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February 7, 2006 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Still Stirring the Pot

by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer

Any other week, sociable students from Northeastern and Boston College might enjoy clam chowder together at Union Oyster House. A Harvard student and her friend from Boston College might enjoy a walk in Boston Common. But not this week.

Greater Boston is home to over 115 colleges and universities; this week, four of them take center stage. In fact, every winter since President Truman's last year in office, on the first and second Mondays of February, the players and fans of Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern leave all camaraderie and geographical alliances behind, as they battle for Boston's most celebrated hockey championship: the Beanpot.

Over time, the Beanpot tournament, which features two semifinals on one Monday and the championship game the following Monday, has become one of the most impassioned sporting events in all of college athletics. And historically, the Beanpot has been BU's own personal Boston tea party. With 26 Beanpot championships to their credit — the other three participants have 27 combined — the Terriers have traditionally peaked at this time of the season. Last year, Chris Bourque's overtime tally over Northeastern lifted BU to its 12th Beanpot trophy in the last 16 years.

It was also the 18th Beanpot championship under legendary Terrier head coach Jack Parker, who boasts a .758 winning percentage in Beanpot games.

In last week's CSTV chat, Parker spilled the beans on BU's apparent Beanpot aura, saying "BU is usually better in January and February, and the Beanpot is played in February. In a short tournament, goaltending is always a huge factor and we've been blessed with great goaltending over the years.

"I would also not discount the fact that there might be a little less pressure on BU teams to win the Beanpot because we won it last year or three years in a row or whatever it might be. We don't go very long without winning it, so there is a little less pressure on us to win it in a particular year."

Considering the entire landscape of college hockey, the NCAA Tournament's Frozen Four is certainly more significant. But the Beanpot is one of its kind in flair, repute, and enthusiasm. It is the only college hockey tournament in the country featuring four schools from one city. It's for bragging rights, and the players relish in the spotlight. For these two Mondays, they are the center of Boston's attention.

As Harvard coach Ted Donato told CSTV last week, "The emotion, intensity and history of the Beanpot makes motivating a non-issue."

And with BU, BC, and Harvard all ranked in the top 20, the implications of this year's 54th annual Beanpot extend far beyond the local Boston area.

"For the most part, these are schools that don't rebuild, but usually reload," continued Donato. "I do feel that the games will be excellent, with implications not only for the bragging rights in the city of Boston and a Beanpot Championship, but on the national scene and for the NCAA Tournament."

Nevertheless, Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin, making his Beanpot debut this year, was insistent on keeping his team focused despite the distractions that usually come with playing in college hockey's most famous in-season tournament.

"I'm from Boston, so I know what the Beanpot represents," said Cronin, "I'm excited to be a part of it, but at the same time, it's just a game."

Although Northeastern fell 5-2 to Jerry York's Boston College squad in Monday night's opening game of the tournament, the struggling Huskies will try to salvage a win in its consolation game with Harvard next Monday.

Meanwhile, York, who has a decade's worth of Beanpot experience behind him, will lead his Eagles squad against archrival Boston University in next Monday night's championship contest. BU defeated Harvard 5-3 in the second semifinal.

For Boston College, recent success in the Beanpot has been predictive of further conquests. York's two Beanpot titles (2001, 2004) came in the same seasons as Boston College's last two NCAA Frozen Four appearances. And after capturing the Beanpot crown in 2001, the Eagles, a team that featured NHL star and Olympian Brian Gionta, lost only one of their next 13 games en route to a national championship triumph.

In both 2001 and 2004, BC had to overcome BU in the championship game. Next Monday night, in the continuation of one of the most storied rivalries in college hockey, the Eagles and Terriers will face off again. Will BU win yet another Beanpot championship? Or will BC — a team that now feature's Brian's younger brother, Stephen Gionta — win and ride the momentum to yet another Frozen Four?

Whatever happens, the game will immediately become part of the enchanting history of the Beanpot tournament. Many of the Eagles and Terriers have dreamed of playing on such a stage. And on Monday night, in the limelight of Boston, BU and BC will play for the Beanpot championship, for pride and honor, and for the right to reign supreme over Beantown.

Until, of course, next year.

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