It is a family reunion that has not gone quite as planned.
Skylar Fontaine, who has starred on the Northeastern women’s hockey team the past three seasons, was looking forward to her younger brother, Gunnarwolfe, joining her on campus after he spent the previous two seasons playing for the Chicago Steel in the USHL.
Gunnar has joined his sister in suiting up for the Huskies this season, skating on the third line for the men’s team. But as has often been the case for so many in the last year, the plan has been altered. COVID-19 protocols have prevented the close-knit duo from attending each other’s games, and time spent together has amounted to an occasional walk around campus or meeting up to grab a meal.
But it’s been hardest on their mother, Deb Tancrell. The special education teacher had become accustomed to making the 75-minute drive from the family’s home in East Greenwich, R.I., to Matthews Arena to watch Skylar. This year presented the opportunity to see Gunnar play in person, something she rarely got to do in the last three years as he played one season at Lawrence Academy before heading to Chicago.
“There are worse things out there than me not being able to see them play hockey, but it’s very devastating honestly,” said Tancrell.
She has been there every step of the way, beginning when her oldest daughter, Alex, took up the sport. Skylar and Gunnar tagged along to their sister’s practices and got on the ice at an early age.
As all three began playing, competition was born. A poster board in the house with all of their names on it kept track of how each was doing. Any time someone scored a goal, a sticker went up next to their name.
There were also competitions at home with a street hockey net, where they would work on their accuracy. Occasionally, one would dress up as a goalie and face a barrage of shots. Another contest would involve stringing up milk cartons and seeing who could hit the most with their slapshots.
“We were never really at each other’s throats. It was always to make one another better,” said Skylar.
Alex, six years older than Skylar, was talented enough to earn a scholarship at Union. Northeastern associate head coach Nick Carpenito was an assistant at Union at the time, and formed a friendship with Deb.
“She cares about her kids so much, and she always wants the best for them,” said Carpenito. “She’s a great resource for her kids. She’s a great mom.”
The days of competing against each other may be over for now, although Carpenito thinks it would be interesting if the two younger siblings were to face off in a race, and gives Skylar the edge. He’ll get no argument from Gunnar.
“I know she’s got me beat on skating. She flies down the ice,” said Gunnar, who added that he does have her beat in one area: Goal celebrations.
“When she scores, she just kind of jumps around,” Gunnar said with a laugh. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
While Gunnar was drafted in the seventh round by the Nashville Predators in October and is third among Hockey East freshmen with 12 points on five goals and seven assists, it may be Skylar who gets the last laugh.
Twice already, she has been named an All-American and Hockey East First-Team all-star. Last season she was named best defenseman in the conference, the first Husky to earn the honor, and earlier this year, she became just the third defenseman in program history to reach 100 points.
It has led to men’s coach Jim Madigan getting in some good natured chirping, telling Gunnar he has some big shoes to fill.
“I give it to him,” said Madigan. “She gets 100 points, as a defenseman, and I just told him, ‘Those shoes are getting bigger now.’ ”
Skylar’s not done, and more honors should soon follow. But for now, the focus is on finishing the season strong, something she and her teammates did not get to do last year. The Huskies won the conference’s regular and postseason titles before play was halted ahead of the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies are again at the top of the conference standings, and ranked No. 3 nationally. The team split the first two games of the season with Boston College, then had its next three games postponed due to COVID-19 issues. Since then, they have gone 14-0-1, winning 11 straight.
“Once we started getting rolling and getting into a normal regular season, we started picking up our game, playing together more, and it just fell back into place,” said Skylar. “Hopefully we can continue making those strides.”
Odds and ends
Disappointing news out of Boston College, as forward Logan Hutsko had his season cut short by injury. As with all seniors this year, Hutsko had the option of returning for an extra season. But he announced through BC’s Twitter account that his career with the Eagles was over. It was later reported that he signed with the Florida Panthers, who had selected him third in the draft. … Holy Cross announced last week that it will host the 2021 men’s Ice Breaker tournament, with Boston College, Northeastern, and Quinnipiac headed to Worcester to join the Crusaders on Oct. 8-9. “We’re thrilled with the opportunity,” said Madigan. “To play in an early tournament showcase within the region, it’s great exposure for college hockey.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.