As men’s basketball coach Bill Coen looked down the length of the table at his three Northeastern colleagues, it was as though he were staring into an inspiring mirror. His triumph was related to their triumphs. Their dreams were his dream.
Coen and each of his fellow coaches—in women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s hockey—led their respective teams to national postseason appearances last season.
“You look at how difficult it is to have a year like everybody had last year,” Coen said. At most other athletic departments around the country, he noted, “They’ll have success in one sport and that will be it.
“But when you see the great years that everybody’s had, you know that something special is going on right here on campus.”
The coaches of Northeastern’s four leading winter programs made a rare group appearance Monday in the Varsity Club at historic Matthews Arena for a season preview that brought perspective to their success. Was it simple coincidence that all of their teams happened to be achieving national success at the same time?
The simple answer was that luck had little to do with the Huskies’ athletic renaissance. Instead of dwelling on last year, the coaches were viewing those successes as steps on a ladder. The current heights are not high enough.
“For us it’s the same thing every year,” said men’s hockey coach Jim Madigan. “We expect to win.”
Two years ago, his Huskies, led by national player of the year Adam Gaudette, won the Beanpot and reached the NCAA Tournament. When he moved onto the National Hockey League, the Huskies improved around national goaltender of the year Cayden Primeau, who has moved onto the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.
“We have a culture in that locker room,” Madigan said. “Regardless of who graduates or who signs early [with the NHL], the expectation is to win.”
No one has higher expectations than the women’s hockey team of coach Dave Flint, which was upset in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last season after an injury to Swiss star Alina Mueller. Now Mueller is back with linemate Chloe Aurard of France, and the Huskies are ranked No. 4 nationally.
“It’s nice that we won Hockey East championships the last two years, but ultimately we lost in the first round of the NCAAs,” Flint said. “So, Day One, we talked about our goals: Beanpot, Hockey East championship—but our bigger goal now is getting to the [NCAA Tournament] Frozen Four and hopefully the national championship game. We are right there.”
Flint’s Huskies opened their season Friday with a 5-0 win at Union College.
“If you look at our practices six years ago vs. where they’re at now, it’s night and day,” Flint said. “Your other players feed off your best players. When they’re bringing themselves to another level and working at it every day, and they push each other, it’s really fun to watch.”
Both basketball coaches will be seeking to reload with young talent. Coen, who lost 48 points per game of offense from last season’s team—including leading scorer Vasa Pusica, who is now playing professionally in Europe—is blending in seven new players. Women’s coach Kelly Cole is expecting to replace leading scorer and playmaker Jess Genco with a number of team leaders in addition to what may be her most talented class of freshmen.
“We’ve still got a really great core—we return three starters and five big-minute players,” Cole said. Returning seniors Shannon Todd and Ayanna Dublin are the Huskies’ hardest workers and “some of the best leaders we’ve had,” added Cole.
Madigan will be counting on a deep defense led by Jayden Struble, a second-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens and one of the top recruits in the history of the program. Like his fellow coaches, Madigan sees parallels between the winter teams and the larger success of the university overall.
“It’s important to represent that same trajectory of upward mobility,” Madigan said. “Over the last few years, I think we’ve done that with all our athletic programs.”