But for two Tuesdays in February, the Crimson gets a chance to compete for a different kind of title.
Tonight, Harvard (10-7-3, 10-4-2 ECAC) and Boston University (13-9-5, 7-6-3-3 Hockey East) will face off in the opening round of the 31st Beanpot to find out who plays the best hockey in Beantown. The puck drops at 5 p.m. at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena.
“There’s a little different preparation in that there’s more history to this tournament,” sophomore forward Kate Buesser said. “There’s a lot of bragging rights involved. It’s a really exciting tournament in that and because we get to play teams that aren’t in our conference, to see more of the league.”
Last year, Harvard breezed through the tournament as part of a 21-game win streak, taking the crown for the first time since 2005.
The Crimson claimed the title with a 3-1 victory over the Terriers in the finals.
But don’t expect a repeat to be easy. While the Beanpot often brings out the best in the participating teams, the competition this year is stronger than ever.
Harvard, BU and BC have all spent time in the national rankings this season, with the Eagles currently sitting at No. 7. After falling out of the polls in December, the Crimson is back in the receiving-votes category this week.
Though Northeastern has fallen below the .500 mark, the team got off to a hot 5-0-2 start and holds home-ice advantage throughout the tournament.
“Any time you know that a team has been ranked, it gives you a little bit more incentive to go out there, really play well, and see what our team can do,” Buesser said.
The Crimson comes into the game riding a four-game win streak, its longest of the season. After struggling to find its offensive groove early in the season, Harvard has broken out with 16 goals in the last four games.
“I think we want to take the momentum that we’ve gained from this weekend and head into the game with confidence,” tri-captain Jenny Brine said. “We know as a team that we can take on any opponent.”
Tri-captain Sarah Vaillancourt leads the offense with 23 points, while Brine and senior Sarah Wilson, the reigning Beanpot MVP, are right behind with 17 points apiece. Brine has been hot as of late, coming off a six-point weekend in wins over RPI and Union.
On the defensive end, the Crimson is bolstered by the return of junior Cori Bassett, who was on the ice this weekend for the first time in over a month. Bassett had a goal and an assist in last weekend’s sweep.
The Terriers are also fresh off a weekend sweep, taking two games from Hockey East rival Vermont at home.
Junior Melissa Anderson leads BU with 23 points, while Terrier co-captain Gina Kearns sets the pace with 12 goals, including a last-minute game-winner on Friday.
Senior Allyse Wilcox has seen the majority of time in net, posting a 2.28 goals-against average.
BU’s impressive season resumé already includes wins over Mercyhurst, New Hampshire, and BC, all of whom are currently ranked in the top 10 nationally.
The Terriers will come into the game hungry, as they have endured the longest title drought of any of the four participating teams.
The team’s only tournament win came in 1981.
History favors Harvard in this matchup, though, as the Crimson has won 19 straight meetings with BU and holds a 13-1 record against the Terriers in the Beanpot.
“[BU is] a very good team,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said.
“It’s the Beanpot, so there’s a lot of added incentive, and we’d certainly like to keep it in Cambridge.”
The Crimson will also face the challenge of playing three games a week for the next three weeks, a pace that could exhaust any team.
But with Boston bragging rights on the line, there’s no doubt that Harvard will come out tonight ready to play.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Buesser said.“It can take a lot out of you, but we’re going to be really smart about recovery and taking care of our bodies. You play the sport for these games, so hopefully we can keep playing our best.”
—Staff writer Kate Leist can be reached at email@example.com.