In Boston, a reminder of what Alex Newhook can become for Avalanche
Coach Jerry York quickly learned to take cover from Alex Newhook’s shenanigans. Then a freshman in the Boston College of York program, Newhook always liked to douse himself before his hockey games, but now the ritual was expanding.
Newhook gathered water bottles, carried them to the bench and splashed each of his teammates to energize them – a bold move for a freshman on a team loaded with seniors.
“The first two games he did it, I was like, ‘This kid is crazy,'” assistant coach Mike Ayers said. “And then it got to the point where everyone was looking for it. The coaches are filling up water bottles because they’re empty, and it’s five minutes into the game.
Surprisingly, it worked. Already an impact player, Newhook’s lore has made him every bit as effective as a hype beast. “Some guys started getting into it,” he said. “Ended to become a team thing, which is kind of funny.
The famed York, B.C. head coach beamed at Newhook’s enthusiasm while dodging it. He sometimes left his notebook on the bench, only to have the contents of its pages smudged. It was in the splash zone. Not wanting his suits to suffer the same fate, York hid behind Ayers whenever Newhook was within range.
He coached college hockey for 50 years, but he will always remember Newhook’s “exuberance” that separated him from most young athletes.
This quality can be difficult to channel when wrestling on the ice. Visiting the alma mater is a great way to rediscover it. Newhook has been a common thread in the Colorado Avalanche’s 2022-23 story so far, seemingly in three parts: his trial phase at second-line center, his period of scrutiny by coach Jared Bednar for a lack of production after moving to the wing, and his recent steady rise – which crucially coincided with Colorado’s injury swarm.
When the Avs returned home after a four-game road trip, Newhook was one of five everyday forwards remaining on the roster.
“He’s a guy I’m expecting a lot from right now,” Bednar said. “We worked with him on his game. … We’re in learning mode, aren’t we? But he’s a guy who’s been learning for a few years now, so I expect fewer mistakes and more value in his game. And I think he’s showing it. I think we see a dangerous player a lot of nights.
That wasn’t Bednar’s impression after 14 games when Newhook was held down three points in a ‘solutions-focused’ one-on-one meeting with the coach. What the Avs saw was not what they thought Newhook could be – prompting them to draft him 16th overall in 2019.
For a refresher on what it can be, start with Boston.
Newhook recorded 42 points in his only full season with the program, leading his team and all NCAA freshmen with 19 goals. He scored four game-winning goals. He finished ninth nationally in points per game.
He took the time to tour campus the day before Colorado played the Bruins last weekend. “A lot of my friends are still seniors, so it’s good to see them,” Newhook said. He watched their home game that night. Her sister, Abby, plays for the women’s team. She played on Saturday afternoon and then went to Alex’s game that night.
York’s discovery of Newhook was unorthodox: He got a call from an old friend who owned a restaurant on Cape Cod. There was a family from Newfoundland, Canada who visited the Cape several summers and always had hockey conversations with him at the restaurant. “Their son is supposed to be very, very good,” York recalled.
“You get advice from people all the time: ‘Look at this player. Look at this player,” York said. “And half the time you listen but you don’t listen.”
But he followed Newhook, making more calls. Then he finally saw the teen center play in Toronto. Newhook was then at St. Andrew’s College, an Ontario boarding school. It lived up to the hype. “Indeed, the two Newhooks end up in British Columbia,” York said.
York is retired, but Ayers is still coaching. He and Newhook used to go on the ice at 8 a.m. at Newhook’s request, before classes started. They experimented with different angles where Newhook could find space to create for himself. “He wanted feedback all the time,” Ayers said. “Some kids thrive on hearing only positive things. He wanted to hear it all.
So this meeting with Bednar? No sweating. Former coaches have seen how well Newhook accepts constructive criticism.
“There was no sulking in him,” York said.
As for what has always most marked his potential, the two identify the distinct sights and sounds of Newhook’s skating.
“I just think about his little jump that he starts off with,” Ayers said. “Every stride he takes, he has that little jump going for him.”
“A strong, powerful skater,” York said. “You can hear it skating when you turn around.”
Ayers recalls a “Beanpot” rivalry game against Harvard when Crimson defenseman Jack Rathbone gave away the puck. Newhook took possession of the ball and skated into the offensive zone with Rathbone in pursuit.
The summer after Newhook signed with the Avalanche, Ayers sat down with Newhook and Rathbone and brought up the play. He now remembers the response from Rathbone, a Canucks defenseman: “Of course the only guy I gave responsibility to was Newhook. I can’t catch it.
Shorthanded breakaway goal.
This game was also at TD Garden in Boston. When Newhook played there last Saturday, he was far from the best skater on his team. He is surrounded by the best in the world now in Colorado. His new challenge is to find a way to make an impact even when he’s not the number one point producer.
“Take the points away,” Bednar said. “You see a productive player from him.”
Two nights after the Boston game, Newhook scored twice. He also stopped a puck with his cheek. Now he plays the front row with a festive holiday mix of red, purple and black covering the left side of his face. When asked if he could smell it in practice, he replied, “Oh, yeah,” with a smile.
Sums up pretty well what Ayers remembers from BC: Newhook can take a punch the same way he takes criticism. “He always brought a joy and exuberance to the rink.”