Boston University and Northeastern University are separated by 2.3 miles of busy Boston streets and pages in the record books. BU has five National Championships, 37 NCAA Tournament appearances, and 30 Beanpot Titles.
Meanwhile, Northeastern hasn’t won a Beanpot since 1988 and has only made four trips to the NCAA Tournament since their last triumph at the Boston Garden. Still, there is a heated rivalry between these teams that has built in the last three years as Northeastern has grown stronger.
On Monday night, the longtime rivals will meet at TD Garden with the 2018 Beanpot championship on the line. And for the first time in many years, Northeastern is the favorite in this matchup.
The Huskies boast the top scoring line in the nation with Dylan Sikura, Adam Gaudette, and Nolan Stevens all ranking in the top four in Hockey East for scoring. Gaudette has the most goals and points of any skater in the nation, and Sikura ranks third nationally in points.
Jeremy Stevens is tied for the top scoring defenseman in Hockey East and holds the most assists for his position in the conference. The power play is also explosive, converting on 25% of their chances, good for sixth in the nation.
The defense is also quite good, with Northeastern holding opponents to 2.24 goals against this season, good for seventh nationally. The forwards and defensive corps have quality experience, top-level skill, and pro-caliber scoring ability.
Another difference for this team compared to Huskies teams past is the goaltending. As a true freshman, Cayden Primeau filled in for Ryan Ruck in November and has taken the starting goalie job in style. He has a 1.97 GAA in his games and a .925 save percentage, first and second place respectively in Hockey East. He notched a 37 save shutout of the Boston College Eagles in the first Beanpot game on February 5th and has shown himself to be a clutch goalie.
So what are the drawbacks with this team? The second and third lines have gone cold. Head Coach Jim Madigan has said that his second and third lines have been struggling to make plays and they’ve depended on the top line too much. That reared its ugly head against UConn on Friday.
If BU can effectively neutralize the top line and force the bottom six to beat them, then the momentum swings solidly to the Terriers. The other issue is the name on the front of the jersey. Northeastern has famously struggled in this tournament. They’ve not won a Beanpot in 30 years, punctuated by nine losses in the Championship game. Of those nine losses, three have been in overtime and all three were to BU.
The current seniors were freshmen the last time it happened, when Jack Eichel, Matt Gryzclyck, and the Terriers downed the Huskies in overtime of the 2015 Beanpot. Northeastern has the history to play against.
While BU does have the history of success to live up to, they still have to answer some questions. Jordan Greenway will not be playing, as he’s on the Team USA roster playing in the Winter Olympics.
In addition, Chad Krys is unlikely to play due to a shoulder injury and Patrick Harper has been out of the lineup since the new year. In a testament to the quality of David Quinn’s recruiting, however, the Terriers are still dangerous even without three of their best players. Since the new year started, BU is 7-1-1 and has locked in.
Bobo Carpenter has lived up to his skill ceiling in recent weeks and terrorized goalies in Hockey East. Shane Bowers and Brady Tkachuk have shown development in their freshman years and can create problems in front of goalies.
Dante Fabbro and Brandon Hickey anchor a blue line unit that can score and cause havoc on the back end defensively. And Jake Oettinger is the reigning Eberley Award winner for his performance in last year’s Beanpot. He made 47 saves in BU’s double overtime victory against Harvard to open the Beanpot. His season numbers are down this year, but Oettinger is still a money goaltender.
In addition to lacking three of their best players, BU’s earlier performances against Northeastern don’t bode well for the Terriers. BU lost at home 4-1 and at Matthews Arena 6-1 across two weekends earlier in the season. Time has passed and the teams are different now. But Northeastern has proven they can win this matchup.
Neither team has momentum on their side entering the game. NU lost to Connecticut on Friday night 4-2 while BU lost a 3-1 lead to UMass Amherst and tied the Minutemen 3-3 on Friday night. It’s certainly possible that the focus of both teams was already on the anticipated matchup on Monday night though.
Ultimately, Northeastern is the more potent team. They’ve got the more dangerous offense and stronger power play. If BU can’t keep out of the box, then it will be a long night for the Terriers. However,
BU is the deeper team. If Gaudette, Sikura, or Stevens don’t score on Oettinger and someone else has to carry the scoring, the Northeastern has plenty to worry about.
Ultimately, I think Northeastern is the better team and should be the favorite. They are motivated and focused to end 30 years of pain and to wipe away disappointments and failures against Boston University in this tournament. Puck drops at 7:30 pm and another chapter will be added to the legacy of the Beanpot Tournament.