BOSTON--I think I may have wrote this same introduction last year, but staring out into a barren Fleet Center, I was feeling rather--yellow.
The genius that designed the Fleet Center decided that all the seats should be painted that color, and from the bird's eye view of the press box, I saw it in all its canary brilliance.
Because the simple truth is nobody really cares about the Beanpot consolation game. If the whole tournament is a battle for Boston bragging rights, then this game is a Battle for the Boston Basement (or the right to stay out of it) with a suitably sized crowd to match.
But senior goaltender J.R. Prestifilippo didn't care. Entering the game, he was 0-for-his career in the Beanpot, and he gave his darndest to erase that blemish on his record.
And for once, Prestifilippo's effort was enough. Harvard crawled out of Boston with a 3-1 victory over Northeastern.
"I think we were very fortunate to come away with a win," Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni said. "The difference in the game was [Prestifilippo]."
The Crimson defense--or lack thereof--certainly made "Presto" earn it. After just slightly outchancing the Crimson in the first period, the Huskies poured on the shots in the second. Northeastern outshot Harvard 19-2 in the middle period, and for once a shot total accurately reflected the relative play.
With just over two minutes left in the period, Husky center Roger Holeczy lifted a backhander in the slot on a rebound, which Prestifilippo waffled away--after stopping two previous shots.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Sophomore winger Willie Levesque made a living swarming in front of the goal, taking at least three shots from around the crease. When Levesque left the ice, senior winger Billy Newson took his spot and added a few close pokes of his own.
But Prestifilippo stood tall, and towards the end of the second, Northeastern decided the only cure for that was to knock him down.
After about the third or fourth time Prestifilippo was knocked down, the Crimson took especial exception. A scrum developed in front of the net, with senior wingers Brett Chodorow and Matt Macleod and junior defensemen Liam McCarthy and Tim Stay coming up swinging.
That sent all four of them to a crowded penalty box, and gave Northeastern a two-man advantage for a full two minutes.
After a couple of spectacular saves, sophomore Jim Fahey slipped a neat tip-in to Prestifilippo's right and the Huskies finally netted their first goal in the 2000 Beanpot.
Prestifilippo's teammates provided him only the most basic of assistance. The Crimson defense scrambled to clear away second shots, but the Huskies maintained excellent pressure as Harvard once again had difficulty executing a breakout. The offense, after netting two goals in an opportunistic first period, took shot No. 10 midway through the second period, and got No. 11 with 6:26 left in the game.
In his final Beanpot performance, Prestifilippo--aided by a Husky attack that had more difficulty finishing than his own--would not be denied the victory.
His 38 saves topped his personal Beanpot high of 34 in the heartbreaking 1998 2-1 loss in the finals. His .944 save percentage earned him the Evelyn Award given to the Beanpot goalie with the highest percentage.
Mazzoleni went a step further.
"I don't care who plays what [in the final]," he said. "With his performance against Boston University last week and then tonight, they'll be hard-pressed not to have him on the All-Tournament Team."
When Harvard finally started to put some shots on net in the third period, the game degenerated into a hitting contest, where two Beantown rivals just went at each other. The Huskies seemed spent in the final minutes, frustrated after spending the entire tournament getting robbed by goaltenders--Prestifilippo yesterday, and Boston College's Scott Clemmensen last Monday.
At last, the hockey gods gave Prestifilippo the little bit of luck he needed to win. Macleod's empty-net clincher came just after Bobby Davis fanned on a great setup with an open goal.
With that, the sun finally shone on Prestifilippo at Boston's grandest tournament. Those vacant canary seats were not the setting Prestifilippo imagined for his only win, but it didn't diminish the significance.
"I didn't think back in 1996 that I'd be getting my first win in the consolation game my senior year," he said. "It hasn't been the best Beanpot ride, but it's nice to end with a win. I'll have a lot of great memories."
The Beanpot for him will always be a little more bitter than sweet. "Presto" deserved a championship, not just a mere win, but the consolation game can only provide so much.