Out in Montreal years ago, a typical day in the Hryckowian household was consumed by one thing: hockey.
Whether playing with friends on backyard ice sheets or messing around with knee hockey, or “mini-sticks,” brothers Justin and Dylan have always had a stick in hand.
“I just remember a lot of days and nights spent on outdoor rinks,” Justin said. “[Hockey] was never a chore or anything — that was what we did to have fun. All of our best friends were in hockey, so that’s kind of how it all started.”
This season marks Justin’s third as a first-line center at Northeastern, following his outstanding sophomore year of 36 points (15G, 21A) that awarded the now-captain Hockey East Best Defensive Forward and Second Team All-Star honors. After battling through a first-semester injury and missing four games, the center has notched four goals and 13 assists for a combined 17 points this season.
After coming off of a successful freshman campaign, Dylan has been inserted into the Huskies’ top six this season and has made a major impact, notching twelve points and playing on both special teams units.
Now the Hryckowian talents have come together on the same team for the first time, and their presence is crucial for Northeastern’s 2023-24 team — and serve as the prototypes of the gritty, smart, team-first culture head coach Jerry Keefe is working to instill in Northeastern’s program. But how did we get here?
From their junior years on the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders all the way down to youth hockey with the Lac St. Louis Lions back home, one may have noticed how similar the brothers’ resumes are on paper — and it’s not much of a coincidence.
“I knew that everywhere [Justin] went, it worked out for him and he had a great coaching staff,” Dylan said. “Growing up, obviously I wanted to be like my brother and I just did what he did. It ended up working out — took me here.”
Justin concluded his sole season on the RoughRiders in 2019-20 with 14 points (4G, 10A) in 17 GP. Three years later, Dylan also found himself in Iowa with an astounding 69 points (26G, 43A) in 65 games, ranking tenth overall for scoring among all USHL skaters for the year.
In fact, the brothers’ say their respective junior seasons in Cedar Rapids were the most impactful on their developments into becoming the players that they are today — a lot of which they owe to longtime RoughRiders head coach and former Northeastern assistant Mark Carlson.
“Coach Carlson’s one of a kind. I think anyone that’s played [on Cedar Rapids] can say that,” Justin said. “[Carlson] builds hockey players, he doesn’t cut corners with the way we play the game. When I left there, I played a whole different way and I’m super glad I did that.”
With the RoughRiders rink under renovations from weather damage, Justin took his talents and leadership skills to another team within the program for his second year of juniors: the Sioux City Musketeers. After playing one year under Carlson, Justin more than doubled his numbers with 38 points (17G, 21A) in 44 games as the Musketeers’ 2020-21 captain.
Between Carlson’s impact and Justin’s work ethic over his junior seasons, the improvement speaks for itself.
“[Justin] understands that you have to pay the rent every day. He comes in, gets after it, leads by example,” Carlson said. “When you lead by example, you’re mentally and physically tough. If you have the abilities that he has, then you have a leader.”
And sure enough, Dylan’s experience in Cedar Rapids was nothing less — going in as one player and coming out as another.
“It meant everything to me,” Dylan said. “[Carlson] has taught me pretty much everything I’d need to know about what it’s like to go into college and he definitely prepared me great.”
Carlson also described Dylan as a hard-worker and leader, saying “Dylan just came to the rink with a smile on his face, he loves hockey. Mentally tough, physically tough. 5’11” 170 lbs, but plays like he’s 6’2″, 210 lbs.”
Both Hryckowians only played one full season with Carlson, but the marks they left on him and the Cedar Rapids’ program are long-lasting.
“I’m not trying to be corny, but I actually loved coaching both of them. They come to the rink every day and work,” Carlson said. “[My current players] already know how I feel about Justin and Dylan, and at the end of practice [yesterday], I said we had one guy who was incredible today, that he had a ‘Hryckowian-esque’ practice. Those guys are with me all of the time.”
Following in Justin’s footsteps through juniors is one thing, but playing together at the collegiate level is something Dylan nor Justin anticipated being in the cards for them.
“I never really expected it to happen. We were always so far apart and I always thought of him so highly, so I never thought I could be on his level,” Dylan said. “It’s definitely great to be on his team now. He’s obviously a great leader and I’m learning a lot from him along the way.”
With a three-year age gap and several unknown factors, like how many years Dylan would spend in junior hockey, the brothers didn’t get their hopes up about their paths intertwining — but they’re grateful that they finally did.
“It’s obviously a moment for us, but also [for] our family,” said Justin. “[I’m] really happy for them that they get to witness that and see us on the ice together. We’re very fortunate and not taking it for granted because it’s a dream come true.”
Now that the Hryckowians share the ice, locker room and overall experience as a Northeastern Husky together, Justin has naturally taken Dylan under his wing to make his adjustment easier. As captain, Justin holds a responsibility to help the newcomers in this regard — but keeping a closer eye on Dylan comes with the older brother territory.
“[Dylan’s] success means a lot to me, as much as mine,” Justin said. “Sometimes I could even be carried away just thinking about what he should be doing and not thinking about what I should be doing. I really want to see him do the best. I know he knows what he’s doing … but whenever I can give him a boost of confidence or give him a couple pointers, I’ll be right there for him.”
In Justin’s nature to lead by example, Dylan is able to pick up on these traits just by witnessing them firsthand — something they haven’t gotten to experience in the past. While Dylan has his own skill sets and personal goals, being able to play alongside Justin and watch him take charge is immeasurably valuable to his own development as a college hockey player.
“I don’t really look for guidance that much, [Justin] just shows me the way. Everything he does on a day-to-day basis is something I need to put into my game if I want to be successful,” he said. “Whether [Justin] had the letter or not, he’s just a natural leader.”
Dylan has continued to follow in Justin’s footsteps while finding his own success at Northeastern, picking up his first points in only the second game of the season with a goal and an assist.
And Carlson was one of the first to congratulate Dylan, sharing that he is “well aware” of how the Hryckowians are faring at the next level.
“[Carlson] did text me about my first goal which was great to hear — especially that he’s watching, keeping tabs. I know that he’d be proud for sure,” Dylan said.
While both Hryckowians have worked through sidelining injuries this season, the pair have appeared in the lineup together for 14 games thus far and their bond is just as apparent on the ice as off.
Just two weeks ago, Justin sent Dylan on a shorthanded breakaway to tie 3-3 against Quinnipiac for his second goal of the year. The equalizer and three-point game for the freshman awarded Dylan his first conference award of the season: “Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week.”
With two Hryckowians in the top six for the Huskies this season, there’s no telling what magic will be created by their brotherly chemistry in the years to come. Time will tell, but one thing’s for certain: their work ethic and hunger for success will fall nothing short of “Hryckowian-esque.”