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Three freshmen with NHL credentials are crucial to Huskies’ Hockey East title hopes

A trio of freshmen NHL picks are helping drive expectations as the Huskies open their conference season as defending champs. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The 15th-ranked Northeastern men’s hockey team will begin defense of its first Hockey East championship with a conference opener against Vermont at 7 p.m. ET Friday at Matthews Arena on the Boston campus.

The Huskies return the NCAA’s top goaltender, junior Devon Levi, and the nation’s No. 2 scorer, Aidan McDonough. The All-Americans steered Northeastern to a 25-13-1 record and an NCAA tournament bid last season.

Despite beginning the season as the third-youngest team in Division 1, expectations are high thanks to a freshman class that includes three selections in the NHL Draft last summer: center Cam Lund (a second-round pick by the San Jose Sharks, No. 34 overall), and defensemen Hunter McDonald (No. 165 overall by the Philadelphia Flyers) and Jackson Dorrington (No. 176 by the Vancouver Canucks), both chosen in the sixth round.

Eleven newcomers in all have joined the Huskies, including freshman defenseman Vinny Borgesi, who scored the overtime winner in a 3-2 nonconference home opening victory on Saturday against Long Island University. The Huskies will hope his performance amounts to a good omen as their success will hinge on how quickly the phenoms can get up to speed.

Jackson Dorrington looks directly at the camera holding a hockey stick and wearing a hockey helmet
Freshman defenseman Jackson Dorrington was a sixth-round pick by the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks last summer. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“You’ve got to have balance,” says Jerry Keefe, the reigning Hockey East coach of the year as he begins his second season in charge of the Huskies. “We feel like the younger players are mature and that we’ve surrounded them with some older players. If we didn’t think our younger players were ready to come in and make an impact, they wouldn’t be here.”

Northeastern’s roster features 11 NHL draft picks overall, including sophomore Jack Hughes, who went to the Los Angeles Kings in the second round (No. 51 overall) in July.

The departures of defensemen Jordan Harris, Tommy Miller and Julian Kislin mean that McDonald and Dorrington will be asked to take on important roles as freshmen. Each has an intriguing background. McDonald, who at 6 feet 4 inches supplies a hard-hitting physical presence, believes he has much to prove.

“I got drafted in my last eligible year,” McDonald says. “I had to stick to my game and play with a chip on my shoulder.”

The Huskies will benefit from McDonald’s patience, insists Keefe.

“I love the fact that he has something to prove,” Keefe says. “Every time someone probably told him he couldn’t do something, that made him work that much harder to do it. He’s still scratching the surface of what he can become.”

Hunter MacDonald holds a hockey stick out towards the camera wearing a hockey helment
Freshman defenseman Hunter McDonald went in the sixth round to the Philadelphia Flyers. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Keefe has high expectations for Dorrington, who is a distant cousin of the late Art Dorrington, a Canadian center who in 1950 became the first Black player to sign an NHL contract. Art Dorrington never advanced to the NHL while starring in the minors; in retirement he created a hockey foundation in Atlantic City for children from low-income families.

“I want to carry on his legacy with the Dorrington name and make it to the NHL,” says Jackson Dorrington, who never met his uncle and became aware of the relationship only a few years ago. “I’ve definitely dialed in the little details defensively. So playing the right way, maturing as a player, becoming more reliable—I’ve developed a lot over the past few years.”

Dorrington and McDonald were both thrilled to hear that Levi was returning for his junior year after earning the Mike Richter Award as the top goalie in Division 1 in his initial season at Northeastern. 

“Elite goaltenders give your team so much confidence to play in front of them—and you see that with our team, knowing that he’s back there,” Keefe says. “You walk off the bus, you have a chance to win because he’s your goaltender, and that gives your team a ton of confidence and a little extra swagger. 

“But we also want to make sure that we’re defending really well in front of him. Because if we’re making it hard on other teams to get opportunities against Devon then it’s really going to give us an opportunity to win every night.”

Cam Lundon poses holding a hockey stick over his shoulders wearing a Northeastern hockey jersey and helmet
The San Jose Sharks picked freshman forward Cam Lund in the second round, No. 34 overall. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The anchor offensively is McDonough, a senior who finished second nationally with 25 goals (39 points overall) last season. Hughes, who at 18 was the youngest player in Division 1 last year, figures to build from his rookie performance of 7 goals and 16 assists. The arrival of Lund will deepen the scoring options with most of the Huskies’ offensive producers returning this season.

“He’s really gifted,” Keefe says of Lund. “He wants to be a difference-maker right away. He demands the puck, he’s a dynamic skater and we’re expecting big things from him right off the bat.”

Lund has been adapting to the speed and intensity at Northeastern after playing for Green Bay in the U.S. Hockey League last season.

“The talent here is unreal,” says Lund, who has teamed with Dorrington on a variety of youth teams and is roommates with him at Northeastern. “Everyone’s a high-end player, and it’s a lot faster than the USHL.”

Following the Huskies’ opening-round 2-1 overtime loss to Western Michigan in the NCAA tournament last March, Keefe has been preaching the need for daily improvement to help the Huskies deliver on their goals at the Beanpot, Hockey East and—if all goes well— NCAA tournaments. 

“Our older guys have done an awesome job of getting the freshmen acclimated and making them feel important,” Keefe says. “And the freshmen—I give them credit because they’ve all been really receptive to it. They respect the older guys, they respect the culture here and they want to be a big part of it.”

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