A bright mind and a gifted athlete, Noah Hanifin has always been ahead of the curve.
He began the 2013-14 season on the US National Under-17 team, excelling to the point where he was added to the U-18 squad in late March, eventually helping lead Team USA to a gold medal
at the IIHF U-18 World Championship.
Hanifin then had a choice: Spend another year with the U-18’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., head up north and play for the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, or take an earlier stab at a lifelong dream. The
bigger the stage, the bigger the challenge, he figured.
Boston College was that, having grown up in Norwood, Mass. – a small town southwest of Boston and the university’s campus in nearby Chestnut Hill.
The next step was completing all the academic admission requirements. Early enrolment meant a series of long nights last summer, his head buried in books, all the while recovering after a day
on the ice, in the gym or both.
“English, math and history,” he recalls. “There was a lot – a lot – of reading, but it was worth it.”
Hanifin’s grandfather, Jim, attended BC, graduating in 1957. Years later, the passion was passed down.
“My grandfather took me to games all the time. I fell in love with it,” Hanifin said.
“I always wanted to play here. … BC is a very tight community. The stories I heard growing up and the kind of people I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the years, I knew what kind of family
it was well before I committed. I knew Chris Kreider and I’m really close with Kevin Hayes and Billy Arnold – guys that grew up in the area, played and have had success there over the years.”
It was the ultimate in home-ice advantage – a “no brainer” considering the familial ties and trivial drive, 30 minutes north on I-95.
“One of the most important things I took out of the year was not only my development on the ice as a player, but off the ice as well. I was living at school, by myself for the first time in my life. I was kind of learning how to take care of myself, to make decisions, friends and develop lifelong connections. It’s nice to be able to do that and still be reasonably close to home. Whether it’s
at the rink, in the coaches’ offices, at home and everywhere in between, I have that support.
“I’m surrounded by a lot of great people and I’m thankful for that.”
In time, Hanifin thrived. At a smidge under 18 years, he became the second-youngest player in school history to don the storied Eagle insignia. In 37 regular-season contests, Hanifin posted five goals and 18 assists for 23 points, along 16 penalty minutes and a +12 rating. Most importantly, and perhaps gratifying for Head Coach Jerry York – the winningest of all NCAA bench bosses – the freshman soon evolved into a dominant force capable of minutes and responsibility beyond
Once again, the collegiate star was ahead of the game.
Those destined for prime time usually are.
Is it enough, right now, to crack an NHL roster as soon as the fall? “There’s definitely that itch,” Hanifin said, chuckling at the verbal softball.
Inquiring minds and all that.
It’s true, though, that after fast-tracking his education in less than a calendar year, the athletic gains are on a similar path. “It’s about the making the most of the time of the time you have,” Hanifin says.
This. It’s often the difference.
Dylan Strome for example, played 88 games this season – more than double what Hanifin was exposed to in the NCAA – but for an individual driven to achieve his goal, there are no
excuses. Just opportunities.
“It might be nice to play a little more, especially when you’re gearing up for the next level, but you have to take what you’re given and use it effectively,” Hanifin said. “The way our schedule works, it gives you some additional one-on-one time to practice on and off the ice, hit the gym and build the muscle critical to the pro game. Every morning I would go out on the ice with (Associate) Coach (Greg) Brown and work on a variety of things, from skating to shooting. When you only play
30-some games, there’s a lot of time for skill development and that’s never a bad thing.
“Playing college hockey was a big step up from what I’d played previously,” Hanifin added, crediting Brown for helping turn around his game early in the year. “We worked a lot on my defensive zone (coverage), my shot, my reads… I’ve always been known as an offensive defenceman, but this
year, especially, I had to work a lot harder defensively because of the tougher competition.”
Hanifin represented the United States at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship, where he tallied two assists, a +3 rating and eight shots on goal before a 3-2 loss to Russia summoned the US to a disappointing fifth-place finish. Returning for the second half at BC, which included an appearance at the Beanpot Tournament, the 18-year-old says he felt more comfortable and
wildly more confident with the level of competition.
“I really started to settle in and play my game, which is ultimately what got me there.”
Standing 6-foot-3, Hanifin’s biggest asset is a long, powerful stride producing elite speed. Using that and the myriad other chattels at his disposal, he began to look more and more like the subjects of
his amateur film study projects.
“I like to watch guys like Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith. They’re great players that anyone – especially in this position – can learn a lot from.”
They all possess characteristics this young prospect is eager to perfect: Elite speed, physicality and the ability to quarterback a power-play.
If Hanifin does, indeed, go third overall, he’ll become the college’s highest-ever selection and the first American-born defenceman taken in the Top 3 since former Jet Zach Bogosian was drafted by
Atlanta back in 2008.
“It’s a bit of an anxious time, waiting to see how it’s all going to unfold, but I’m excited for the next chapter,” he said. “To go through this process with my family, friends and all the people that have supported me over the years is unbelievable.”