Can the Northeastern men’s hockey team win Hockey East? Gunnar Fontaine expects a bounce-back year for the Huskies

Northeastern mens ice hockey player lifting the Beanpot above his head after the team won the 2023 Men's Beanpot final.
Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

His mother wanted him to have a distinctive name. So says Gunnarwolfe Fontaine.

“She originally wanted to call me Wolf; I don’t think my dad was too thrilled with that,” says Fontaine, a senior forward on Northeastern men’s hockey team. “Everyone thinks it comes from the Mighty Ducks D2 movie because there’s a guy named Wolf and another guy named Gunnar. But my mom just somehow came up with it.”

Not that her son minds the notoriety. Being named Gunnarwolfe has its advantages.

“It definitely helps in social media,” Fontaine says. “It gets people saying your name even if I’m not playing well. But hopefully I’m doing well on the ice.”

The Huskies are counting on exactly that. After missing the NCAA tournament last season, they’re seeking a fresh start with 13 new players, a renewed emphasis on defense and the balanced scoring of Fontaine, captain Justin Hryckowian and other blue-collar workers with high-end talent on the front line.

Northeastern opens the season at 7 p.m. Saturday against Stonehill College at Matthews Arena.

After being picked to win Hockey East last year around the goaltending of Devon Levi and the scoring of Aidan McDonough — both now chasing NHL careers — the Huskies finished a disappointing 17-13-5, doomed by a November-December slump. 

“We learned a lot — we were probably as talented as any team in the country on paper, and at the end of the day that doesn’t really do much if you’re not doing the little things right,” says Hryckowian, who was awarded as Hockey East’s best defensive forward. “And you just can’t take any game lightly.”

Work started in the spring, not summer

Fontaine, coming off a career-best 10 goals and 30 points, was in a hurry to make amends after missing the NCAA tournament.

“We thought that was the standard, that we’re going to make it to the tournament every year — and the fact that we didn’t last year with the talent we had, it was a downer for all of us,” says Fontaine, an assistant captain. “So we started work in the spring. We didn’t wait for the summer. And then we all did summer school here. We did summer training at 7 a.m., five days a week.”

Such efforts explain coach Jerry Keefe’s faith in these Huskies to return to prominence.

“You can just tell they’re really bought in,” says Keefe, who delivered Northeastern’s first Hockey East regular-season title in his initial season as head coach in 2021-22. “When you get used to having success — getting to the NCAA tournament and winning Hockey East championships and winning Beanpots — it’s not like you win one time and you’re like, ‘Oh, we’re good for a few years, we accomplished that.’ No, you get hungry.”

The Huskies believe their back-line depth can help offset the departure of Levi to the NHL. The big minutes that were forced upon Hunter McDonald, Jackson Dorrington and Vinny Borgesi as freshmen have earned them veteran status ahead of schedule. Transfers Pito Walton and Matthew Staudacher join freshman Michael Fisher to add to the unit’s strength. 

“You can see why he was a third-round pick,” Keefe says of Fisher, whose rights are held by the San Jose Sharks. “He’s a beast, a big kid, he’s strong and he can really skate.”

Highly recruited freshman Cameron Whitehead, a fourth-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, will take over in goal. 

“He’s really open to learning and wanting to just keep getting better,” says Keefe, adding that Whitehead has benefited from his work with new assistant coach Brian Mahoney-Wilson. “We brought him in here to be the future goaltender with Devin leaving, I don’t think that’s a secret. He’s going to be a really good goalie.” 

Two balanced scoring lines

Keefe enters the season with two balanced scoring lines that are embodied by Fontaine and his aggressive approach. He’s only 5 feet, 8 inches, but he fights for pucks. In the open ice he combines speed with head fakes to attack relentlessly. 

“As a smaller guy I always want to make sure I stay clear of bigger guys,” he says. “And especially when you get older — you want to create space for yourself.”

Fontaine attended four high schools while investing in his hockey future. 

“My first year I didn’t see my family for six months,” Fontaine says. “It helps make you mature, living on your own.”

He chose Northeastern in part because his mother would be able to attend his games. It also reunited him with his older sister, Skylar, an All-American on Northeastern’s women’s team who is now playing professionally in Switzerland.

As a freshman, Fontaine contributed immediately on the power play. The disappointment of last year was offset by the Huskies’ Beanpot title win over Harvard in a shootout. Fontaine scored both of Northeastern’s goals in regulation for the Huskies’ fourth Beanpot championship in the last five tournaments.

“I’ve been going to the Beanpot since I was 5 years old and I always wanted to go to one of these Boston schools and win the championship,” Fontaine says. “It meant a lot to everyone on our team and it means a lot to the school, it means a lot to every student here, the alumni. I hope that we can take that back this year.”

Fontaine’s production has risen every year. Keefe expects that trend to continue.

“To have success at the college level you need four-year guys that just keep improving,” Keefe says. “Gunnar has been a difference-maker for us since day one. And I still think his best hockey’s ahead of him. We’re looking for Gunnar to have a big year.”

Fontaine may shift between the first and second lines and says he couldn’t care less.

“This is a very humble team,” he says. “As long as we’re the hardest workers, I think we’ll be alright.”

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