The story of Northeastern’s resurgence in Division I hockey has been told over and over in college hockey circles, and focuses on the leadership of head coach Greg Cronin and the goaltending heroics of Brad Theissen.
If the Huskies can continue their strong play and reach the Frozen Four next month at Verizon Center, forwards Chris Donovan and Greg Costa may steal a bit of the spotlight from Cronin and Thiessen. Not that they want to have anything to do with that.
“Oh no, not me,” said Donovan, a Fairfax Station, Virginia, native and, with Costa, one of 16 Division I players from D.C., Maryland or Virginia. “I had to do a press conference before the Beanpot and I was shaking the whole time. I would need public speaking lessons.”
Donovan may not have much of a choice if he gets to D.C. In addition to the local connection, he and Costa, who is from Crownsville, Md., are both integral parts of the Huskies’ success, occupying the wings on the second line. They skate together on the penalty kill and have spots on Northeastern’s two power-play units.
Both juniors, Donovan and Costa are in many ways mirror images. They’re roommates at Northeastern. Both are 5’8” and between 180-185 pounds. Costa shoots left and occupies the left wing; Donovan is a righty and skates on the right side. They were born two months apart in the summer of 1985 and wear No. 22 (Costa) and 23 (Donovan).
Their backgrounds are similar as well. They were teammates on the Little Caps into their teenage years before moving elsewhere – as did other locals before them, like Jeff Halpern
, Stephen Werner and Luke Lynes. Donovan played prep school and junior hockey in New England, while Costa starred at DeMatha before heading to the Midwest and then Boston to play junior hockey.
They got to Northeastern as Cronin was building a program in his own intense, focused image. The former New York Islanders assistant coach and Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach came to NU and went just 3-24-7 with a talent-thin roster in 2005-06. Win totals have built rapidly, and this year’s team enters the Hockey East conference tournament this weekend with a 23-9-4 record and a No. 4 national ranking on InsideCollegeHockey.com.
“I believed in ‘Cro’ and he saw something in me,” Donovan explained. “I had the feeling that things were going in the right direction here. And Cro coaches a fast-paced style that emphasizes skating, and that seemed to fit for me.”
Both Donovan and Costa have the quickness that Cronin’s system demands. It’s a style of play that emphasizes forechecking, intensity and an in-your-face approach. That said, it’s not terribly risky – although if there are any breakdowns Thiessen, a Hobey Baker candidate, is usually able to cover up the mistakes.
In a recent game at Northeastern’s 99-year-old Matthews Arena – the Fenway Park of hockey rinks, located not too far from the Red Sox’ home – Costa and Donovan both showed their value. They were held off the scoreboard that night, a 3-0 win against UMass Lowell, but they were very noticeable. At one point Costa sprawled to the ice to block a point shot while killing a penalty; at another Donovan outraced a defenseman when an icing call was washed out and created a scoring chance.
Both players are in the top 10 in scoring for Northeastern, with 16 (Donovan) and 15 (Costa) points entering the playoffs. Both have seen their roles increase significantly each season with the Huskies; in their freshman season they combined to play just 34 of the team’s 36 games, but this year have missed just one game between them.
Hard work, Cronin’s guidance and experience have helped both players’ progressions. Costa also spent significant time the past two summers skating at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to stay in shape in the summer; Dan Steinberg caught up with him
two years ago. Donovan has joined him at Kettler sporadically, though he has spent most of his summers at his Boston apartment.
Now they are not too far from returning to their home area to play on a much bigger stage, certainly with a number of family and friends in the stands and in the spotlight of the local media. Regardless of what happens in the Hockey East tournament, the Huskies should hear their names called when the NCAA Tournament field is revealed March 22 on ESPNU.
From there it would take just two wins in an NCAA Regional for Northeastern to reach only its second Frozen Four – and for two locals to give Washington, D.C. an up-close look at the impact of area players in college hockey.
Sixteen players from D.C., Maryland or Virginia played Division I men’s college hockey this season. In addition to Costa and Donovan, several other players have a chance to participate in the NCAA Tournament, most notably Jeremiah Cunningham (St. Lawrence), Matt Fairchild (Air Force), Jamie Fritsch (New Hampshire) and Corey Toy (Ohio State).