For most of four decades, Boston University’s hockey team was as reliable a February fixture as Punxsutawney Phil. From 1967 through 2007 the Terriers won the Beanpot Tournament 26 times and played in the championship game all but four times.
Then came the big freeze-out when archrival Boston College won six of seven titles while BU hit rock bottom, finishing fourth an unprecedented twice in a row. Two years ago came the restoration when the Terriers beat Northeastern in overtime for their 30th crown.
“To come in and finish fourth and go up from there and win a championship the next year still is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in this world,” says BU captain Doyle Somerby, whose teammates take on Harvard in Monday’s 65th title match at TD Garden. “But I don’t think you really understand it until I had to watch BC win it last year.”
The challenge for the Terriers, who dethroned the Eagles in the opener, will be to thwart a Crimson squad that hasn’t won the crown since 1993 and is playing in the final for the first time since 2008.
“We feel confident we can play with those guys for a whole 60 minutes,” says Harvard center Sean Malone, whose teammates pushed BU to the final 90 seconds of their November meeting at Agganis Arena before succumbing, 5-3.
But for a few bounces of the puck the Crimson might well have won the last eight meetings in the series. They were up by two goals in the 2015 tournament opener before losing in double overtime. They were up by two with four minutes to play at home last year and lost in regulation. And they led this season’s encounter twice. “It makes us realize how deep they are, how talented they are, and how dangerous they can be,” says Somerby.
Harvard has been as high as second this season in the PairWise rankings that determine NCAA tournament seedings (it’s now fourth, one place behind BU). Along the way the Crimson have picked up significant victories over BC, defending ECAC champion Quinnipiac, and St. Lawrence and Cornell on the road. “It gives us a ton of confidence,” says Crimson co-captain Devin Tringale, whose colleagues are unbeaten in their last seven outings. “Having some big wins has been huge for us going into this championship game knowing we can win it.”
Unlike their scarlet-jerseyed counterparts, none of the Harvard players has played in a Beanpot feature match. Co-captain Alexander Kerfoot was joking when he said that it would be cool to warm up with more than seven people in the stands.
Full houses are customary for the Terriers, who are used to the sound-and-light show. “You learn how to start off a game against a tough opponent and get used to the atmosphere,” says Somerby. “Which definitely takes a couple of minutes.”
Not that the Crimson haven’t played for high stakes. They won the ECAC title in Lake Placid two years ago and have made the last two NCAA tournaments after going missing for nearly a decade.
“They’ve got seniors so I don’t know how intimidated they’re going to be by the big lights and the big crowd,” muses BU coach David Quinn. “If they were a younger team, maybe. But because of their leadership and their older players I don’t think that’s going to be much of an issue for them.”
For Harvard, keeping its composure under duress will be critical. In their first meeting, the Crimson took two penalties 19 seconds apart late in the first period. Although Kerfoot scored an unassisted 5-on-3 shorthander, BU’s Patrick Harper got a power-play goal 23 seconds later and the Terriers added another in the second period. Then, while Harvard was scrambling to even the score in the final five minutes, it was whistled for too many men on the ice.
When BU beat BC, 3-1, in the opener, its first tournament triumph over the Eagles in a decade, the Terriers scored the winner a man up and the insurance tally a man down. That was how they built their neighborhood dynasty and went on to win five national crowns, by keeping their wits about them while making their rivals lose theirs.
Now a BU team that suits up eight freshmen has a chance to reclaim a trophy that it once all but owned. “We want to win championships,” says Quinn. “We think we have a team that’s capable. Here’s our first chance to win a championship. We passed the first test. Now, we’ve got to pass the second one.”John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.