeping Cameron Whitehead’s crease clean.
- Vinny Borgesi– Dorrington’s projected partner is our third player to highlight. Borgesi similarly took on a much more demanding workload last year as players ahead of him on the depth chart were injured, playing crucial minutes early in his collegiate career. Only standing 5-foot-8, he plays a defensively sound game and a physical one akin to someone much larger, and prior to his enrollment did profile as a more offensive-minded defenseman, indicating there may be untapped potential in his game to become an extremely valuable two-way defenseman. He had 10 points last year and further contributions offensively from the blue line would be huge to help bolster Northeastern’s offense from sources outside the top six forwards.
Breakout Player of the Year
Last year’s selection for breakout player of the year was Jack Hughes and well…that didn’t work out for anyone. Let’s try again.
Anyone who watched games with me last year knows that I am captain of the Jack Williams Fan Club. Even as a freshman, he played a professional game, responsibly in his own zone, forechecking and back-checking like his hair was on fire, and in the offensive zone, he contributed 6 goals and 11 assists for 17 points while playing all 35 games. A reliable contributor in the bottom six, don’t be surprised if Williams takes a leap forward while playing in the middle six and potentially some powerplay time on the second unit, as well as continuing to be a dependable player on the penalty kill. The flexibility to be able to play either center or wing also offers the coaching staff options to juggle the lineup both in-game and between games. Williams proved he had the upside of a high-end scorer in his two seasons in the USHL and in prep school, so we think there’s some more room for him to shine on the scoresheet. We’re picking Jack Williams as the Breakout Player of the Year.
This season for Northeastern hockey is going to be unlike any of the previous recent seasons. In more ways than one, Northeastern is undergoing a transformation in terms of how they play the game, and that is coupled with finding new players to lead them through that adjustment. Of course, upperclassmen like Fontaine, DeMelis, and Hryckowian, who have been here 2-4 years, will help guide the ship forward, but the youth of the team, the play style and the attitude of players brought in as freshmen and transfers, and the combination of skill, experience, and true “buy-in” from the players will all play major roles in the outcome of this season. Some have called it a transition year, some have called it rebuilding- I prefer to think of it as a season that will re-define what Husky Hockey looks like on a night in, night out basis. I expect Northeastern to come out with the same fervor and intensity every game, whether it’s against Stonehill, Quinnipiac, BU, BC, or anyone on their schedule. With a real “no days off” attitude, this team can absolutely exceed expectations and return to the upper echelon of Hockey East and college hockey. It won’t happen overnight, it won’t happen in a month or two, but I think in a few years we could look back on the 2023-24 season as the one that was the start of a shift for Northeastern University.
Hockey returns in just over a week. It’s been six months, but we finally made it. We’ll have coverage of the team as always here and on our Twitter. Can’t wait to see what lies in store.
As always, go Huskies!