Sometimes he feels them the next day.
“On the legs, the arms,” says Northeastern defenseman Hunter McDonald, who instantly dismisses his bruises as the cost of winning. A small price to pay.
The freshman led the way by blocking six shots in Northeastern’s 3-1 upset of No. 3 Boston University in a Beanpot semifinal on Monday. His physical play helped set the tone for the Huskies’ throttling defensive approach that limited BU for much of the game.
“It’s positioning and then it’s staying committed to it,” Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe says of McDonald’s approach to blocking shots. “When you’re seeing a puck coming at you at 90 miles an hour, it comes down to will. And he’s more than willing.”
No. 16 Northeastern (14-10-3) will be appearing in its fifth straight Beanpot final and seeking its fourth title in that span against No. 10 Harvard (16-6-1) at 7:30 p.m. Monday at TD Garden. It will be the first meeting of the two schools in 70 Beanpot finals.
At 6 feet, 4 inches, and 215 pounds, McDonald has quickly established himself defensively while helping to define the Huskies’ whatever-it-takes approach. He leads Northeastern with 70 blocks (more than double any of his teammates) and is No. 1 in Hockey East with 45 blocks in conference play.
Last year, senior captain Jordan Harris—now an NHL defenseman with the Montreal Canadiens—led Northeastern with 69 blocks in 38 games.
McDonald culminated his Beanpot debut by slamming home the empty-net clincher with 30.2 seconds remaining in the semifinal. “I didn’t see it as an opportunity to score at first,” he says of the BU bobble that he turned into his first collegiate goal—and on the biggest of all stages.
“Hunter McDonald is a special, big-time player,” Keefe says. “It’s not every day you get a kid that’s 6-4 that can skate the way he does. He’s tough, he’s hard to play against, but he also adds offense into his game. He’s definitely not playing like a freshman, that’s for sure.”
His father, Tom McDonald, won a Division 3 national championship in hockey and his mother, Joy, was the New York state hammer throw champion in college. McDonald grew up playing a physical style of hockey in Rochester, New York.
“I use something that not everyone has—size,” McDonald says. “I like when guys get frustrated because I’ve been on the other side of it.”
Last summer, McDonald and his parents, sister and girlfriend attended the NHL Draft in Montreal. It was a long day of waiting. When he finally saw his name on the board—the Philadelphia Flyers picked him in the sixth round, No. 165 overall—there was no complaining about the teams that passed him by.
“I just had a confidence that I was going to get picked,” he says. “I knew this experience would be too good to pass up and it ended up being one of the best times of my life.”
The upbeat approach helped McDonald and the Huskies turn their rough start into a promising season. Injuries to senior defensemen Tyler Spott, Jayden Struble and Jeremie Bucheler forced Keefe to rely on McDonald and fellow freshmen Jackson Dorrington and Vinny Borgesi. They learned the hard way while Northeastern was going 1-6 over a six-week span through the holidays. But the investment in their playing time has added depth to Northeastern’s back line now that the seniors have returned.
“I’m not sure if people from the outside realized how much it affected us—their leadership, their consistency,” Keefe says of the seniors. “As a coaching staff we know what we’re getting out of those three. They do a lot of little things that probably go unnoticed and we missed them badly when they weren’t in there.
“In particular, Bucheler and Spott had missed a lot of hockey and it took them a bit of time to get their timing down and get into game shape. And once they did, you could see how important they are to our team.”
They, in turn, appreciate how the freshmen have benefited from their hard-earned experiences. Keefe refers to the enhanced depth as “the one positive” of the midseason slump.
It pays off every time McDonald takes a puck to the body—thereby sparing goaltender Devon Levi from having to make a save.
“You can hear it right away from the bench,” Bucheler says. “When you skate back to the bench, all the boys are letting you know that was a huge block. It takes a lot for someone to do that.”
McDonald’s active pursuit of pain helps explain how the freshman has ascended to No. 2 in the conference with a +17 rating—tied with senior forward Aidan McDonough and one behind teammate and Hockey East leader Justin Hryckowian.
He puts himself in harm’s way because that’s his game.
“I just like to do it,” McDonald says.
Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.
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