Boston College Begins Quest for 4th Straight Title
by Scott McLaughlin/Senior Writer
BOSTON From 1980 to 1994, all four Beanpot schools won the historic February tournament at least twice. Although the tournament's attendance and television ratings are currently as strong as they've ever been, that 15-year span is considered the Beanpot's golden age, largely because of the parity.
Since then, there has been very little parity. The last 19 Beanpots have been won by either Boston University or Boston College; Harvard last won in 1993, Northeastern in 1988.
That's not to say recent tournaments haven't been exciting. BC has won the last three — just the second time in the tournament's 61-year history that someone other than BU has three-peated — but the last two required overtime in the championship game. Jimmy Hayes scored the winner in a 7-6 victory over Northeastern in 2011, while Bill Arnold played the role of hero in last year's 3-2 win over BU.
BU and BC are the favorites to meet in the championship game again this year, but they're certainly not locks to get there. Both have struggled in the second half of the season; the Terriers are 3-5-1 since winter break, while the Eagles are 4-5-1. Still, if those two bring their A-games, there shouldn't be much suspense in Monday's opening round. The question is whether or not Northeastern and Harvard can make them pay if they don't.
Northeastern (7-13-3) vs. Boston University (13-10-1) — Monday, 5 p.m.
The answer in this matchup is yes, Northeastern can definitely make the Terriers pay if they have an off night. We know this because it just happened two weekends ago, when the Huskies went into Agganis Arena and handed BU a 6-5 loss. Northeastern took a 5-2 lead into the third, but the Terriers came storming back and scored three times in the first seven minutes of the period. That set the stage for former Terrier Vinny Saponari to exact some revenge on the team that dismissed him three years ago, as he scored with 2:03 left in regulation to give Northeastern the win.
That game highlighted two disturbing trends — BU's deteriorating defense and Northeastern's inability to hold a lead. The Terriers have already allowed four or more goals five times in the second half after doing so just four times the whole first half. Following a three-point series against Providence last weekend, coach Jack Parker said he felt his team had turned a corner and figured some things out defensively. Then the Terriers came out and gave up five goals against Massachusetts on Friday, undoing any progress they had made in one fell swoop.
The Huskies still managed to beat BU despite blowing a three-goal lead, but they weren't as fortunate last weekend against Massachusetts-Lowell. They led 4-2 in the third period of Friday's game, but wound up settling for a 4-4 tie. Then they saw a 4-1 third-period lead turn into a 5-4 loss on Saturday. The Huskies lost 3-1 to New Hampshire in their most recent game, dropping them to 2-6-2 since Dec. 1.
"Since January 1, we've played some real good games," said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. "We have not managed games well late in games, in the third period. So we have to do a much better job of doing that. Managing games meaning creating momentum for ourselves, not taking penalties at inopportune times, not playing tight, playing relaxed and just finishing out games."
If the Huskies are going to end their 25-year Beanpot drought, they're going to need their defense and goaltending to be better than it's been most of the season. Chris Rawlings is expected to get the start in net. He's coming off a decent game against UNH, but his save percentage since Dec. 1 is just .892.
In front of him, the young defensive corps has been mistake-prone all season. Making matters worse is the recent loss of top defenseman Drew Ellement, who is out at least a month with a lower body injury. That leaves Northeastern without a single upperclassman on the blue line.
Up front, the Huskies are led by freshman phenom Kevin Roy, who leads the country in rookie scoring with 1.17 points per game. Saponari, who has a five-game point streak, and Cody Ferriero, who just had a seven-game streak snapped, are the team's second and third leading scorers. Ludwig Karlsson, who led the team in points last year, returned to the lineup on Friday after missing six games due to injury.
While Northeastern and Harvard have the most notable Beanpot droughts, the Terriers are looking to end one of their own. If they don't win the Beanpot this year, their senior class would be the first to leave BU without one since 1965.
"It's definitely been hard not winning the past few years," said senior assistant captain Ryan Ruikka, who was actually a redshirt freshman the last time BU won in 2009. "We've definitely had our chances, especially last year going to overtime. We just didn't capitalize. It does add pressure for us, because this senior class hasn't won a Beanpot. That's a huge deal. It's certainly something we really want to win."
One of those seniors is captain Wade Megan, who leads the team in goals with 12. The Terriers have also received important contributions from sophomores Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues, both of whom have taken huge strides after underwhelming freshman seasons. Freshman Danny O'Regan, whose father Tom was the Beanpot MVP for BU in 1982, has posted 22 points, including 11 in his last seven games.
BU has gotten offensive contributions from its defense as well. Matt Grzelcyk, Garrett Noonan and Alexx Privitera all have double-digit point totals. Freshman Matt O'Connor is expected to start in goal. After a great start to the season, O'Connor has posted a worrisome .872 save percentage since Dec. 1.
Boston College (15-7-2) vs. Harvard (5-14-1) — Monday, 8 p.m.
In the nightcap, BC will begin its quest for a fourth straight Beanpot, a feat that has only been accomplished twice. BU won four straight from 1970 to 1973 and six straight from 1995 to 2000.
The Eagles' second-half slump hit a low point last weekend when they got swept at home by then-last-place Maine. Their two total goals in the series prompted coach Jerry York to switch up his lines, and the changes paid off in Friday's 4-1 win over Vermont. Hobey Baker candidate Johnny Gaudreau bounced back from his first scoreless weekend of the season to post a goal and an assist on Friday. The sophomore dynamo leads the country with 1.57 points per game.
Other key pieces to the BC offense are senior captain Pat Mullane, who joins Gaudreau as one of four Hockey East players with 30 points already, and classmate Steven Whitney, who leads the conference with 16 goals. Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold have both hit 20 points on the season, while freshman defensemen Michael Matheson and Teddy Doherty have chipped in 14 and 12 points, respectively. Prior to scoring four against Vermont, the Eagles had been held to two goals or fewer in four of their previous five games.
"We're concerned," York said at Wednesday's Beanpot luncheon. "We have to score more goals. We have to be a little more dirty around the goalmouth, kind of get some greasy goals. ... We're just not as sharp offensively. We're missing the net. We're not tenacious enough to get rebounds."
Defense has also been a concern. Senior Patch Alber went down with a torn meniscus on Dec. 29, and the Eagles have struggled to match their first-half success since. They've been playing four freshmen on the blue line when everyone has been healthy, and converting different forwards to defense when someone isn't. One of those freshmen — Colin Sullivan — is expected to miss at least the first round with an upper body injury. Fortunately for the Eagles, senior goalie Parker Milner has been able to cover up a lot of the defense's mistakes.
While BU, Northeastern and BC have all had their struggles, Harvard takes the cake in that department. The Crimson lost two of their best defensemen — Patrick McNally and Max Everson — back in early December as the result of an academic scandal that shook the whole athletic department, and pretty much nothing has gone right since. They've gone 1-11-0 since that story broke on Dec. 10, dropping to the ECAC basement in the process.
The Crimson have surrendered three or more goals in all 12 of those games, as their remaining defensemen have struggled to fill the voids left by McNally and Everson. Even senior captain Danny Biega, a first-team All-American last year, has had some troubles, as he's registered just six points to go along with a minus-11 rating. Not surprisingly, goalie Raphael Girard's numbers have fallen off as well, as his save percentage since Dec. 10 is just .876.
Harvard's offense hasn't been any better than the defense. The Crimson have scored two goals or fewer in 10 of their last 12 games, and the only time they scored more than three was in a 6-5 overtime win at BU on Jan. 9. They don't have the high-end scoring of BC, BU or even Northeastern, but they do have some young talent up front.
Local kids Jimmy Vesey, Brian Hart and Colin Blackwell — who are three of the team's top five scorers — are all NHL draft picks, as is senior Alex Fallstrom — whose rights are owned by the Bruins. Harvard's second leading scorer is Tommy O'Regan, brother of BU's Danny and son of aforementioned Beanpot MVP Tom. The Crimson are viewing the tournament as a chance for a new beginning.
"That's the beauty of having it be a two-game tournament," said Harvard coach Ted Donato. "Playing against a great Boston College team is a great challenge for us, but it's also a great opportunity for us. I think that's how our guys are looking at it."