BOSTON — Lynnfield is never really far away from Matt Filipe. He was born there, still lives there whenever his travels don’t take him somewhere else, and learned his hockey there.
“I played on a lot of different teams,” said the left-winger for the Northeastern University men’s hockey team. “But always, one of my favorite things to do was come back and play with the guys I grew up with.
“To this day,” he said, “those guys (contemporaries Brendan Sullivan, Pat Garrity and Cam DeGeorge) are still my best friends.”
Tonight, the Huskies will attempt to do something that has happened only once previously in NU history (1984-85) when they seek to defend the title they won last year in the Beanpot Hockey Tournament. Only Boston College stands in Northeastern’s way as the Huskies try to go back-to-back in the tournament that pits BC, Boston University, Harvard and NU against each other each February.
Filipe doesn’t have to go far to learn all about the hockey frustrations at Northeastern. His father, Paul, was a defenseman on the Huskies’ first Beanpot-winning team of 1980 — 27 years after the tournament began in 1953. And if that drought wasn’t bad enough, after the Huskies won their fourth title in 1988, they went 30 years without winning another until they did it again when Matt Filipe was a sophomore last season.
“I’m excited for Matt and his teammates,” Paul Filipe said. “To see the team in position to win something … going back-to-back would be great. I’d be excited even if Matt wasn’t playing. But now that he is, it’s twice as exciting.”
When Matt Filipe takes the ice, he’ll have plenty of fans back home in his corner. One of his biggest is one of his earliest hockey coaches — Paul McNamara, who played the game at St. John’s Prep in the 1960s.
“He developed as a good athlete in everything,” McNamara said. “He was a good baseball player too, but four or five of the dads who coached hockey back then (McNamara and Paul Filipe among them) rifled all the baseball players for lacrosse. And he was a good lacrosse player.”
Naturally, McNamara tried very hard to steer Filipe to St. John’s, but along the way in youth hockey, Filipe ran into John McLean, who also coached for Malden Catholic.
“I’d have loved to see him go there,” said McNamara, “but I think (because of his connection with McLean) it was preordained he was going to MC.”
It turned out to be a good move for both Filipe and the Lancers. Malden Catholic won Super 8 titles in both his freshman and sophomore years, he committed to Northeastern, and made the state final (but lost to The Prep) his junior year.
In this last year of high school, Filipe played in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the U.S. hockey league. After a year there, he was at Northeastern and ready for action.
As a freshman, he scored nine goals and had 12 assists as the Huskies went 18-15-5 and reached the Hockey East quarterfinals. Last year, he only scored five goals as he began to gain a reputation as more of a defensive forward. So far this season, Filipe has four goals and five assists, but is known more for playing, as his father like to say, “the 200-foot game.
“He was taught that way back when he was young,” Paul Filipe said. “You can’t just be thinking of offense. You have to play defense too.
“Everyone should watch Patrice Bergeron play for the Bruins. There’s nobody better at it than he is.”
McNamara puts it this way: “Matt has great hockey IQ.
“Not everybody has it,” McNamara said. “A lot of kids who play today have no feel for the game. He has it.”
Matt Filipe acknowledges that his youth coaches, especially his father, drilled playing intelligently into his head.
“It’s something that just comes along,” he said. “You can’t really teach it, but it’s something you, yourself, have to improve on. It comes with experience. A big part of it is trusting yourself in those situations.”
He’d like to score more, but says it’s something he can’t dwell on to the exclusion of other aspects of his game.
“I think it’s important just to get back to the way you know how to play,” he said. “Play the system. Work hard. Keep doing the little things instead of trying to do too much. You do that, you’ll be OK.”
His father agrees — to a point.
“I think Matt does all of the little things that might go unnoticed to someone who isn’t a hockey guy,” Paul Filipe said. “But if you’re in a slump, just shoot. Keep trying to hit the net. At some point, the puck will go in off a leg or a stick or something. Meantime, play your game. We’ve talked about it. Do what you do best. The goals will come.”
Come August, Matt Filipe will have some decisions to make. He was drafted 3½ years ago by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and the four-year window on his rights ends in August.
“It’s something I try not to think about,” he said. “I just want to focus on what’s going on in school. All that stuff will take care of itself if I do what I need to do.”
Though he is a business management major, he certainly wants to give hockey a serious try.
“My whole life has been dedicated to hockey,” he said. “School’s been good, and I’ve learned a lot. The business program is top-notch. But I haven’t thought much about what I’m going to do. Hopefully I’ll still be playing hockey for a while.”