BOSTON – It has been a season out of nowhere that has rejuvenated a program. The wins started coming early, continued through the holidays, and if Northeastern can get just one more, the Huskies will be the champions of Boston for the first time in 21 years.
No. 3 Northeastern advanced to the Beanpot championship game next Monday by defeating defending Beanpot champion Boston College, 6-1, on Monday night at TD Banknorth Garden. The Huskies will play No. 1 Boston University next Monday for the crown of Boston’s best. The Terriers advanced with a 4-3 win over Harvard earlier in the day. The Eagles and Crimson will play in the consolation game one year after meeting for the title.
Northeastern has won just four Beanpots, the fewest of any school, and none since 1988. NU hadn’t beaten BC in the Beanpot since 1993. The Huskies will play in the championship game for the first time since 2005.
Huskies coach Greg Cronin admitted his team has felt some of the pressure that comes with NU’s lack of Beanpot success.
“The drought that Northeastern has experienced over the years, it drains on us…They were nervous early. I could feel it,” said Cronin.
Backed by a large contingent of NU students in the balcony, Northeastern was led in its rampage by Chris Donovan, who had a goal and three assists, and Steve Quailer, who had a goal and an assist. Goalie Brad Thiessen played one of his best games with 45 saves.
“All three years before this we were in the 5 o’clock game,” said Ryan Ginand, who scored his team-high 18th goal. “The energy tonight was amazing…I can’t wait for next week.”
NU took advantage of sloppy play from BC goalie John Muse to blow the game open with three straight goals in the second period. At 11:58 of the period, Muse mishandled the puck behind the net. Steve Silva tossed it to Quailer who found a wide open Louis Liotti in the slot. Liotti blasted it into an open net for a two-goal lead.
Just 42 seconds later, Dennis McCauley scored his fifth of the season on a pass from Donovan. And then at 18:19, Muse inexplicably went out to play a puck behind the goal line. Donovan took it away easily and found Quailer for an easy score.
“We tried to own the middle of the ice and from their on just capitalize on our chances,” said Ginand. “Muse gave up a couple of weak plays in the corner so we just tried to capitalize.”
Muse allowed all six goals on 24 shots. The six goals allowed tied a career-worst for the sophomore.
“With John outside the net, twice it got us into serious trouble, and Northeastern forced that,” said BC coach Jerry York of Muse’s giveaways. “Sometimes it’s hard to make a play when you’re out of the crease with pressure on you. Northeastern brought a lot of pressure on loose pucks.”
After Donovan scored with eight minutes left, Muse was pulled for the first time in his career. Freshman Chris Venti made his collegiate debut with three saves.
Last year, Northeastern fell behind Harvard, 3-0, in the opening 10 minutes of the game. In part due to what Cronin calls greater “believability” and more maturity, the Huskies were much more focused this time around.
“As a veteran group I think they were able to understand it – the Beanpot’s a game,” said Cronin, who will coach in his first Beanpot championship in his fourth season at NU. “It’s a game. I think all the media attention and the national spotlight they think it’s larger than the game. And I asked them to just focus on playing the game and executing the game plan.”
Ginand opened the scoring for the Huskies with a 5-on-3 score just 3:24 into the game. Matt Price scored BC’s lone goal at 8:06 of the first, but Greg Costa scored three minutes later to put NU in the lead for good.
BU and NU present contrasting Beanpot legacies. The Terriers have won 28 of the previous tournaments, including 11 of the last 14.
“Colleges like BC or BU, kids go there and put on the jersey and it’s just kinda expected that they have that in them, that they will win,” said Thiessen. “I think at Northeastern that’s what we’re trying to build that in our program.”