It’s the first Monday of February, and everyone in the Boston area knows what that means: It’s Beanpot time.
The semifinals of the 62nd Beanpot featured no surprise victors, as Northeastern and Boston College advanced to the championship game by 6-0 and 3-1 wins, respectively. This season will mark the third time in four years in which BC and Northeastern face off in the Beanpot championship.
The evening game was the better of Monday’s two matchups. It featured long-time rivals Boston University and BC, and while BU played with a depleted roster this season, the Terriers came out with plenty of fight against a more skilled BC squad.
“[The Eagles] have more talent right now,” said BU coach David Quinn. “They’re the measuring stick right now. They’re the premier program in college hockey and everyone’s trying to catch them.”
While the Eagles – ranked second in the nation — did not dominate play in the first period, they took advantage when it mattered most. The Terriers put the Eagles on the power play 3:51 into the first period, and the Eagles cashed in 13 seconds later when freshman forward Ryan Fitzgerald slipped BC’s first shot on net past BU goaltender Matt O’Connor.
The Terriers kept up with the Eagles throughout the period but struggled in the opening minutes of the second as a blown defensive play left BC senior forward Kevin Hayes wide open at the backdoor. He converted to put the Eagles up, 2-0, 1:20 into the frame.
The Eagles had a chance to extend their lead when BU defenseman Doyle Somerby checked Hayes face-first into the boards at 11:33 in the second period. Somerby earned a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his actions.
But what looked like five minutes of possible doom for BU morphed into opportunity. The trailing Terriers played some of their best hockey during the kill and even managed to garner some shorthanded scoring chances.
“BU took the momentum right away from us on that five-minute situation,” said BC coach Jerry York. “They had great chances, better than we did, so we kind of weathered the power play. Usually you think you have a power play and you want to do something, but we get out of that 0-0 and we were very fortunate in that regard.”
Still, BU’s best attempt on those opportunities ended in a botched 2-on-none in which neither sophomore Danny O’Regan nor Nick Roberto could manage a decent shot on net.
BU cut BC’s lead in half in the third period when freshman forward Robbie Baillargeon beat BC goaltender Thatcher Demko on a shot from the high slot. The Terriers continued to pressure BC throughout the period, but BU did not have the manpower or puck luck necessary to beat the Eagles. BC secured its win with a Johnny Gaudreau empty-net goal with 30.5 seconds remaining in the game.
“You need a little luck,” Quinn said. “You need great goaltending, you need to be thorough and you need a little bit of luck. I thought we had two of the three.”
The afternoon game was significantly less competitive than BU vs. BC, as Harvard flat-lined at the Garden against Northeastern. The Huskies dominated the Crimson from the drop of the puck on, scoring two goals per period to coast to a 6-0 win. Harvard has not made it to the championship game of the Beanpot since 2008.
“We didn’t play well in any facet of the game,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “I think that they outplayed us all over the ice and outcoached us for that matter. We didn’t do a good enough job getting to what we were trying to do and getting to our game plan, and quite frankly, we lost battles all over the ice.”
Part of the problem for Harvard on Monday afternoon was staying out of the penalty box. The Crimson took 16 penalties and handed Northeastern 10 power plays. The Huskies scored on three of those man-advantages.
Northeastern also saw its young players blossom on the big stage, as four of its six goals came from freshmen or sophomores. Freshman Mike Szmatula led the way for the Huskies with three points off a goal and two assists in the afternoon.
Northeastern will need Szmatula and the rest of its roster to continue to step up next week as it attempts to stop Boston College from winning a program-record fifth consecutive Beanpot. The Huskies, of course, have not won a Beanpot in 26 years, the longest current drought of any of the four schools.
Despite their 6-0 win on Monday night, the Huskies said there’s room for improvement this week before they attempt to end their Beanpot drought next Monday.
“You need goaltending, you need special teams and you need disciplined hockey, which I didn’t think we were very good at today,” said NU coach Jim Madigan. “So those three characteristics need to come together to win a Beanpot championship.”