The denizens of the DogHouse, Northeastern hockey’s howling student section, weren’t born when the Huskies reaching the Beanpot final was cause both for rejoicing and a recount.
All they know is that their varsity plays for the city championship every February and wins it more often than not. When NU met Boston University on Monday night with the silver crock at stake, it was the sixth straight time that Northeastern was playing for all the beans. More importantly, it was the fifth time that the Huskies gobbled them up.
“When we got into this tournament over the last six, seven years we expected to win,” said coach Jerry Keefe after his varsity had prevailed, 4-3, on Gunnarwolfe Fontaine’s killer strike after 4:32 of overtime at TD Garden. “We don’t feel like we’re the underdog. Our program is at a spot now that when we go out and we feel like we play our game, we should win. We’re not hoping to win.”
That’s not a novelty for BU, which was competing in its 56th final, or for Boston College, which has appeared in 36. But for the Huskies, who’ve finished fourth in the tournament 30 times and went 30 years without winning it, their perennial place in the title match is a 21st-century marvel.
The recent editions of NU undergrads justifiably have come to consider the Beanpot championship game as a student perk like free tickets to the MFA up the street and they reliably pack the Garden balcony on both nights. Whatever the outcome, the DogHouse jacks up the decibels.
The decades when the Huskies were everyone’s lovable underdogs are a distant memory now. “We expect to win,” said Keefe, whose charges were chasing their fifth crown in six outings.
It’s no coincidence that Northeastern’s ascendancy has revived interest in the tournament that for years had been drained of suspense with either BU or BC winning every title between 1994 and 2017.
Not that the Eagles and Terriers have been in a downspin. They’re sitting first and third in the PairWise rankings that determine the NCAA tournament seedings.
But the Huskies now bite as well as bark, especially when they’re facing their fellow canines, with whom they shared the ancient Arena for more than four decades.
Both of this year’s encounters were decided in overtime with each team winning 4-3 on home ice. Of NU’s six consecutive tournament finals, four have come against BU.
The most noteworthy was the Huskies’ 5-2 victory in 2018 that marked their breakthrough title. That created a priceless recruiting tool that has made Huntington Avenue a desirable destination.
“When you see the people in front of you like Adam Gaudette, when he scored the hat trick to win that championship game, you want to come here and play for Northeastern,” said Fontaine, who scored the overtime winner against Harvard in last week’s opener.
The Terriers historically have used their Beanpot success — 31 titles and counting — as a lure. And over the decades they’ve developed a knack for making the final regardless of the likelihood.
After losing to BC on consecutive nights last month, BU beat their archrivals, 4-3, last week to earn a berth in the championship game for the seventh time in nine seasons.
For most of the night BU, which outshot NU, 36-17, was in control. Three times the Terriers had the lead. But they couldn’t close it out.
“Clearly disappointed with the end result,” said coach Jay Pandolfo. “Taking nothing away from them, they kept fighting. But I thought we were the better team for the majority of the game. But we ended up on the wrong side of it. We lost. Tough way to go down.”
Regardless of the outcome the 19-8-1 Terriers are a lock to qualify for the NCAAs next month and likely will get a No. 1 seeding. Not so for the 13-12-2 Huskies, whose early woes (seven straight defeats) were PairWise poison.
Winning the Beanpot is a wonderful achievement that comes with a unique trophy and a year’s worth of local bragging rights. But it doesn’t get you a ticket out of the neighborhood.
Northeastern, which won last year’s title in a shootout over Harvard, didn’t qualify for the 16-team field for nationals. The Crimson did. So did BU, which advanced to the Frozen Four.
Understandably the Beanpot long was the Holy Grail for the Huskies, who didn’t win their first one until 1980. Now that they’ve collected eight, the next milestone is to make some noise beyond the Hub.
The other Beanpot schools have won NCAA titles, with BU and BC each claiming five. Northeastern hasn’t made the Frozen Four since 1982 and has lost in the first round in its last seven appearances.
Now Northeastern’s goal is to get back to Causeway Street for next month’s Hockey East tournament semifinals. That might well mean having to get past BU again.
“We’re confident in our ability to play any team, any game,” said Fontaine. “We’re a confident group.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.