BOSTON – The first Monday of February means just one thing to sports fans in Boston – the Beanpot Tournament. In the opening semifinal at TD Garden, Boston University took on Harvard in a re-match of last year’s consolation game.
Just hours before the 5 p.m. puck drop, the Terriers garnered their first No. 1 ranking of the season and first since Nov. 8, 2010 after beating Merrimack on the road at Lawler Arena last Friday.
BU passed its first test as the nation’s top team, beating the Crimson by a 3-1 score to capture its second head-to-head victory of the season.
“First of all, I did not think either team played its best game,” said BU head coach Jack Parker, who improves to 58-19 in Beanpot games all-time. “We were very fortunate to win…They stormed us the first two periods and we were lucky to win.”
“Neither team seemed to be that engaged. There were some good plays and nice goals scored, but overall…it [almost felt like] a sleepwalk.”
The Terriers jumped on the board first at the 8:14 mark of the first period as junior Matt Nieto sent a wrap-around shot in front, deflecting off a Harvard defenseman in front of the net. The California native is coming off a fantastic game at Merrimack on Friday, during which he posted three assists.
Their defensemen were camped out in front of freshman Steve Michalek’s cage and the puck trickled over the line for the 1-0 advantage and his 11th goal of the season.
Harvard had a golden chance to tie the score in the last two minutes of the period as rookie Colin Blackwell broke into the offensive zone with a burst of speed, but his snapshot was padded away by BU senior Kieran Millan.
“He has stepped in right away,” said Harvard head coach and former Bruins star Ted Donato. “His line [with Eric Kroshus and Luke Grenier] has given us some depth and allowed us to come into the game on a hot streak.”
Both teams took nine shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes, while BU had a slight 20-17 edge in total chances.
BU made it 2-0 at 7:30 of the second period as junior Wade Megan was on the spot on the short side to beat Michalek for his 13th of the season, which broke a three-game skid without a goal.
Megan scored again at the 14:02 mark, taking advantage of Sahir Gill’s forced-turnover in the left corner. The puck came out in front to an open Megan for his second of the game, flipping a nice backhander up and over Michalek.
Harvard got itself on the scoreboard on the power play at 15:27 as junior Marshall Everson found an open Alex Killorn between the circles for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
The goal broke a two-game scoreless streak for the senior alternate captain. He posted three goals during Harvard’s weekend set against Yale and Brown on Jan. 27 and 28.
The Crimson held an 11-10 shots edge in the period, while taking three more total chances.
Harvard had some strong offensive chances in the final period, including a 10-6 advantage in shots on goal. For the game, Harvard had a 30-25 overall edge.
With the win, BU advances to its 49th-all time Beanpot final and has competed in 26 of the previous 29.
“We are obviously frustrated,” said Donato. “Give BU a lot of credit, they jumped out ahead…and Millan made it very hard for us to get back in the game.”
BU’s Kieran Millan made 29 saves in the contest and improved to 15-8-1 on the season. Despite exiting after 36:15, Michalek suffered the loss for the sixth time on the year.
The Terriers return to action on Friday night at Agganis Arena when they take on UMass for the final time this season. BU has outscored the Minutemen 7-6 in the previous two meetings this season and has finished 1-0-1. A win in Friday’s season finale would ensure a season win and tiebreaker in the Hockey East standings.
Harvard returns to the Bright Hockey Center on Friday evening to take on ECAC Hockey rival RPI. The Engineers are ranked last (12th) in the conference this year with a 4-10-2 record.