Growing up in Boston, I must confess I wasn’t much of a hockey fan. A Red Sox girl through and through, I never paid much attention to my hometown sports in those months between the last out in the fall and the first pitch of spring training. But as a good Bostonian, there was one college hockey tournament that was always on my radar.
The Beanpot has been around much longer than I have—the 58th edition of the men’s tournament wrapped up with a Boston College win on Monday, and Harvard claimed the 32nd women’s title at Bright Hockey Center last night—and for years, it’s been a highlight of the Boston winter sporting schedule. It helps, of course, that Beantown is the biggest hockey hotbed outside of the Midwest.
“People in Minnesota, unless they play out east, probably don’t even know what the Beanpot is, [which is unfortunate], because it’s the oldest hockey tournament for women in the country,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said. “Ask any player or anyone associated with the four teams in Boston—it’s important.”
But in recent years, the men’s tournament has drawn criticism for being a two-team show. BC and BU have taken every crown since Harvard last won it in 1993. Attendance at TD Garden has dropped, with schools scrambling to sell tickets to this week’s championship game.
When I was offered the chance to cover the men’s second round game on Monday, I jumped at the chance—partially for the chance to live out a Boston sports dream and cover a game at the Garden, but mostly because I had never gotten to experience a men’s Beanpot for myself.
The Garden press box did not disappoint. Despite the frustration of getting lost in the elevators for the first seven minutes of the game, the flat-screen TVs and media restaurant made the experience one of the coolest of my journalistic career. But the experience of the Beanpot?
Granted, I wasn’t covering a championship game, but as it turns out, watching the Crimson lose in front of a sea of empty seats is really not all that exciting.
Fast forward to last night, when I took my usual spot in the Bright press box to watch the Harvard hockey team I’m far more familiar with—the fifth-ranked women—take its shot at a Beanpot title.
I’ve been to women’s Beanpots before. In fact, now in my third year on the women’s hockey beat, this was the third championship game I’ve attended. And like the previous two, this one did not disappoint.
The championship was everything you would want in a hockey game. Each team took its turn in the spotlight, and each goaltender played her heart out. Energy levels were high for three full periods, and the frantic final minutes were the hallmark of a game that both teams truly cared about—a game that meant something.
While on the men’s side, the predictability of the tournament has made it almost a nuisance in the schedule just as the conference playoff chases are heating up. The women clearly value their chance in the spotlight.
“I wish more and more people would be exposed to it, because the level of hockey’s so good,” Stone said. “The competition, the intensity—it’s awesome.”
Though it is the second title for the Crimson in three years, what’s remarkable about the women’s tournament is its parity. Harvard played in the championship game in each of the last three years—but against a different opponent in every iteration. Each team has won at least one title, and though Boston University only has one championship to its name, it’s only been a varsity program since the 2005-06 season.
And in Boston, the level of play for women’s hockey is getting better and better. In each of the last two seasons, the Beanpot championship has also been a matchup of a pair of nationally-ranked squads. So while the Crimson was playing for a title last night, it was also playing to pad its resume for NCAA selection time.
All of these factors add up to make the Beanpot a remarkable tournament for women’s hockey. It’s an atmosphere that’s matched only in the late rounds of the playoffs—and one that has produced some of the most remarkable games in recent history.
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