Back in February, Jerry York was on to something.
“I think it’s my 22nd Beanpot,” the long-standing Boston College coach began.
“Of those, this was the most balanced field of major players in college hockey.”
Balanced was certainly right. For the first time in the history of the 64-year-old tournament, three teams—BC, Harvard, and Boston University—all entered the Beanpot ranked among the top 10 teams in the country. Northeastern was no slug either, unbeaten in its last eight contests.
Now a month and a half later, all four schools have their dancing shoes on. For the first time ever, the four Beanpot participants will participate in the NCAA tournament together, accounting for a quarter of the 16-team field.
But at least one won’t be dancing long.
In the nightcap of the Northeast Regional semifinals on Friday, York and the second-seeded Eagles (26-7-5, 15-2-5 Hockey East) will square off against the third-seeded Crimson (19-10-4, 12-6-4 ECAC), marking the first NCAA tournament meeting between the two sides, whose series has featured 123 games over the larger part of a century.
But meeting at long last in the Big Dance? That’s not the matchup’s most interesting facet. That distinction goes to the venue—Worcester’s DCU Center—located less than an hour away from both campuses.
“It’s a pretty special matchup we have here—two historic Boston schools,” Harvard junior Devin Tringale said. “And for it to be in Massachusetts as well… we should get a pretty good crowd of Tringales in the stands.”
A native of Medford, Mass., Tringale spent much of his childhood dreaming about what it is that young hockey players from the Bay State typically dream about: playing in a Beanpot. Tringale’s father would annually take Devin and his older brother to watch the tournament, and while Devin never pledged his allegiance to one of the four sides until committing to Harvard, he could not help but appreciate the BC brand of hockey.
“When I was younger, I really never missed a Beanpot,” Tringale said. “I just kind of loved Boston hockey, Boston College hockey especially…. When the recruiting process started to come along when I was in high school, that was definitely one of the things that was at the top of my agenda when I was looking for a prospective school—the Beanpot.”
One of six Crimson team members who call the Bay State home, Tringale is hardly the only Harvard skater who longed to become part of Beanpot lore. Massachusetts products Ryan Donato and Colin Blackwell, forwards in their first and fifth years, respectively, have also spoken about their appreciation for the tournament on multiple occasions.
But based on how the two forwards’ recruiting processes unfolded, their appreciation for the Beanpot might be surpassed by their respect for the tournament’s participants. Donato and Blackwell were each recruited by York and the Eagles before choosing to don crimson.
In fact, in an interview with The Salem News back in 2010, Blackwell said calling York to inform him of his decision was the toughest phone call he’s ever had to make. After all, when the St. John’s Prep star committed to Harvard during the fall of his junior year, BC was coming off its second national championship in the last three years.
But in the end, Blackwell determined Harvard was where he felt the most comfortable. And a few months later, Tringale followed suit, announcing his commitment to the Crimson in the spring of 2011. But the Lawrence Academy star’s road to Cambridge was far from over.
After graduation, Tringale played a year of juniors for the Valley Jr. Warriors, who were based in Haverhill, Mass. There, he commanded a spot on the first line alongside Brendan Collier and Ryan Fitzgerald, respective Charlestown and North Reading products.
These days, Collier plays for Northeastern, the latest winner of the Hockey East tournament championship. As for Fitzgerald, he’s the leading scorer for Hockey East’s regular-season champions—the Eagles of Boston College.
“I’ve known Fitzy for a while,” Tringale said. “We go pretty far back, and we’re pretty good friends…. He’s obviously very creative [and an] offensive guy. Pretty slippery. He’s a good talent and someone to watch out for, for sure.”
Fitzgerald, who also played with Tringale for the Boston Junior Bruins in 2011, has logged 22 goals and 22 assists this season. One of those helpers produced BC’s first goal, a strike by Ryan’s brother, Casey, in the Eagles’ 3-2 win over the Crimson in the Beanpot opener on Feb. 1.
The elder Fitzgerald plays on a line with freshmen Colin White and J.D. Dudek, two more New England natives on a team that features 10 players from Massachusetts and 13 from the region. In total, that makes 19 skaters who will get to experience the NCAA tournament in their home state this Friday.
But none will be paid more attention than the North Reading sharp-shooter not named Fitzgerald.
All eyes will be on Jimmy Vesey, a Charlestown native who later moved to North Reading, in what could be his final game for Harvard. That includes those of the Eagles who will aim to stop him, the Nashville Predators who want to sign him, and of course, the large number of Veseys whom Number 19 confirmed will be at the DCU Center watching his final NCAA tournament run.
In reality, Vesey’s first such run was hardly a run at all, as Nebraska-Omaha bounced the Crimson in its very first game of the tournament last March. Vesey did score, but Harvard ultimately fell, 4-1, to the Mavericks, who later punched their ticket to the Frozen Four in Boston.
Advancing to the next round may prove even tougher this time around. BC has won 11 of the last 12 meetings between the two sides, most recently after the Crimson let a 2-1 lead slip away in the Beanpot.
“We were left with a little bit of a pit in our stomach after that game,” Vesey said. “We’re definitely looking to get revenge this weekend.”
“Our guys want to prove that we have a good team and we can advance in the NCAA tournament,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “And what better way to do it than against one of the best teams in the country?”
The answer is simple. You do it in Worcester.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.