Restocking the bench is as much a part of a college hockey coach's job description as setting the lines and choosing a starting goalie.
Northeastern coach Jim Madigan has, over his 11 seasons on Huntington Ave., successfully recruited through a layered process to compensate for players who leave early for the NHL.
That's the proven method of avoiding a down year in Hockey East, an unforgiving collaboration of elite NCAA programs that devours its own.
But Madigan and his contemporaries across the country are encountering new challenges in recruiting during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Player safety, which was mostly only a worry on the ice at practice and during games, has extended into areas outside the arena by an unseen threat.
* We've six players who have signed letters of intent so those players we can do a little bit more with but not others,” said Madigan during a Zoom press briefing.
* The NCAA rules have opened themselves up a little bit and we are staying in touch with our kids whether it be texts or whether it be through personal phone calls.
* Beginning on (April) 25th we can start having virtual meetings with them along with our returning players.”
Incoming freshman athletes face obstacles and uncertainties both academically and athletically due to the unprecedented circumstances caused by the coronavirus.
Returning players had their league tournaments canceled, leaving titles vacant and little to show for a grinding season. They spent the remainder of the academic year away from campus while resuming their studies in digital classrooms.
Madigan's only option is to plan as if the 2020-2021 season will be allowed to open on time while making contingency plans for a delayed start. The amount of preseason time allocated for Madigan to prepare the veterans and integrate the newcomers remains in flux.
For the time being, Madigan and his assistant coaches must communicate online with the players, who have been left to their own devices to maintain conditioning with little or no ice time.
* With the recruits that are going to be coming a year or two years from now, it's about staying in touch, which is what we normally would be doing,” said Madigan.
* The one thing you can't have is student athletes come through campus. So, the younger group of players … who would normally come through campus, can't have those unofficial visits.
* So, we are just chatting with them, keeping in touch so recruiting continues to go on and it's just virtual and just by phone call.”
The Boston sports scene has been hit hard by the coronavirus, resulting in the postponement of the Boston Marathon, the NBA and NHL playoffs, and has delayed the start of the Red Sox season.
Student athletes interested in attending Northeastern are initially drawn by the academic and hockey programs, but it is often the city that seals the deal.
Northeastern is located in a vibrant section of the Boston, nestled on four sides by the South End, the Back Bay, the Fens and Jamaica Plain with transportation options to access the rest of the city.
The Green Line runs by the front steps of the campus while the Orange Line, which has a stop at Matthews Arena, is located at the back door. Those factors make for a pulsating urban experience for potential recruits from less populated areas in the U.S. and Canada.
* We've always said as soon as we attract student athletes to our campus, that's the sell,” said Madigan. * The campus sells itself and you have the city of Boston at your fingertips.”
Since Northeastern can't bring recruits to Boston, the university is bringing Boston to the recruits.
* What the university just did which is great and our admissions office sent it out to me, they provided us with four or five different video clips,” said Madigan.
* Under the NCAA rules now we can share them with our recruits, we can send them videos where they can get a virtual feel for the campus.
* It doesn't replace the actual walk through campus, but is does allow them to get a feel for the campus. We are in a holding pattern no doubt, but we are taking every single measure we can take in being proactive.”
Exhibit A in Boston's appeal to potential recruits is junior center Zach Solow, who was named the Huskies' team captain on April 21.
Solow is from Naples, Fla., but his family has Boston roots and he came of age playing juniors for Dubuque in the USHL. Solow was an associate captain last season and was named MVP of the 2020 Beanpot tournament.
Solow had narrowed his college search to Northeastern, UMass and Ohio State. Solow decided to visit NU and UMass on the same trip followed by a stopover in Columbus, Ohio.
Solow visited Northeastern first and made up his mind on the spot. He visited UMass as a courtesy and never gave the Buckeyes a second thought.
* Boston was a big factor in my (decision),” said Solow. * I came up in the summer before my senior year of high school and my final year in juniors in Dubuque.”
* I actually came up on my own in early August and I visited Northeastern and was going to visit Amherst the next day.
* As soon and I was on campus at Northeastern I knew this is where I wanted to be. I didn't even want to hop on that Peter Pan bus and head down to Amherst.
* It was a no-brainer then and it continues to be a no-brainer to this day.”
The Huskies finished the season at 18-13-3 that included a victory in the Beanpot tournament back in February. Northeastern was set to defend its Hockey East title when the tournament was canceled before the opening round.
The Hockey East tournament is the league's showcase event with the final four teams competing at the TD Garden. Teams can't bring recruits to the games, but the Hockey East tournament is an important recruiting tool that accentuates Boston as a hockey hotbed.
* Just the fact that you are there playing in the Hockey East tournament and particularly if you get to the Garden, your recruits are following you,” said Madigan.
* We have been fortunate to be in the tournament the last years at the Garden and winning it twice in the last five years and the recruits are following on TV.”