February 10, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Northeastern Primed for Another Beanpot Chance

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

BOSTON — They come every year.

Situated between sections 309 and 313, Northeastern fans wait. They yell sometimes. Grimace during others. The organized chants echo through the TD Garden.

It's college sports, so the faces change every couple seasons, as recent graduates move from the student section to the seats reserved for everyone else. And 25 different classes have made that move from the cheapseats since the last time Northeastern was the last of four teams standing in this yearly celebration of hockey in Boston.

Monday night, the first Monday of February, Northeastern steamrolled an overmatched, disinterested Harvard team, 6-0, in a Beanpot semifinal to set up yet another title bout with one of their cousins from Commonwealth Avenue in seven days.

"Every time you're in the finals, you've got a chance to win it," Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. "You think about what it would be to the institution, our university, student and alumni to erase all of that frustration. When I think about when I wasn't coaching and coming so close to winning, you just wanted to see the team get over the hump. I've seen the university grow and excel in so many areas. This is one area we've fell short and can show excellence."

Seven times since that last victory in 1988, the Huskies earned their spot in Boston's championship game. And seven times they've limped back to Boston's South End with 364 more days to think about that drought.

Northeastern coach Jim Madigan, an assistant on the 1988 Beanpot champion team and player on the 1984 winner, is hesitant to discuss this tournament until he has to. He knows the pressure his players feel — from the fans, the students and themselves.

"He's mentioned it before the games and leading up to them," captain Josh Manson said. "He doesn't like to talk about it too much throughout the year. It's only in the weeks before when it's the next game. We can't afford to focus on any game other than the one coming up next. But he has told us about his experience with winning it. It sounds unbelievable. We want to bring it home."

Three seasons ago, the Huskies leveled the Crimson in the semis before falling to BC in the title game in overtime. A year ago, NU pulled off an likely win over a strong Boston University team, but fell short of the Eagles once again.

In two of the seven finals since their last win, the Huskies lost in overtime. Others only slipped away after empty-net goals in the waning moments. Madigan remembers each of them, the near-misses and the finals that were never as close as he would've liked.

"Our student population is just sky high," Madigan said. "The thing for our team is just trying to make sure we stay balanced. We can't get caught up in all of it. It's understandable for our kids to be excited because we haven't won this tournament in 25 years. It's a lot of fun around campus, but we have to keep the distractions out of our mind."

When he took over as coach ahead of the 2011-12 season, Madigan talked about the history of this program that he loves. He recalled the lessons learned from Ferny Flaman. The rivalries with the city's three other hockey schools, and his devotion to all things Northeastern. Now, in two of his first three seasons leading the Huskies, he's brought the club to within 60 minutes of ending a drought that grows longer every day.

With a couple minutes left in Monday's 6-0 thrashing of Harvard, the Northeastern students were still there. They were loud, singing along with the Huskies' band and enjoying everything the night brought them. Undoubtedly, though, their minds drifted ahead. The players admit to the same problem creeping up on them every so often.

"You look forward to these two Mondays the entire year," Manson said.

"In the back of your mind, the Beanpot is always there. You prepare a little bit differently for these games just because everyone on campus is so excited."

Tonight comes another chance. Northeastern's eighth opportunity to claim this city as theirs since the last time they could say it was.

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