John and Nolan Stevens, of the Northeastern University men’s hockey team, make up two-thirds of one of the college game’s most dominating lines.
But the bond the brothers share off the ice is just as tight as their chemistry on the ice.
“We’re extremely close,” Nolan says. “We hang out every day.”
They live in the same residence hall and take some of the same courses, including an interdisciplinary class called “Love and Hate.” They spend the summers lifting weights together, at home in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, and have even worked the same offseason job.
As John puts it, “We do pretty much everything together.”
Up next: harnessing their offensive prowess and defensive pluck to beat Connecticut in the quarterfinal round of the Hockey East tournament, a best-of-three series beginning on Friday at 7 p.m. at Matthews Arena.
John is the team captain, a 6-foot-2-inch, 206-pound center in his fourth season with the Huskies. Nolan is an assistant captain, a 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound wing in his third year. Although they have combined to play just 34 games this season due to injury, the duo has amassed a total of 40 points while helping to propel linemate Zach Aston-Reese to the top of college hockey’s scoring list.
They know that winning Hockey East for the second consecutive season—and reaching the NCAA tournament yet again—won’t be easy. But they have a game plan. “We want to defend first,” John says. “Anything can happen in the playoffs and we’re looking forward to using our experience to make a good run.”
Hockey is in the Stevens’ blood. Their father, John, played professional hockey for 17 years, including parts of five seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and Hartford Whalers. After his playing days were over, he turned to coaching, and currently serves as the associate head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, with whom he has won two Stanley Cups.
The Stevens brothers started skating at 2, before they could say ‘hat trick.” But they never felt like they were forced into playing the sport they have grown up to adore. “We just love being at the rink,” John says. “It’s something we look forward to when we wake up.”
And yet they never thought they would have the opportunity to play hockey together at such a high level. It was only after John first laced up his stakes for the Huskies in 2013 that Nolan, a year younger, considered the virtues of playing college hockey. He had originally wanted to play in the Ontario Hockey League, where his father played in the 1980s. But then he visited campus, met with head coach Jim Madigan, and realized that Northeastern was the perfect fit for him both athletically and academically.
“Right away I connected with the coaching staff,” Nolan recalls. “How they saw me as a player was exactly what I wanted to be.”
John sees Nolan as a skilled two-way forward, a sharpshooter who’s responsible in the defensive zone. As he puts it, “I try to get him the puck as much as I can.” Nolan, for his part, describes his brother as a “pass-first” player who “sometimes sacrifices his offense to help in other parts of the ice.”
They’re constantly pushing each other to reach their potential, especially in the gym. It took a couple of years for Nolan to catch up to John in terms of strength and size. “It’s good to workout with someone who’s bigger and stronger,” Nolan says. “He’s been a huge role model for me.”
The hard work has paid off. Nolan was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft and John is rated as one of college hockey’s top free agent prospects.
What would it be like for the Stevens brothers to reach the NHL and play against their dad’s team? “I’d definitely love for it to happen, but it would be harder for him than for us,” Nolan says. “He’d have to coach and watch us at the same time, and those would be some tough emotions to handle.” John agrees, saying simply, “it would be pretty fun.”