After a rough start, Northeastern hockey captain Aidan McDonough is scoring big – and taking aim at the Beanpot

aidan mcdonough lined up to play hockey at fenway park
Aidan McDonough postponed an NHL career to return to Northeastern for his senior year. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

It was not so long ago that everything was going wrong for Aidan McDonough. The decision by Northeastern’s leading scorer to return for a senior season of college hockey—postponing his NHL career for another year—was looking like a mistake. The Beanpot was a month away, the Huskies were in a six-week slump and their team captain was feeling as though it was his fault.

“I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself,” says McDonough, who had been pursued last spring by the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks (having drafted him in 2019). “But I wasn’t sitting here blaming people and saying, ‘I’m this amazing player and everyone else isn’t holding up their end of the bargain’—that wasn’t it at all.” 

They were the reigning Hockey East regular season champions with many key returnees, including the nation’s best goalie in junior Devon Levi and McDonough, the No. 2 scorer nationally last year with 25 goals. They were complemented by a freshman class loaded with NHL-level talent. And yet they went 1-6 over a shocking stretch that left them with an 8-9-3 record after New Year’s Day.

“I wasn’t playing great and our team wasn’t playing great,” McDonough told Northeastern Global News. “We’re supposed to be the best team in the league and we’re not playing that way.”

He decided it was not going to change with a lot of talk. He was going to have to show his teammates the way.

“A lot of it was just getting back to the basics—getting out in the mornings, working on skills to get the confidence up,” McDonough says. “Because when you don’t have that confidence from games, you have to build it from somewhere. You’ve got to do extra work to build that confidence.”

McDonough says he was trying to micromanage everything.

“I put a lot of blame on myself. But I can only do so much,” he says. “The best way I’m going to help the team win is by playing my game and scoring goals. Just focus on playing your game and taking care of what you can control and that’s going to help the team.”

They were focused on the Jan. 7 Frozen Fenway game against No. 10 Connecticut. An exciting venue. A fresh start. 

Coming up the left wing in the opening period, McDonough was stretching the net before the fans in the stands knew he had fired. He understood it was as important as any last-minute goal he had ever scored.

“It was really important for us to score first and it felt that way when I scored,” McDonough says. “You could see the guys’ shoulders loosen up, the sigh of relief, like, ‘We can play with the lead.’”

That 4-1 Fenway win launched a four-game winning streak that renewed the Huskies’ hopes of reclaiming the Beanpot. Northeastern opens the tournament against defending champion Boston University at 8 p.m. Monday (televised by NESN). Boston College and Harvard meet in the other semifinal at 5 p.m., also at TD Garden.

McDonough has been in the middle of the recent revival with two goals in a 4-3 comeback win at UConn, a goal and an assist in a 5-1 romp at Merrimack, and the 1-0 winner with 1:32 left in regulation to beat Merrimack again at Matthews Arena.

McDonough ranks No. 3 nationally with 17 goals in just 23 games. He’s also tied for the team lead with 15 assists.

“He’s our rock, he’s the voice of the locker room,” says sophomore Justin Hryckowian, who centers the first line alongside McDonough. “He’s the example. The way he carries himself at the rink and away from it—during practice, before practice, after practice—he does things the right way. So it’s easy to follow a guy when he’s not just talking. He’s doing it.”

Huskies coach Jerry Keefe rates McDonough among the best scorers he’s seen in his dozen years at Northeastern.

“Aidan is big on preparation,” Keefe says. “For one of those goals that he scored at UConn, he probably took 50 to 70 of those shots in the morning from that exact spot—and shot them that way too. So it’s just second nature for him. He takes a lot of pride in his practices and when he goes out in a game, he feels confident in those positions.”

McDonough, 23, postponed his move to the NHL in part to gain strength and improve his skating. He has always considered himself a late bloomer who has worked hard to compete with—and often surpass—the phenoms.

“I never really had any trait that separated me from anybody,” says McDonough, who was in middle school in suburban Boston when he and his mother ran into a well-known hockey coach at a coffee shop. 

“My mom, being a very outgoing person, went up to him and asked, ‘Hey, Coach, what do you look for in a young player when you’re scouting?’ He said, ‘I look for someone that when the puck gets from the hash marks in, they can score.’ And I was right there listening, I’ll never forget that, and ever since then I started to hone in on shooting.”

The coach was Scott Borek, now in his fifth season at Merrimack, which has been victimized by a number of McDonough goals—including a game-winner last year with 9.5 seconds left in the regular-season finale that delivered Northeastern’s first Hockey East title.

“It’s funny that I’ve used it against his team a few times,” McDonough says.

McDonough, now almost 6 feet, 3 inches after growing over the summer, can become an NHL free agent in August. He has nonetheless insisted that his intention is to sign with Vancouver after he has finished playing at Northeastern. And he believes the difficulties of this season have strengthened him.

“I think if you want to be a professional hockey player, you’re going to go through a lot of ups and downs,” McDonough says. “And if you want to have a successful team, you’ve got to have ups and downs. It’s going to help all of us individually—and it’s also going to help our team this year.”

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.