Amongst Bostonians, early February means one thing. It’s time for the city’s ritualistic college hockey tournament, the Beanpot.
Hosted at TD Garden, home of Beantown’s own Bruins and Celtics, the annual four-team tournament will kick off for the 65th time at 5 p.m. on Monday when the puck drops between the Crimson and Northeastern. After two semifinal matchups this week, a champion will be crowned the following Monday, and the winner will own the region’s hockey bragging rights until Boston University, Boston College, Harvard, and Northeastern lace them back up in 2018.
With four of the nation’s most storied hockey programs in action this week, including three top-10 powerhouses, there will be no shortage of elite talent on display. Between the four teams, 36 players have been drafted by NHL organizations. Here is a preview of each of the Crimson’s three Beanpot adversaries:
Defending tournament champions and winners of six of the last seven, the Eagles (18-9-2, 13-3-1 Hockey East) have truly dominated the hometown opposition in recent years. Since taking the reins of the program in the 1994-1995 season, coach Jerry York has propelled his squad to 15 finals appearances, of which nine have ended in celebration. BC’s 2008 overtime victory against Harvard marks the Crimson’s most recent appearance in the Beanpot final.
This season, BC enters Monday ranked eighth in the country—although new rankings will come out today—and the team sits atop Hockey East, boasting signature wins over No. 2 Denver and No. 15 Providence (twice) and splits with No. 17 Notre Dame and No. 18 Wisconsin. Also included in the Eagles’ schedule to date are losses to formidable foes No. 7 Minnesota and No. 13 North Dakota.
Against its fellow Beanpot competitors, BC is 2-3-0 on the year and was most recently swept in a Friday-Monday home-and-home with BU, its semifinal opponent.
The Chestnut Hill dwellers have been riding the solid play of their stars for much of the season. Senior forward Matthew Gaudreau, younger brother of ex-Eagle and Calgary Flames star Johnny, leads the club in points with 26, while five more skaters have notched at least 20 points. In net, freshman goaltender Joe Woll’s 14-8-1 record comes on the shoulders of a .921 save percentage.
A testament to its explosive youth, BC sent three players to represent the U.S. in this year’s IIHF World Junior Championships: Woll, sophomore blue-liner Casey Fitzgerald, and sophomore forward Colin White, who served as an alternate captain for the red, white, and blue and led Team USA in goals during the tournament with seven.
Games involving the Eagles tend to lack early scoring but then open up as they progress. Just 24 percent of goals—for and against—in BC’s games this season have occurred in the first frame, yet its +15 goal differential in the opening period is its highest in any frame.
When they square off with BU on Monday night at the Garden, the Eagles will be in search of their first victory of the season on neutral ice, as they have has posted an anomalous 0-3-1 record in unaffiliated rinks.
Arguably this year’s Beanpot favorites, the Terriers (18-7-2, 11-4-2) boast a roster overflowing with young talent and will arrive at the Garden on Monday night as the highest-ranked team—No. 3 in the country at the time of print—of the four competing.
BU is the only squad in the tournament to have already beaten its three Beanpot rivals this season. Wins against then-No. 4 Quinnipiac and current-No. 4 Union further decorate the Terriers’ impressive schedule to this point.
In its first contest of 2017, BU had plenty of space on its bench to fill while hosting Union. Seven of its 26 players were in Montreal vying for the WJC title, six of whom enjoyed an American victory alongside the three representatives from BC and Harvard freshman Adam Fox.
Among those who brought home the gold for the U.S. was freshman speedster Clayton Keller, whose 29 points on the season lead his team, despite the 5’10” center missing eight games with an injury. Amongst all active NCAA players, Keller is the highest-drafted NHL prospect. The Illinois native was selected seventh overall by the Arizona Coyotes in June’s draft.
Over the winter holiday, Keller also set the scoring pace for the stars and stripes en route to the medal and, along with fellow Terrier and hometown Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy, was named to the WJC All-Star team.
Including Keller, five BU forwards have surpassed the 20-point mark this season, and all six of the Terriers’ top scorers are underclassmen. Three premier BU forwards—freshman Patrick Harper, sophomore Bobo Carpenter, and Keller—fail to eclipse the six-foot benchmark. Nevertheless, sophomore Jordan Greenway, towering at 6’5”, more than makes up for his otherwise undersized attack unit.
While racking up goals at a top 20 pace, the Terrier game plan relies on more than just dynamic forward play. Rookie netminder Jake Oettinger provides a stable foundation so well complimented by the army of blueliners in front of him. Oettinger’s top-five save percentage, .936, and four shutouts this season are major contributions to BU’s goals against average of 2.04, good for fourth among all Division I schools.
This year, the Terriers prepare to face off against formidable Green Line rival BC following Harvard’s bout with Northeastern. From a fan’s standpoint, this draw was quite favorable, as Monday night’s clash between these familiar foes has the makings of an instant classic.
Although BU leads the all-time series 132-122-18 dating back to 1918, the Eagles have snagged the past six Beanpot matchups from the Terriers, including four overtime decisions.
The Huskies (11-11-5, 5-9-3) enter the ’Pot this year as the only unranked team, but their pedestrian record can be deceptive. With hallmark victories over ranked opponents Providence and Minnesota, Northeastern poses a genuine threat to its first adversary, the Crimson. Prior to dropping a close contest to No. 10 UMass Lowell on Friday, the Huskies were riding some positive pre-tournament momentum in the shape of a four-game win streak.
The opening matchup of this year’s Beanpot reeks of offense, as both Harvard and Northeastern are among the top seven Division I programs in scoring. The Huskies’ 3.63 goals per game average speaks to their elite offense.
Junior forward Dylan Sikura is tied for third in the country with 46 points, and two of his teammates, alternate captain Zach Aston-Reese and sophomore Adam Gaudette, are not far behind, both sitting in the top seven. Aston-Reese stands out as one of the league’s premier snipers, as he currently sets the NCAA scoring pace with 22 goals. Additionally, his 11 tallies on the man-advantage contribute heavily to his squad’s second-ranked power play percentage of .268.
Aston-Reese has 14 multi-point performances in this year’s campaign and, in December, became the first ever Huskie to record hat tricks in consecutive games. What’s more: the Hobey Baker award candidate has chipped in three short-handed goals as well, making him a genuine scoring threat in all scenarios.
For this year’s Northeastern team, offense is certainly not a point of concern. The Huskies’ ability to rack up goals against even the strongest competition keeps them close in many games. On the other side of the puck, however, defensive troubles have plagued the team all season, with its 43rd-ranked 3.19 goals against average leaving much to be desired.
Sophomore goaltender Ryan Ruck has been on the receiving end of many of his team’s defensive lapses. In 26 starts, his 3.15 goals against average and .890 save percentage paint the picture of Northeastern’s fast-paced, offensive-minded style.
Northeastern has a tendency to rely on its stars—sometimes to a fault—as point production drops off steeply after its top tier of skaters. Sikura, Aston-Reese, and Gaudette, along with junior blue-liner Garret Cockerill and captain John Stevens, account for just about two-thirds of the Huskies’ scoring on the season. Harvard will look to capitalize on this apparent lack of depth in its matchup on Monday night.
Of its three Beanpot rivals, Northeastern has performed the best against Harvard, going 20-23 all-time, despite never facing the Crimson in a finals match. The Huskies, approaching 29 years without a title, hope to improve upon their 38-90 overall tournament record and bring home a fifth victory in Boston’s time-honored classic.
While Beanpot frontrunner and one-time No. 1 BU dropped two games in late January to unranked Merrimack, Northeastern handled its back-to-back versus the Warriors with ease, so perhaps the title is truly for the taking. Monday night could see more of the same parity, this time at the Crimson’s expense.
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at email@example.com.
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