Even With Beanpot, Harvard Has Plenty Left to Play For
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
It's been difficult to ignore the resurgence Harvard's undergone in the last three years. NCAA tournaments, a Hobey Baker winner, an ECAC tournament win and a number of quality wins over national powers have made the last few seasons quite enjoyable for anyone involved with Harvard hockey.
The present isn't so bad either.
Harvard is currently No. 3 in the Pairwise. The Crimson are just one point behind Union in the race for the 2016-17 ECAC regular-season title. The turnaround has been remarkable from just a few seasons ago. Short of a national championship, though, there was always something missing, even as the Crimson rose from irrelevance prior to the 2014-15 season.
On the first Monday of February every year, Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern fans and students filled TD Garden to create the atmosphere that makes the Beanpot what it is. Harvard's presence in the tournament — on the ice and in the stands — has been largely anonymous. While opposing fans traded barbs and celebrated the kind of schadenfreude only sports can excuse, Harvard, as whole, seemed not to care. Its fans never showed up. Its players didn't either. Since Harvard's last Beanpot win in 1993, the Crimson had played in just three finals and won only 11 of their 46 total games.
All of that changed Monday night.
Harvard defeated Boston University, 6-3, to claim the program's first Beanpot since 1993 — when all but one of their players were born and coach Ted Donato was two years into an NHL career that fell just short of 800 games. Their fans and students turned out in full voice, too. It was in many ways the perfect for Harvard's lengthy drought to end.
"We had a great turnout with our student section," Donato said. "For our guys, this senior group, not only had we not won, but we hadn't played in the late game. … I do think this is a group that has really tackled making sure our culture was right and that it has great leadership. They wanted to have a legacy. They were the group that was going to break the curse. I'm happy for them. For that senior class, they have a special spot for me for all they've done for the program."
The Crimson controlled the Terriers from start to finish, capitalizing on some early power plays and surviving a second period onslaught to re-establish a lead and put the game away in the third period. Shots on goal finished 46-17, even with BU trailing for most of the game, including the entire third period.
It was a thoroughly dominant effort by the Crimson and nothing terribly out of the ordinary for a team that genuinely seems like a contender for just about everything this season.
Within the ECAC, there are clearly rivals with which Harvard must contend. However, the Crimson did dispatch with league leader Union, 6-2, last Friday night. Monday's opponent, BU, will certainly have something to say about the national title, as will Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and a host of other teams more than capable of a late-season run.
Right now, for Harvard, it's all about enjoying the moment. Monday's win ended a lengthy spell or frustration for the program and cemented their place as a hockey power in the East.
"It makes all the more special to be part of the culture change that's gone on the last couple years since we got here," Harvard senior Alexander Kerfoot said. "We focus a lot on the ice, but even more off the ice. When you have the type of group that we've built in the locker room, it's going to pay off when you get into tough games like this. It's a really incredibly experience to come kind of full circle here.
"You think about (the drought) leading up to games like this and after games like this. … That's something I think we've done a better with than in the past. We've been a really good hockey team at times, but we've struggled with big games. This year, we've done a much better job of it. At the end of the day, those are the games that count. I don't know what you can take from that. But it comes from experience. We have a lot of upperclassmen on our team. We've learned a lot from some of the failures we've had and some of the successes as well."
Monday night, even though a painful 24-year drought ended at TD Garden, Harvard's biggest accomplishment may've been proving it was capable of playing its game and dictating pace against first-class competition. Even with bigger things left to play for, Harvard's players had plenty of motivation to leave North Station with that trophy.
"Our guys might not choose to talk about it much, but I think they really wanted to win this Beanpot," Donato said. "Last couple years, guys like Jimmy Vesey, Kyle Criscuolo, you could see how important the Beanpot was to those guys. These guys really set their sights in the offseason that this was something they really wanted to accomplish."
Four years before the Crimson's 1993 Beanpot win, Donato was a sophomore on Harvard's 1989 team that defeated BU, 9-6, in the Beanpot final and went on to win a national title.
No one at Harvard is thinking about the Frozen Four right now. They don't want to talk about national championships. And they have every right to forget about history. They made some of their own Monday night.
With a first Beanpot win in a quarter century, they proved they're good enough to make even more.