The Northeastern hockey team has not hoisted the coveted Beanpot since 1988, some five months before 25-year-old senior backup goaltender Bryan Mountain, the oldest member on NU’s roster, was even born.
But the 11th-ranked Huskies earned their second consecutive berth — and third in the last four years — in the title game of the Beanpot Tournament after an impressive 6-0 blanking of the Harvard Crimson in the semifinals Monday night at TD Garden.
“Obviously happy with the win,’’ said NU coach Jim Madigan. “This first game is the game that gives you the opportunity to win the Beanpot. I know our guys were really prepared coming in. There was a good focus, a good week of preparation . . . and we certainly used that to our advantage.’’
After team captain Josh Manson was banished to the locker room at 14:12 of the first period with a game misconduct because of a hitting-to-the-head penalty, NU (16-8-3) overcame the setback to an already shorthanded defensive corps by erupting for a pair of goals in each period to support the stellar goaltending of redshirt junior Clay Witt (14-6-2), who turned away all 27 shots he faced.
NU’s Mike Szmatula, second in the nation in freshman scoring (11-20—31), emerged as a Beanpot MVP contender when he earned three points with assists on the second-period goals of Torin Snydeman (:31) and Braden Pimm (4:22) before capping the scoring with a power-play goal at 16:47 of the third.
“I have to give the credit to my teammates and the upperclassmen and the coaching staff,’’ said Szmatula, a 5-foot-9-inch dynamo from Commerce Township, Mich., who centers Zach Aston-Reese and Snydeman on NU’s second line. “Right from the beginning, not just me, but all my other freshmen in the class had such an easy transition because the guys coached us in the system and how it works and just made it really comfortable.
“And I just try to go out every night and help Northeastern win and, fortunately, things are happening for me.’’
It enabled the Huskies to record their fifth shutout in Beanpot history, second in the last four years vs. the Crimson, and third overall against Harvard, to advance to their 16th appearance in the title game opposite No. 2 Boston College, which beat Boston University, 3-1, in the nightcap.
“We were really focused all week long,’’ said Madigan, whose team had been idle eight days after suffering a 3-0 loss at Notre Dame Jan. 25, but used the time off to prepare for the Crimson. “Coming into tonight, our guys were really ready to go from the opening faceoff and when we got up on them two goals it really gave us a little bit of a jump.
“Of course, Clay was tremendous in net. And when you have the confidence that we’re playing with, it’s because of our goaltending.’’
Witt was playing with house money when freshman Dalen Hedges opened the floodgates with an unassisted shot from the right circle that beat Harvard goaltender Raphael Girard top shelf over the left shoulder at 5:57. Kevin Roy, last year’s Beanpot MVP, made it 2-0 when he converted from the same spot at 12:08 on a five-on-three.
On Roy’s goal, Harvard’s Max Everson (high-sticking, 10:59) and Kevin Guiltinan (interference, 11:49) stewed in the penalty box, epitomizing Harvard’s undisciplined play, which resulted in 16 total penalties for 35 minutes.
“We got that five-on-three and we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole,’’ said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “But then we get the five-minute major and that was really our chance to get a goal and get back in the game. We hadn’t played really well to that point, but we had a chance to cut their lead in half and maybe get in the locker room and regroup a bit and turn it into a hockey game.’’
With Madigan reshuffling his back end, Witt stood tall in net and prevented Harvard, which managed just two shots in seven futile power-play opportunities, from gaining any traction.
“We’re up, 2-0, and if they score, obviously, it’s a different game,’’ Madigan said. “I thought that juncture of the game — I don’t want to say it was a turning point — but it was a momentum-builder and enabled us to get into the locker room ahead.’’
Trailing, 4-0, Harvard never threatened. The Huskies struck for two more goals, getting their fifth on a power play when Colton Saucerman beat a well-screened Girard with a blue-line blast from the high slot just 16 seconds into the third. It resulted in Donato pulling Girard (21 saves) and inserting Steve Michalek, whom Szmatula beat with his power-play goal.
“It’s a fun group to coach,’’ Madigan said. “But I’ve said this before, we haven’t won anything. You win at the end of the year. But I truly like the makeup of the team, the chemistry and how they support each other.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.