Stu Cowan: Canadiens have strong connection to Northeastern University

Montreal native Jim Madigan coached three current Habs players — Cayden Primeau, Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble — at the school in Boston.

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Former Northeastern University hockey coach Jim Madigan has some strong Montreal connections.

Madigan grew up in Snowdon and played youth hockey with the N.D.G. Maroons and at Loyola College. He also had a paper route for the Montreal Gazette.

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In 1976, after the Parti Québécois came to power in the province, Madigan’s family moved to Toronto. He was 14 at the time and continued to play hockey. He went on to play four seasons at Northeastern University in Boston and after graduating spent seven seasons as an assistant coach at the school. He then worked as a scout for the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins before returning to Northeastern in 2011 as head coach.

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During Madigan’s 10 seasons as head coach at Northeastern, the Huskies won back-to-back-to-back Beanpot championships in 2018 and 2019, two Hockey East titles and made three appearances in the NCAA tournament. In 2021, Madigan was promoted to director of athletics and recreation.

Twenty of the players Madigan coached at Northeastern were drafted by NHL teams and three of them were in the Canadiens’ lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the Flyers in Philadelphia: goalie Cayden Primeau, along with defencemen Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble.

“It’s awesome,” Madigan said in a phone interview last week about his connection to Montreal growing. “We probably have 11 kids playing in the NHL right now off the teams (he coached), but to see three of them on the Canadiens — for me growing up in Montreal and always being a Canadiens fan for so many years and during the glory years — it’s special. To think that we have three American kids playing on the bleu-blanc-rouge, it’s like wow! So I take a lot of pride. I’m happy for them.

“They’re three great kids — three different kids — and really excited and happy for their early success because there’s still a long way to go,” Madigan added. “Cayden is still trying to make his way (in the NHL) and Jordan and Jayden are still very young in the process.”

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Madigan’s favourite Canadiens player growing up was Guy Lafleur, and he still remembers being at the Forum the night Frank Mahovlich scored his 500th career goal. He still watches a lot of Canadiens games on TV and also watches a lot of New Jersey games because his daughter, Kate, was named an assistant general manager with the Devils in 2022.

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Madigan had high praise for Harris, who spent four years at Northeastern and was captain for his final season.

“He’s an awesome young man,” Madigan said. “Humble, kind, generous, thoughtful. He’s an unbelievable teammate. He’s always encouraging teammates, he’s encouraging people, getting involved in the Northeastern community and community service work. He’s just a kid who does everything the right way. He’s the epitome of what you want a student-athlete to do at college. Be involved in the community, be a great player, be a great teammate, be a great student. His mom and dad, that’s where the credit goes. They just did a tremendous job raising him.

“He’s just a tremendous person and he still has enough bite to his game,” Madigan added. “Sometimes those guys who are so nice are nice on the ice — there’s no fire there with them. He’s got a long fuse, but he’ll get pissed off. He competes, he battles. You can see his unbelievable skating ability. The nice thing about Jordan is that he can legitimately play on his off-side. His feet are so good that it allows him to do that, which is a bonus to him.”

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Harris, who shoots left, has been playing on the right side with Struble, who also shoots left, as his partner on the Canadiens’ third defence pairing.

“Loved Jayden Struble,” Madigan said. “He’s the kid who has the edge. He plays with an edge, there’s an edge to his personality. Loves the game. He’s a kid you have to nurture a little bit more — nothing wrong with that. You got to coach every player differently. He’s a kid that we had to work more on structure — and I don’t say that negatively. Every player comes in differently. But there was an upside. He’s an athlete, he’s tough, he’s physical. He has offensive skills that people don’t realize how good his offensive skillset is. He can shoot a puck, he can make a quick turn … you can see some of the plays he’s made already. There’s also an unconditional toughness that he has. He comes to the support of his teammates. He’s a loyal teammate and he’ll continue to get better.”

For now, Madigan is enjoying watching three of his former players on the team he grew up cheering for.

“Now you’ve got the two of them playing together on the Montreal Canadiens — as a pair!” he said. “One is six months removed and one is 18 months removed from here and now they’re playing together at the Bell Centre. It’s incredible.”

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