The leaves are falling and anticipation is growing for the puck to drop on the Northeastern hockey’s 2023-24 season.
Reflecting back, it’s hard to look past the “what-ifs?” of last year’s roster that was loaded on paper, but often came up short – the nail in the coffin being a season-ending loss to Providence in the Hockey East quarterfinals, after finishing third in the regular season.
That being said, there are plenty of positives to come out of 2022-23, such as a historic victory at Frozen Fenway, the program’s fourth Beanpot trophy in five years, and individual accolades like Devon Levi winning his second consecutive Mike Richter award and Aidan McDonough leading the conference in goals scored per game.
Voted to finish fourth by Hockey East coaches’ poll and sixth by the media poll, the expectations around the team in conference play are fairly middle of the road. On that note, the Huskies just cracked the list for top-20 in the first USCHO poll for the year at No. 19.
With a very different roster than last season, it’s hard to predict where Northeastern will stand come playoff time or even a month in. Let’s break down those changes and see what the team looks like now going into its season opener on Saturday.
The biggest loss for the 2023 squad is obviously in net with Devon Levi, the backbone of Northeastern’s defensive core for the past two years. With Levi’s ELC signing with the Buffalo Sabres in March, there are big shoes to fill on the red line this season.
Between program record-breaking stats like a 1.90 GAA, .942 SV% and 16 shutouts over the course of his college career, along with recognitions like Hockey East player of the year (2022-23) and top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award (2021-22, 2022-23), these only scratch the surface of Levi’s awards and accolades from his time as a Husky.
Looking at the offensive unit, former captain and current Abbotsford Canuck Aidan McDonough is definitely Northeastern’s biggest loss in that regard.
McDonough received the CCM/AHCA and Hockey East First-Team All Star, along with team awards ‘Offensive MVP’ and ‘Leading Scorer’ both in his junior and senior seasons – and rightfully so. He concluded his four-year collegiate career as the leader in both goals (66) and power-play goals (29) – eight of which from 2022-23, and good enough for ninth nationally.
Not having McDonough’s killer one-timer on the power play any longer will sting, but there are plenty of returners and newcomers who will take on similar roles.
Aside from these stars that left remarkable legacies for the program, the team lost 11 other players between professional contracts, graduates, and transfers.
In addition to Levi and McDonough, former assistant captains Jayden Struble and Jakov Novak signed to the Laval Rocket, the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate.
Graduates Jeremie Bucheler, Riley Hughes, and Tyler Spott decided to take on their fifth year of eligibility at other universities – Vermont, Ohio State, and Sacred Heart – while undergraduates Sam Colangelo, Jack Hughes, and Cam Gaudette transferred to different programs as well: Western Michigan, Boston University, and Stonehill. The three remaining players no longer on the roster are graduate Alex Mella, James Davenport, and Chase McInnis.
Starting with offense, nine out of the top 15 point producers are returning to Matthews Arena, along with three out of four top scorers.
Second to McDonough, Justin Hryckowian had the best season last year with 36 points (15G, 21A). He was also the best centerman in the conference by a long shot with 319 faceoffs won, and 471 in total for fourth in the NCAA.
Hockey East awarded Hryckowian ‘Best Defensive Forward’ for 2022-23, but it’s the ‘Everydayer’ team award that speaks to his appointment as the 2023-24 captain.
“[Hryckowian] was the no-brainer choice for us. He’s at the rink early, he’s at the rink late,” said head coach Jerry Keefe. “He leads by example, but when he needs to speak, guys listen. And then on top of that, we think he’s one of the top players in college hockey.”
Assistant captain Gunnarwolfe Fontaine and forward Matt Choupani, tied for third top scorer last season with 10 goals each, will also reunite on the Huskies’ bench. The wingers combined for 49 points in all 35 games and came through in clutch moments — most memorably Fontaine’s two goals that helped the Huskies to their Beanpot win over Harvard, and Choupani’s two-goal game against Providence in February.
The other forwards expected to play big minutes and put up big numbers again this season are sophomore linemates Cam Lund and Jack Williams. The pair also appeared in all 35 games last year, posting a combined 13-27-40 points.
On defense, the powerhouse sophomore trio of Hunter McDonald, Vinny Borgesi, and Jackson Dorrington will be back on the blue line. With injuries to the Huskies’ top three veteran defenders in the first semester last year, all three young players were asked to play huge minutes, which in hindsight, worked highly in their favor and fast development. McDonald and Dorrington played in all 35 games, with Borgesi playing 33, and combined for 30 points.
There are 13 new faces this season, evening out the 13 lost, broken down into six transfers and seven freshmen.
Adding experience and size to this young team are transfers Connor Hopkins (Yale), Pito Walton (Princeton), Patrick Dawson (Sacred Heart), Matthew Staudacher (Minnesota), Alex Campbell (Clarkson) and Brett Edwards (Denver), the latter bringing recent NCAA tournament experience with Denver’s 2022 national championship.
Campbell joins the Huskies with a combined 76 points over his three seasons at Clarkson University, and should slot into the first line with Hryckowian and Choupani.
“Alex Campbell is a big get for us,” Keefe said. “We feel that [Campbell] can have a big year. He’s an elite player, so we’re excited to add him into the mix as well.”
Excluding backup goaltender Hopkins, three out of five transfers are defensemen – Walton, Dawson and Staudacher – and should be seeing lots of ice time. With seven goals and 14 assists last season as Princeton’s captain, Walton brings an offensive element to his d-role as well, highlighted by Keefe.
Joining the D corps from the freshman class are Nolan Hayes (BCHL) and Michael Fisher (USHL). Four forwards, Andy Moore (USHL), Billy Norcross (BCHL), Eli Sebastian (USHL) and Dylan Hryckowian (USHL) – yes, Justin’s little brother – will nicely round out the offensive core.
The younger Hryckowian is among the most anticipated, finishing last season on the Cedar Rapids Roughriders with 69 points (26G, 43A) in 65 games.
Last, but not least is Cameron Whitehead (USHL), a 2022 4th round draft pick by the Las Vegas Knights, who will replace Levi’s position in the crease as starting goaltender.
“There’s a lot of similarities between [Whitehead] and Cayden Primeau – the size, the athleticism…,” Keefe said. “He has a chance to be an elite goaltender at the college level.”
This year’s roster looks very different than last, but don’t underestimate it. As Keefe and the rest of the coaches always prioritize, the depth is there – arguably more so than in recent years.
The staff excelled at the transfer portal lottery with six experienced players who will bring veteran presence. Meanwhile there’s high expectations around the incoming freshmen and they should quickly become valuable assets to this team.
The Huskies take on Stonehill College for their season opener Saturday, Oct. 7 in Matthews Arena. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. WRBB will have live coverage from Matty Wasserman and Zach Lyons on 104.9 FM.