Alex Newhook had a strange start to the 2020-21 season following a successful freshman campaign being cut short by the pandemic. After being named the 2019-20 National Rookie of the Year, he returned to Boston College for his sophomore year — but didn’t get to dress for the Eagles until January 8, as he was representing Canada at World Juniors. He then was out with a shoulder injury for the next month, and didn’t return to the lineup until February 5. Despite having played only eleven games for BC this year, Newhook has 15 points currently and is second on the team in points per game, only behind his linemate Matt Boldy.
With the Eagles set to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2015-16 season this weekend, we sat down with Alex to discuss BC, what the emotions are like heading into the tournament (especially after last year’s devastating cancellation), his sister Abby Newhook (future Eagle), and more!
So, to start, a question I ask everyone: why did you choose Boston College?
I think being from Canada the major junior route is really pushed a lot and it’s something that’s really popular, but for me when I was coming to the age of making that decision I got to really see both sides. I was really lucky to come down and [do] a tour for BC along with some other schools and I think it was just a really hard program to turn down given the academic status as well as always being in contention for national championships. It’s a hard school to turn down for the hockey pedigree as well as the academics so that’s really where my decision came from.
Going back to the beginning of the season — this probably feels like it was a really long time ago — but can you talk a little bit about what it was like to be up in Edmonton for World Juniors camp when BC’s season got underway? Did you get to catch any of the games up there?
Yeah It was a great opportunity to be up there with my country and represent Canada, but at the same time [after] coming back for my second year I definitely wanted to have an impact on the team to start the season and be there for guys that are newly coming in and try to help them out.
It was pretty tough being away from the team for the start of the year — I think it was like 8 games or something like that so definitely tough in that regard but it was nice to be able to catch some games and then get back and healthy for playoffs. It’s been a crazy year but I’m happy to be here now.
I know Team Canada had to go into quarantine for a few days/weeks during camp — how did you pass the time?
It was tough. So when I first got there, myself and the two other NCAA guys had to kind of separate ourselves from the group for the first twelve days and we were just practicing by ourselves. It was me, [Wisconsin’s] Dylan Holloway, and [Northeastern’s] Devon Levi, who’s a goalie — just three of us skating and working out together. We were one day away from joining the group and then it got shut down for another fourteen days. So it was two full weeks of being pretty isolated and a lot of How I Met Your Mother — we ended up getting spin bikes in the room too so we just tried to keep ourselves busy. We would do like team zoom calls for workouts and different team bonding exercises but a long two weeks for sure.
This has been a weird year in general, but for you particularly since you were in Canada for a while and then were injured, but you still seemed to jump back into the lineup pretty seamlessly — why do you think that was possible?
Yeah it’s been a crazy year for everyone with COVID and having to go through quarantine processes and protocols and everything that comes with that. But yeah for me it was challenging coming back — like I said earlier, I wanted to be involved with the team so badly in my second year and not being able to be a part of it early in the year [was tough].
As much as the World Juniors loss stung it was good to get back and be able to play and have a future to look forward to there. Getting injured was pretty tough and then sitting out that month — just trying to stay focused was my mindset and the trainers did a great job of making me get back as quick as possible. I was trying to keep up cardio-wise and skate whenever I could and not use my shoulder and stuff. [I was] just kind of watching the games, seeing where I could fit when I came back and then when I got back I really wanted to just jump in and get in there and make an impact right away.
Yeah, you slotted back in pretty quickly and a lot of that is due to your line with Matt Boldy and Mike Hardman — you guys have had a pretty special chemistry ever since you were put together last year. What do you attribute that to?
We’re pretty close off the ice — myself, Bolds, and Hards — and I think last year getting used to the college level and the second half of the year when we got put together we started to play better and started to know where each other are [on the ice] and develop that chemistry. I think we all have something a little bit different that we bring to the table and I think that’s why our line works so well together. I think as of late it’s really been coming together a bit more as we get comfortable playing with each other again and excited for these next games and hopefully we can help our team keep advancing here.
Coming off of a really tough loss last week, what is the mood like in the locker room and how are you guys bouncing back and leaving it behind as we pivot to the NCAA tournament?
Yeah I think in any season you have to have a short memory but especially at this point in the year. Single elimination is a tough way to go out and for us that loss was definitely pretty heartbreaking and at the same time we know there’s bigger trophies down the line and we know that we’ve been one of the top teams in the country all year. So heading into the tournament — it was a tough loss but it was one game and I think we have a lot more to prove and prove that we are still the top team in the country. Our mindset going in is that we’re still the team to beat and we’re going to have to prove that.
Can you talk about the emotions on the team as you head into the tournament after the postseason was cancelled last year?
I think for the older guys and the guys that were here last year, this journey kind of feels like it was a two year one to get to where we are now. I think that makes it a bit extra special and having those seniors in mind from last year adds a bit of motivation for us to kind of do it for them and for what we could have had last year.
But yeah it’s been something that we’ve been looking forward to. We were looking forward to it — playoffs and being in the national tournament — last year, so this year it was kind of our focus all year: championships and bringing home trophies. Only four games to get there now, and I think that’s a pretty exciting thing — you get four wins and you get to win the national title. The mindset’s just taking it game by game and keep advancing to get to that trophy at the end of the line.
One weird thing about this year has been the lack of out of conference play - how are you guys preparing to finally face an out of conference team with Notre Dame from the Big Ten? And how are you all feeling about having BU in your region?
I think we got a great region. To get Notre Dame early I think it adds to the suspense having a rivalry get in there and I think we’ve seen how they play against other teams. We played against them twice last year so that’s what we’ve been focusing on, trying to see how they’ve been playing as of late and see how we were successful against them last year. BU again, another rivalry team in the region so if we move on and they happen to be the next opponent it just keeps adding to the intensity and excitement that we have here. We’re going to take any opponent in front of us, but with a rivalry it adds a bit more for sure.
How do you stay focused in the moment during this season when there is already a lot of discourse surrounding yourself and some of the other guys on whether you’ll stay with the team or go pro?
I think [being in the moment] is something that I try to focus on a lot and our team stresses a lot. You kind of lose the advantage of taking every second in or every day in. Being at BC — we’re really privileged to be here and no matter what happens in the future I really just make the most of my day — be happy to be at the rink, be happy to be around the guys that we get to play with and that’s just always been my mindset to make the most of it. Who knows what’ll happen in the future, but for now we’re focused on this weekend and if not that then just tomorrow.
I feel like that’s a good way to just look at [the world in general] with the way COVID’s been — you can’t even look at what next week’s going to be like because you don’t even know what it looks like...now.
Yeah I think we learned that early on too like when we had some game schedules changed on the day of our games so it’s like — you really gotta take advantage of every day and you never know what’s going to happen any more.
Kind of going off of my previous question, you’re one of 3 Colorado picks on the roster, with Drew Helleson and Colby Ambrosio - does that give you guys a bit of an extra bond?
Yeah I think it’s pretty cool. It’s not something we talk about too much in the room but it’s nice to be a part of the same organization for now and kinda see how they’re doing and to have a common goal shared is pretty cool. Along with the other guys that are with other teams, it’s all a similar process where everyone’s got that common goal in the back of their head of eventually playing in the NHL for whatever club that may be. It adds to what we’re all pushing for here.
Your sister Abby is heading to BC in the fall to play for the women’s team and you’ve always been a big proponent of her skills - can you give BC fans an idea of what they can expect out of her?
She’s a great player, she’s excited to get in here next year — she’s had a tough year this year with not being able to play many games but she’s a fast, skilled forward. I like to say she brings a lot of energy and she’s smart. I’m excited to see her play and I’m sure a lot of people are!
I know we talked about why you chose BC specifically earlier, but how did you and Abby end up deciding on the same school?
Yeah so I toured BC like probably 2-3 times before committing, or maybe once or twice? Probably three times total before it was official. I think she came on two of them at least, so she got to have a feel for the campus before even really being in touch with the women’s team. So I think going through the process of seeing what it’s like on the men’s side here and [how] our coaches are very supportive of the women’s side as well — I think she kind of saw that and saw the culture of hockey in general at BC. That’s a big pulling factor for any athlete I would think and for her that was the same. I think the same kind of reasons for me, the hockey culture and the academics are here. She’s always been kind of wowed by BC and I think it kind of came together that she was lucky enough to get here, and same with me.
As this season starts wrapping up and we start (hopefully) returning to a more normal-ish life, what has been the most surprising or challenging thing about playing through a pandemic?
The most challenging thing would probably be the uncertainty — I think more so in the summer, not knowing what the season was going to look like, or if we were going to have a season. As athletes we’re always really schedule-based and I think we always know what’s in front of us — to not know what was going to happen this year and also to not know if one week we could just shut down [was hard]. I think it was an adjustment for a lot of people, myself included.
And then I think also, I’d have to say the fans — [I’m] not used to playing without any noise in the stadium and we’re lucky our student section was great last year and we had a lot of fans that were so supportive last year. It was weird to be playing for the top seed in the country and not having our fans there — it was too bad. Definitely looking forward to getting them back.
Do they pump in crowd noise for you? I’m wondering because I know the NHL bubble had crowd noise for the broadcast, but the arenas were completely silent.
They do, yeah but it’s not the same. It’s always the same noise.
Okay, so now I have some fun questions — personally my favorite part!
Hockey often gets a reputation of being pretty homogenous when it comes to showing personality, but based off of the Instagram posts from the BC Hockey account it seems like there’s been some pretty good fashion on this year’s squad on your way to the rink before games — has that been a way for you guys to have a little bit of fun during this weird time?
Well we definitely don’t dress like it every day [laughs]. It’s been fun, we always get to wear suits and no one really sees us when we’re walking in that early so it’s always nice to look forward to what we’re going to wear and our social media guy does it up a bit. It’s great, it’s something else aside from just hockey that we can get up for and give each other a bit of razz for.
Do you have a favorite pregame outfit you’ve worn so far?
I try not to go with the same outfit at all during the year, that’s kind of been my thing for definitely last year anyway. I’ve definitely gotten more into suit style but I think… two games ago I wore a black vest with a black hat and a brown suit. That was probably my favorite one so far.
(author’s note: it is the third one in this post!)
What’s something that BC fans might be surprised to know about you? This one is a little hard.
Yeah, I used to play the trombone — that might be one people wouldn’t know. (author’s note: he also said something else but the audio completely cut out and instead recorded me saying the next thing and now we will never know. Pain.)
That is a good one! Everyone says golf when I ask them.
Yeah, golf... everyone plays golf.
What’s your go-to pregame song?
Ooh, I have a lot, I don’t know if I have just one! I kind of go through different swings of songs —
What’s your most recent one?
Really tough, I’ve been listening to a lot of JID lately and Eminem’s always a classic to get you in a pretty stable mood.
I think it’s kind of like — in certain places you can do different celebrations. With some speed, if I’m kind of going fast, I’ll usually go down to a knee, but it really depends. I don’t usually have one in my mind going in, I’ll just do whatever comes to mind at the moment.
Favorite off-campus restaurant?
I really like Rail Stop that’s in Brighton, we’ve gone to Barcelona [in Brookline] a few times — that’s a really good spot.
Favorite dining hall meal?
Ooh, this is a tough one. The omelettes that they used to do last year were really good. I like the omelette station, I was a pretty consistent go-er of omelettes. (author’s note: I really do miss the omelette station, here’s to hoping it’s back when things are a little better!)
A huge thank you to Alex for taking the time to sit down with us!