In the second period of Monday night’s Beanpot championship game, Northeastern was trailing Boston College, 1-0, when a rebound off Husky Mike Gunn’s shot from the left side of the net bounced across the crease to an open Mike Szmatula at the back door. With nothing but empty net in front of him, Szmatula attempted to bury the rebound only to hit post instead.
It was those types of unlucky bounces that made the heartbreaking difference for Northeastern, who watched BC score three times in the final 5:30 of the game to win the Beanpot championship, 4-1. The win marked a program-record fifth consecutive Beanpot championship for BC.
For Northeastern, who has not won a Beanpot championship in 26 years, the loss signaled the latest painful chapter in their beleaguered Beanpot history. For much of those 26 years, there was a joke that the Beanpot was the BU Invitational and the consolation game was the NU Invitational. From 1990 to 2008, Northeastern played in 15 of the 19 consolation games. But since 2009, Northeastern competed in four of six Beanpot championships only to fall short every time.
Monday night’s Beanpot championship was Northeastern’s cleanest game of those four opportunities. For the first time in 12 years, Northeastern did not take a single penalty in the game. Husky goaltender Clay Witt matched BC’s Thatcher Demko save-for-save through the first 54 minutes of play.
“Our guys really worked hard, battled hard,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “We come in here facing a team that’s No. 1 in the country and four-time defending Beanpot champions who are playing really well — they’re undefeated in 14, 15 games – and we gave everything we could.
“I’m happy with the way our guys competed and battled and prepared themselves for this game. That’s the part that stings the most. You walk out of here with a little bit of hurt because you didn’t get the job done.”
In the first period, Northeastern thought it potted the first goal of the game when Ryan Belonger flipped a rebound past Demko, but the net was knocked off its moorings before the puck crossed the line. Two minutes later, BC got on the board when senior Kevin Hayes beat Witt five-hole to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
With five minutes and change left in regulation and the game tied, 1-1, Northeastern thought it had BC right where it wanted the Eagles.
“We had a chance to win, and when you’re under five, six minutes left, those are the situations when, if we’re going to win as an underdog, that you want to be in, a tie game with only four or five minutes left in the game,” Madigan said.
But that was when the back-breaker came off what seemed like a lucky bounce for the Eagles. BC was cycling in the offensive zone, and senior Patrick Brown was camped out in the low slot when, while falling, he managed to deflect an Isaac MacLeod shot from the point past Witt to put the Eagles up, 2-1.
The Huskies visibly deflated after that goal. They started to force passes and plays in the neutral and offensive zones and seemed to turn the puck over seconds after getting their sticks on it. It was a stark difference from the composed Northeastern team of the previous 54 minutes.
And with Northeastern on its heels, the Eagles swooped in. The Huskies pulled Witt with 1:31 left in the game, and 15 seconds later, BC junior Johnny Gaudreau made it a 3-1 game with an empty-net goal off an NU defensive miscue.
Witt returned to his net, and BC added insult to injury when Brown put away a wrister top shelf 26 seconds after Gaudreau’s goal to give the Eagles the 4-1 win.
So for the 26th time, the Huskies return to Huntington Avenue empty-handed, and for the fourth time in six years, an effort that brought them tantalizingly close to that ever-elusive pot of beans just wasn’t enough.
As Red Sox fans often claimed between 1918 and 2004, there’s always next year. Northeastern will at least earn a rematch against the Eagles in the Beanpot when the Huskies take on BC in the first round next February. On this second Tuesday of February, however, Northeastern fans are likely hoping that at the very least, that game will not have nearly as painful of an ending as they experienced Monday night.