The Beanpot remains part of what makes our sports town unique. The faces of the kids change, as do the pep bands and the chants from the stands, where Monday night the Boston College kids hollered back, “Jesus Loves Us!’’ after the Northeastern lot across the upper bowl chided them as a “Sunday School!’’
Where else, when else, could hockey, both the game and the religion as the Hub knows it, fit so comfortably under one hallowed roof?
In the end, BC left the Garden a winner, yet again, paced by a late-third-period offensive outburst that produced a 4-1 victory. Until that flurry, the Eagles potting three goals in 4:40, it was about as dynamic a night of college hockey as one could ask. Two speedy teams made tape-to-tape passes. Scoring chances were frequent. Until late in the third, when the Eagles found that extra step and were able to keep the Huskies pinned back and panting, both sides carried play in sustained stretches.
“They pushed us,’’ Eagles coach Jerry York noted as he made his way from the podium following his postgame presser. “In no way, shape, or form was this an easy win for BC.’’
Yet it seems to be getting somewhat facile for the Heights of Hockey. The distant sons of Snooks Kelley have won five straight Beanpots, leaving them only one shy of the record set by Boston University, their co-tenants along Commonwealth Avenue’s yellow brick road of February championships.
BU, under the now retired Jack Parker, rattled off a half-dozen straight titles in the years 1995-2000, adding to the growing notion that the first two Mondays in February were the BU Cup. But York, 20 years since taking the job Mike Milbury dished off like a radioactive potato, now has all but turned it into a for-members-only event. The members come dressed in maroon and gold.
“In the third period, we just couldn’t match their speed,’’ lamented NU coach Jim Madigan. “They came at us and we didn’t have a correct enough response.’’
Which is also to say some luck, a big chunk of it, also fell the Eagles’ way late in the third when defenseman Isaac MacLeod sailed a long wrister toward net from above the left wing circle. The score tied, 1-1, MacLeod, the 6-foot-5-inch Sharks prospect, shot into a crowd. In the middle of that mayhem, BC forward Patrick Brown was locked in a joust for position with NU forward John Stevens.
“Winning begets winning,’’ said York. It also brings luck along in the sidecar, waiting to leap out at the prime opportunity. Tumbling to the ice some 10 feet in front of goalie Clay Witt, Brown reached out and got a piece of the puck with his stick — just enough to make it change direction and zip past Witt for the tiebreaker. BC, 2-1, with 5:30 to go, and the Huskies were finished.
The Eagles scored twice more, but Brown’s strike was the emotional two-hander that told the Huskies they were going home losers once more. They haven’t won the big one in the Garden since 1988, back when it was the old barn on Causeway Street, home to the Iron Horse and its $3 beers. NU easily could have won Monday night, 26 years later. The Huskies were that good. They were that deserving. But deserving turned into yet another broken dream when they couldn’t cope with the Eagles’ speed and overall game in the third. The Eagles are the No. 1 team in the nation (22-4-3) for good reason, including, as Madigan noted, their depth, their systems, and their coaching.
“Now,’’ said Madigan, “we have another rabbit to chase.’’ Specifically, the coach noted, the Huskies must spend the next few weeks improving on their 8-6-1 Hockey East record and try to solidify a playoff spot.
The Eagles, meanwhile, look capable of rolling to a sixth NCAA title, what would be their fourth in seven seasons, following Frozen Four titles in 2008, ’10, and ’12. The ever-amicable York has built a powerhouse. If he surprises anyone with a sudden retirement, it could be because he has developed a debilitating case of carpal tunnel syndrome from clenching the trophy in the winner’s circle from smiling Garden exec Steve Nazro.
“It took us so long to win the Beanpot,’’ York said when asked what he was thinking Monday night when he hoisted it for an eighth time in his stay at the Heights. “We had some good teams in the late-’90s [losing three times in the final during BU’s six-year run]. Then we finally won it in ’01 . . . and that’s what I was thinking, how hard it is to get that first.’’
The years come and go. Monday night was the 62d Beanpot, the tournament that first brought BC, BU, NU, and Harvard together just after Christmas in 1952. For its years in the Garden, with its steep sight lines and postage stamp neutral zone, the Beanpot enjoyed a stronger, more focused and passionate place in the Boston sports psyche. As our pro teams have emerged ever greater to command our attention, our love for college sports has diminished across the board. Yet the Beanpot still holds its place, still packs the place (a sellout 17,565 was announced).
It may not be what it once was, but it is still very special, still uniquely Boston, uniquely us. The horror of last April’s Marathon should make us all rethink how special it is to have these tiny treasures forever in our midst.
When we walk into the Garden the first two Mondays of every February, with the mellifluous sound of the pep bands filling the air, the playful taunts rising up with the trombones and drums, it reminds us of our rich college hockey heritage. In our days now of Boston Strong, it should be more than lingering pain and sorrow and rock-ribbed courage that define that strength. The Beanpot, no matter who wins it each year, is a continuing triumph. We should all keep that victory in mind.