Still basking in the glow of leading Rochester McQuaid Jesuit to New York's Division I state championship and being named the state's High School Player of the Year less than a month earlier, 17-year-old Jack Dugan settled in to watch college hockey's 2015 National Championship game.
It pitted upstart, scrappy Providence against a Boston University squad vying for its sixth title.
Dugan, who developed an appreciation for the college game at an early age, witnessed a wild one as the Friars scored twice in the final nine minutes to edge the Terriers 4-3 and hoist their first national championship trophy.
Those were the kinds of moments Dugan longed to be a part of—some day.
In some respects, his journey to “some day” began just over 48 hours later when Providence coach Nate Leaman contacted the rising prospect for the first time.
Leaman was not reveling in the euphoria of a national title for long. He was eager to begin collecting building blocks in hopes of sustaining that success.
“We had become aware of Jack during that season and his potential was obvious,” Leaman recalled. “We knew he was planning to further develop his talent at Northwood Prep School (in Lake Placid, New York), which intrigued us because of how well the staff there develops good players."
The call left Dugan elated and somewhat stunned.
“Playing college hockey became a goal of mine when I was pretty young and I became a real fan of the game, so I was kind of shocked to be talking to the coach of the national champions,” Dugan said. “He just congratulated me on winning the state championship and I congratulated him. Providence was the first team to contact me and that meant something.”
Flash forward four years and Dugan is now just three wins away from taking the ice in a national championship game with the same team he watched pull off such a dramatic victory to finish atop the college hockey world.
Dugan, now a slick-skating, purposeful puck-handling freshman forward, is a significant reason the Friars are making their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Only Denver (12 straight NCAA berths) boasts a longer active streak.
Providence (22-11-6), 11th in the final USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men's College Hockey Poll, faces No. 3 Minnesota State (27-10-1) at 1 PM Saturday in an East Regional semifinal. The Friars are essentially playing a home game at Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, less than three miles from campus.
“As long I can remember, I’ve wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament and it’s finally happening, so that’s very exciting,” Dugan said. “We were a bit disappointed in the Hockey East Tournament [first-round exit], but honestly that might have been the best thing for us because it made us even more hungry. I believe we are among the top five teams in the country and I would not want to play us right now.”
Any other tournament team would probably prefer Dugan be wearing their uniform right now.
With 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists), he is the nation's second-leading freshman scorer behind Niagara's Ludwig Stenlund, who finished with 42 points (23-19). In assists, Dugan is also No. 1 among freshmen and tied for 15th overall. In fact, no Hockey East freshman has totaled more assists since Boston University’s Jack Eichel had 45 in 2014-15.
Dugan also has 11 power-play points (1-10), three game-winning goals, and is a healthy plus-7. The Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection is the Friars’ second-leading scorer behind Josh Wilkins (16-24-40).
“Jack is having an outstanding year, which is no surprise given his pedigree coming in,” Leaman said. “He’s a really productive player with really good poise and solid all-around skills. He stepped into our top six forwards right away. Jack has very good vision and uses his [6-foot-2, 194-pound] body well to hold guys off the puck and put himself good positions.”
Dugan, a two-time winner of Hockey East's Rookie of the Month and Rookie of the Week awards, began his college career riding the momentum of an eye-opening 2017-18 season with the United States Hockey League's Chicago Steel.
He was the league’s third-leading scorer with 66 points (31-35) in 54 games and was named to the All-USHL First-Team.
“Coming off the season I had last year, I was pretty confident even with moving up a level,” said Dugan, a fifth-round pick of the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. “Maintaining confidence has always helped me and with tweaking a few things I have stayed productive at the college level. I came in with the mindset of being one of the country’s top freshmen.”
The line of Dugan, Wilkins, and Kasper Bjorkqvist has been one of college hockey’s most productive with 105 points (42-63) in 38 games.
“I’ve been lucky to play with elite guys like Josh and Kasper, who made me feel comfortable and confident about being linemates with them,” Dugan said. “We’ve developed very nice chemistry.”
Being an older freshman (Dugan turned 21 Sunday) has also helped hasten his adjustment to the college game.
“Taking that extra year to play in USHL to become stronger and refine my game helped a lot,” Dugan said. “Coming up through the ranks, I was frustrated to see other guys receive college offers before me, but I was content to take time to develop. I’ve seen guys who make the jump to college too early.”
Still, Dugan has not been immune to collegiate growing pains.
“The biggest thing has been going against players who are older and stronger than any I’ve faced before, and the quicker pace,” he said. “I’ve had to become better at anticipating what’s going to happen and reacting to that. Players are also more developed on the defensive side, an area I’ve had to prove myself in.”
Dugan's two years at Northwood, during which he totaled 146 points (56-90) in 96 games, helped ease the adjustment to college life in general.
He craves the school-and-hockey structure.
“College has been a lot like staying at prep school, but with a little more freedom, of course,” Dugan said. “As a student-athlete there and here, I have more of a set schedule than other students and I don’t let myself get distracted by other things. Go to school, play hockey, and go to bed. That’s the schedule I like.”
Dugan has liked hockey ever since older brothers Joey and Ben introduced him to the game when he was essentially still in preschool.
“The speed of the game drew me in pretty early because, unlike every other major team sport, you are not playing it in shoes but traveling much faster on skates,” he said. “Doing different things at a high rate of speed on the ice has always been exciting for me. There is a creative aspect to hockey I like as well.”
As Dugan’s involvement in the sport grew, so did the sacrifices his family willingly made.
His brothers (Joey was an assistant coach at McQuaid) continued to offer their guidance, while Dugan’s parents made themselves available to travel to tournaments around the country.
“They all devoted themselves to helping my hockey career,” he said. “I was lucky to have parents willing to take me across the country for tournaments if needed. No way I would be where I am without my family. Does not happen.”
At some point, most gifted hockey players must decide whether to continue playing high school hockey or join a top-level junior team.
Nonsense, said Dugan, who spent his junior year at McQuaid playing for both his high school and the Rochester Monarchs Midget squad.
Dugan thrived despite the grueling schedule, leading McQuaid to the state championship and being named New York Player of the Year while racking up 65 points in a mere 24 games. He was nearly as prolific with the Monarchs, finishing with 79 points (42-37) in 40 games.
“Playing hockey is all I really care to do, so playing for two teams was great for me,” Dugan said. “I made sure I did not miss anything with my high school team and then played with Monarchs whenever I was available, but still got into plenty of games with them.”
Dugan committed to Providence in November 2016 during his second season at Northwood and was drafted eight months later.
“I began to get offers from other colleges, but committed to Providence less than two weeks after coach Leaman offered because I had known for some time that’s where I wanted to be,” he said. “Providence is a great program and the coaching staff impressed me.”
Dugan also impressed members of the Golden Knights organization during his second appearance at their development camp last July.
“He had an outstanding year in the USHL and that’s a great developmental league,” Golden Knights director of player development Wil Nichol told the Las Vegas Sun at the time. “Jack has some things that you can’t teach. What I like is he has become a 200-foot player. Like a lot of kids his age, he still has some things to work on, but I saw a lot of progress with him.”
Dugan capped the camp with a one-goal, four-assist performance in the final scrimmage. He will find out following this season if another appearance is in store this summer.
“That first camp right after I was drafted was tough because I was going against older guys who play in the Ontario Hockey League or high levels of minor league hockey like the AHL, so I was a step behind,” he said. “Last year, I came in more confident, performed better, and assumed more of a leadership role. It was a great learning time.”
Leaman has enjoyed watching Dugan learn and grow.
“Jack will be even better in the future, but he has shown growth just in the second half of this season by cutting down on needless penalties,” he said. “Jack will continue to learn how to best utilize his physical gifts and good stickhandling to be even more effective around the net.”
Ever confident, Dugan has ambitious goals for his time at Providence.
“First of all, the biggest goal is to win a national championship, and I think we will shock some people with how well we play in this year’s tournament,” he said. “Individually, I want to be the best player in college hockey, a Hobey Baker winner. Your goal should always be becoming the very best.”
Mark Spezia is a freelance writer based in Lapeer, Michigan, whose work has been featured in the Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit Magazine, ESPNW.com, and Flint, Michigan-based My City Magazine.