Not much is certain about February in Boston: the weather, the Super Bowl matchup, and whether the Charles will be frozen or flowing are all toss-ups. One thing Bostonians can count on, however, is the annual faceoff between the city’s four most storied hockey programs in the Beanpot.
A tradition that began back in 1952, the tournament features Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern, who battle under the bright lights of TD Garden, normally the home territory of the Celtics and the Bruins.
Kicking off every year on the first Monday of the month, the ’Pot pits pairs of teams in a semifinal matchup and then wraps up with a consolation game and a championship game the following Monday. But this isn’t just any college hockey tournament.
“The coaches all take the high road going into the Beanpot,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91. “But there’s no question that when you win it, it’s a nice feather in your cap all summer long…. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to keep that crown on as long as we can.”
For Harvard, last year’s Beanpot culminated in historic fashion, as the Crimson ended a 24-year title drought by beating BU, 6-3—the feather in coach Donato’s cap. The team will look to go the distance again, but, as in most years, nationally ranked teams and NHL-bound starpower stand in the way.
“The Beanpot is a whole different animal,” said tri-captain goalie Merrick Madsen, who backstopped Harvard to the championship win last year. “No matter what season anyone is having [in] any given year, the Beanpot brings out the best in everybody.”
Harvard will begin the road back to the Beanpot title by once again squaring off against the Terriers on Monday. Before the tournament gets underway, here is a look at the other three contenders heading into the first week of games:
The 2016 Beanpot winner has recent history on its side—the team has won six of the last eight tournaments and now sits atop Hockey East. The 20-time victors emerged triumphant in their last championship appearance, taking the pot home in a 1-0 overtime win over BU.
Last year, thought, the Eagles bowed out of the tournament with no wins at all, after losing to the Terriers in the semifinal and then to Northeastern in the consolation game.
“For the longest time, it was just BU and BC that won it,” said Madsen, referring to the fact that the two schools shared all the Beanpot crowns between the Crimson’s 1993 and 2017 titles. “They know how to win the Beanpot, and we’re going to have to be ready to perform.”
This season, BC is 2-2-1 against Beanpot competitors, having tied Harvard, 4-4, back in November and split its series against the other Comm. Ave teams. Coming into Monday’s tilt ranked No. 16/15 in the nation, the Eagles (13-10-3, 13-5-0 Hockey East) rode an eight-game unbeaten streak this fall into the top-20.
At the time, the stretch was the second-longest streak in the country, before BC ultimately fell to crosstown rival BU on Dec. 1. The Eagles have cooled down in recent weeks, however, skating to a record of 3-3-1 in January.
Whereas the other Beanpot competitors have star scorers, BC puts up numbers by committee. Thus far, the team’s points leader is sophomore David Cotton, with 19 on the season. The Carolina Hurricanes prospect enjoyed a seven-game point streak through December and into late January—a stretch that started shortly after Cotton nabbed four points (1–3—4) against the Crimson the day after Thanksgiving.
Right behind him is the squad’s highest goal-scorer, freshman Graham McPhee (11–7—18), while three other players have 15 or more points. Incidentally, the Eagles also have the second-youngest roster in the NCAA, and its underclassmen account for a whopping 53 of its 72 goals thus far.
Clearly, BC’s youth should not be mistaken for inexperience. Two members of the team, junior defenseman Casey Fitzgerald and sophomore netminder Joe Woll, were part of last year’s gold-medal American team at the IIHF World Junior Championships. Both are 2018 Hobey Baker nominees.
Woll returned to the World Juniors this year and fielded pucks for Team USA en route to a bronze medal. Since his rookie campaign Woll has regressed somewhat. His .921 save percentage entering the 2017 Beanpot trumps this season’s .903 mark. Nevertheless, Woll was also named to the watchlist for the 2018 Mike Richter Award, given to the top D1 goalie.
BC faces off against Northeastern on Monday in a showdown of the top two Hockey East teams. The Eagles are 34-11 against the Huskies all-time during the Beanpot, but when the teams met last year, Northeastern triumphed, 4-2, on the back of a high-flying offense. That Huskies offense, despite having graduated a few key pieces, is still as potent as ever, so Woll and BC will have to earn a win on Monday.
As usual, the icemen of Agganis come into the tournament this year with a stacked roster, including three of the ten first-round NHL draft picks currently playing college hockey. These blue-chips slot in alongside nine more professional draftees, giving the Terriers the second-most NHL prospects in the NCAA behind Minnesota.
This is hardly news for BU. Somewhat less common for the program, however, is its pedestrian record (13-11-2, 9-7-2) and its unranked status.
The last time the Terriers entered the Beanpot out of the USCHO rankings was in the 2013-2014 season, when the team finished with a record of 11-21-4 overall—its worst performance by win percentage since 1963. Losing ways are out of the ordinary for BU, and the team that lost the 2017 Beanpot title to Harvard will certainly be looking to change that track.
Despite the up-and-down season to this point, there is no dearth of scoring to be found on this Terriers team. While junior alternate captain Bobo Carpenter leads scoring with 26 points (16–10—26), the roster boasts five other players who’ve notched 20 or more points so far this season.
Among them are junior alternate captain Jordan Greenway, who will shortly join the Crimson’s Ryan Donato on USA’s Olympic team, sophomore Dante Fabbro, gold medallist at the 2018 World Juniors with Team Canada, and rookie Brady Tkachuk, projected to be a top-ten pick in this year’s NHL draft.
“Right now, it’s a little far away, but I think we all know what they have, talent-wise, on that team,” said Harvard forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage earlier this week. “It doesn’t really change from year to year… everybody knows what team has talent and who you have to look out for.”
BU’s fresh talent makes it the youngest team in all of NCAA hockey, but the group has had exposure to high-stakes hockey this season, such as a matchup with then-No. 7 Cornell at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 26. The Terriers’ most important position of all—the one between the pipes—will be filled by two-time World Junior medallist, sophomore Jake Oettinger, who faced Harvard in last year’s Beanpot final.
Conceding five, as he did last season to the Crimson, was rare for Oettinger. The Dallas Stars prospect finished the 2016-2017 season with a .927 save percentage that put him at ninth in the country. Like BC’s Woll, Oettinger’s save percentage has regressed this season to a modest .908, but he’s riding a four-game win streak that includes a shutout and has the potential to be the gamechanger for the Terriers come Monday.
“We’ve learned that it’s not all about talent,” Ryan Donato said. “We have talented guys on our side as well. At the end of the day, what’s going to decide the game is hard work and determination to get a win.”
The Boston hockey classic’s winningest team is just 1-3-0 against Beanpot competition this season, having already been swept by Northeastern. On Monday, the Terriers will face off against the Crimson for the first time since last year’s tournament final ended in celebration for the Cantabrigians.
By all indications, the Huskies are the team to beat in this year’s Beanpot. No. 11/9 Northeastern (15-7-4, 11-5-2) comes into the tournament this year as the highest-ranked competitor.
Interestingly, though, the team is as historically unsuccessful in the Beanpot as it is apparently poised for success this time around—its last title came in 1988, and the program owns the fewest titles (4) of all four participants.
This year, though, the Huskies’ offense is producing at 3.50 goals per game, good for sixth nationally and only bolstered by the team’s third-ranked power play (26.9%). Leading the charge is Hobey Baker favorite, junior forward Adam Gaudette, who is tied for most points in the NCAA (19–20—39) and trails college hockey’s goal leader, Donato, by just one tally. Gaudette has five goals in four career Beanpot games, including two against Harvard in last year’s 4-3 semifinal loss.
Also in the 30-point club for the Huskies is senior alternate captain Dylan Sikura (13–22—35), who has amassed these numbers despite missing parts of the season to play for Canada. Sikura won the Spengler Cup, an invitational tournament, with the Canadian squad in late December. Also shouldering the scoring burden for the team, captain Nolan Stevens and sophomore Jeremy Davies have reached the 20-point plateau already.
While Gaudette and company are familiar faces to the Crimson, netminder Cayden Primeau (11-5-4, 2.06 GAA, .920 SV%) is not. Should Harvard meet Northeastern in the finals, Primeau, a rookie, will face the Crimson for the first time, as the two teams have not played yet this season. The Montreal Canadiens prospect had a shutout in his debut game, as well as in the Huskies’ last win on Jan. 20. But the Beanpot can do a number on highly-touted freshman goalies, if Woll’s and Oettinger’s performances last year are any indication.
Perhaps Northeastern’s only glaring weakness is its penalty kill, the worst of all Beanpot schools at 79.3 percent effective. Thus far, the team’s attacking skills have made up for that flaw. But if that shorthanded squad were to meet a determined BC team in the semifinals, a stellar offense might not be enough. In two games versus the Huskies this season, the Eagles scored on three of their seven power play opportunities.
Last year, too, Northeastern brought a Hobey Baker candidate—and eventual finalist—in Zach Aston-Reese to the Beanpot, only to head to the consolation game. But if their record and their ranking are any indication, the Huskies could prove a very different team when they face off against BC again in a few short days.
“I’m less worried about which group shows up from Comm. Ave,” coach Donato said. “I’m more worried about how we play, and...if we play our game, and are committed to the kind of game we know has success, then we’ll give ourselves a great chance to win.”
—Staff writer Stuti R. Telidevara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @StutiTelidevara.