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Coach Don MacLeod a tremendous figure in building Northeastern hockey

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Revered as a dynasty in Hockey East, the last decade has seen the Northeastern Huskies feature a who’s who of elite women’s ice hockey talent. While the efforts of head coach Dave Flint have propelled the program into the conversation as perpetual contenders, the first glory days can be traced back to the 1980s. Although the landscape of NCAA hockey was far different, an essential figure during that time was Don MacLeod.

While the list of achievements speak for themselves, highlighted by a pair of ECAC championships and eight consecutive Beanpot championships, plus an impressive 42-game unbeaten streak, MacLeod deserves to be remembered as a builder. Having arrived at Northeastern in 1981, also possessing a background as a softball coach, a sterling 11 year run involved 210 career wins and a superlative .772 winning percentage.

“The rewards come from building a program. The women’s program has been there since 1978. Today, it’s one of the top teams in the country. When I started, it was part-time. Back then, there were not as many schools. We played a lot of clubs, and we also had a lot of games with Canadian schools.

We played Concordia in Montreal, and they ran a very nice tournament every year. We won it three times. In Ontario, we played Guelph, York and Toronto. I remember Toronto’s head coach, Dave McMaster. At the 1990 Women’s Worlds, he was the coach for Canada, while I coached the US “

Inducted into the Northeastern Huskies Hall of Fame in 2013, the decade included another pair of well deserved honors. Bestowed the honor of the AHCA Women’s Ice Hockey Founders Award in 2019, it served as the exclamation point to a brilliant career.

One year earlier, the Beanpot 40th Anniversary Team enhanced the standing of the Huskies place in the event’s mythology. With a significant Huskies presence on the celebrated team, including Kendall Coyne plus Tina Cardinale named as a co-captain, the selection of MacLeod as Honorary Coach tugged at the heartstrings. Among the players he coached during his string of eight consecutive titles that earned a place on the Anniversary Team included Cardinale, the 88 MVP, Kelly Dyer, Fiona Rice, the 87 MVP, Donna-Lynn Rosa, Jill Toney and Hilary Witt.

In addition to his Beanpot legacy, MacLeod was among the first coaches in the ECAC to feature numerous Canadian stars. From the likes of Rice and Rosa, to Laura Schuler and Vicky Sunohara, both members of Canada’s contingent at the 1990 IIHF Women’s Worlds, their collective presence established them as hockey heroines on both sides of the border

“In our league, we were the very first. The reason I did that is because at that time, Northeastern was not as competitive, and we were not thought of very highly in academics. Knowing the price of a US school for a Canadian to attend, to offer them a full scholarship was a great opportunity.

We had some very good players from Canada. My first Canadian player was Elise Duguay. I kept going to the Brampton tournament for recruitment. There were more than 100 teams at numerous levels. It was where I found my Canadian players.”

In her freshman campaign (1988-89) at Northeastern, Sunohara rewrote the program’s record books. With a club that enjoyed an exceptional 24-3-0 mark, highlighted by the Beanpot and the ECAC championships, Sunohara set a rookie record with 51 goals. Complemented by eight game winning goals and a phenomenal 10 hat tricks, such a stellar season for Sunohara, benefitting from MacLeod’s tutelage foreshadowed future glories

“I really enjoyed my experience at Northeastern with Coach McLeod. I learned from the moment he came to recruit me that this would be a big jump from minor hockey.

He was very professional, passionate about the game and focused on building a great program. This was the closest to being a professional hockey player that I had ever been. I learned so much.”

Considering how profound the Canadian connection was in MacLeod’s coaching odyssey, it was somewhat unique that his greatest milestone took place north of the border. Serving as head coach for Team USA’s entry in the inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds. Held in Ottawa, Ontario, a pair of prominent Huskies, Cardinale and Dyer wore the Stars and Stripes.

Qualifying for the gold medal game, the US faced off versus a Canadian team wearing pink jerseys. As the tournament progressed, the city of Ottawa was enveloped in pink power, raising the profile of the female game to unprecedented relevance. Although Canada, featuring Huskies Schuler and Sunohara, prevailed in the final by a 5-2 mark, the program’s place in international hockey history stands as a strong point of pride.

Prior to the gold medal game, Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden shook hands with MacLeod, wishing the US players best of luck. Coincidentally, Dryden holds a connection to Boston, as he was drafted by the Bruins in the 1964 NHL Draft. As MacLeod recalls, he first met Dryden a few years prior, as the momentous occasion memorable took place as the Huskies faced off versus the University of Toronto.

“We played the University of Toronto twice up there, and we hosted them here once in Boston. I believe that Ken Dryden’s daughter might have been playing hockey at the time and he had an interest in women’s hockey. One time, when we were in Toronto, one of our Canadian-born players arranged for us to stay at the Royal York Hotel.

Dryden had come down and introduced himself. I was stunned. He wanted to write an article about women’s hockey. He was interested in talking to several of my Canadian players on the Huskies. We were all star-struck. He wanted to talk to them about life in the US and what playing there was like.”

Of all the Canadians that have worn the Huskies jersey, Donna-Lynn Rosa holds an important place. The first player from Ontario to receive a scholarship, on the surface, skating for Northeastern allowed an opportunity to extend an unforgettable friendship with Fiona Rice. Having known each other since their tweens, both enjoyed many seasons as teammates.

Gaining induction into the Huskies Hall of Fame in 2009, Rosa was synonymous with success. Appearing in the Beanpot and ECAC championship games in all four seasons, Rosa was not only part of the Huskies first 20-win season in 1986-87.

The following year, Rosa amassed 43 points as the Huskies recorded their only undefeated season in program history. Early November 2023 saw the undefeated team gain a long overdue place in the Hall, making Rosa a Hall of Famer twice.

Adding to the feeling of celebration regarding the induction was a unique coincidence. As the undefeated season took place during 1987-88, MacLeod was actually 87 years young when the induction was announced. Turning 88 soon, the unique numerological link enhances the aura of MacLeod and his players as a team of destiny.

While MacLeod always set a positive example through his work ethic and leadership, Rosa recalls his commitment towards building a perpetual contender. Having enjoyed the unique distinction of also serving on his coaching staff, gaining perspective on his approach, what Rosa admired most was the high regard he held the players in. Believing in them as elite athletes, it set the tone towards an exceptional time forever defined by a Hall of Fame honor that future Huskies rosters will strive to emulate.

“I went there with my best friend, Fiona Rice. We played hockey together back in grade school. From grades 7-13, we walked to school, and played together. She was my very best friend in the world. To have another Canadian (in Fiona) on the Huskies was great. We are still friends today.

The Hall of Fame induction was so special. It makes me realize how big the team was back then. Coach McLeod built something that was ground breaking, something for women’s sports that is pioneering.

I played for him for four years, and I was an assistant coach in my fifth year at Northeastern. Being his assistant coach was a tremendous amount of fun. To hear his insights and see what makes him tick, I knew he was committed.

He always referred to us as world-class athletes. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy that he put out there. He acted like we were in the big leagues and we met him at his expectation. The way he treated us as athletes, how amazing is that! He pulled the best out of all of us.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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