It had been two dozen years, four university presidencies and too many nights playing consolation games in front of roommates, girlfriends, diehard grads and North Shore commuters who’d wandered up the wrong ramp.
Harvard’s hockey team had been starving for this one for so long that only one of their players (Phil Zielonka) was alive the last time they won a Beanpot title. So they attacked Boston University all night long on Monday, ended an era of February frustration and made a most emphatic statement that this is a new millennium around the Yard.
“We were relentless,” said Crimson coach Ted Donato after his amped-up varsity had thumped the Terriers, 6-3, before a crowd of 15,941 at TD Garden to win Boston’s ceremonial crockery for the first time since 1993. “Our group felt like it was their night and they were willing to work to make sure it was their night. It’s been a long time coming and I’m very happy for these guys.”
For the program’s seven seniors, who’d finished fourth the last two years and had never played in a marquee game, it was a fulfilling finale on Causeway Street.
“A really incredible experience to come full circle in four years and bring the Beanpot back to Harvard,” said wing Luke Esposito, who scored his side’s key second goal in the second period after the Terriers had gone ahead, 2-1, on goals by Kieffer Bellows and Clayton Keller.
The Crimson went after it with a fierce hunger, outshooting BU by a 46-17 count and an 18-2 margin in the first period.
“We couldn’t match their desire or their will, no question,” said Terriers coach David Quinn. “The better team won tonight. From start to finish we were fighting an uphill battle.”
Harvard, playing in the final for the first time since 2008, stung the Terriers for a pair of 5-on-3 goals, one by tournament MVP Nathan Krusko in the first period and another by Alexander Kerfoot in the third.
“Penalties obviously killed us,” acknowledged Quinn. “You can’t go down 5-on-3 twice for that length of time against a team like that. Once we did that we really put ourselves behind the 8-ball.”
Kerfoot’s goal that put Harvard up 4-2 just 31 seconds into the final period after Krusko’s second goal had given them the lead with 1:06 left in the second, was a dagger.
“This is a game of ‘want’ and, boy, did they want it more than we did,” said Quinn, after BU had taken its most lopsided loss in the championship game since Harvard beat them, 9-6, in 1989.
Still Harvard knew that BU wouldn’t fold. In each of their last three encounters the Terriers had come from behind to win, twice when they’d been down by two goals.
“We knew BU was going to keep coming,” said Donato. “They have so many talented guys and so many playmakers. We knew we wanted to play smart and stay out of the box but we knew we wanted to keep applying pressure.”
The killer goal was scored by his sophomore son Ryan, who deked and dodged past BU players all the way from the red line to score the goal that put Harvard up 5-2 with 7:13 to play.
“It was a big goal,” the coach said. “That made the light at the end of the tunnel a little brighter.”
Still, it wasn’t over. Keller scored another goal just 33 seconds later and Harvard had to keep its cool. In the opener against Northeastern, the Crimson watched a 4-1 lead with less than seven minutes left shrink to 4-3 and was fortunate to avoid overtime as the Huskies pushed them to the wall.
This time the Crimson kept skating, kept swarming. Nobody had to remind them of last year’s encounter with BU at Bright-Landry Center when they squandered a late lead and lost in regulation.
Finally, with BU goalie Jake Oettinger (40 saves) pulled, defenseman Adam Fox finished things with a rink-length empty-netter that sent his mates scrambling over the dasher, tossing sticks and gloves into the air and mobbing goalie Merrick Madsen, who needed to make only 14 saves.
“It’s disappointing in a lot of ways,” said Quinn, whose squad lost last year’s final to Boston College, 1-0, in overtime. “It’s certainly wasn’t anything we expected.”
The Terriers have won this neighborhood brawl 30 times, so their expectations of victory are annual. For Harvard, a triumphant lap around the Garden ice has been painfully rare.
“These guys might not choose to talk about it much but I think they really wanted to win this Beanpot,” said Donato, who won it when he was a sophomore on the 1989 national champion team.
All it took was 24 years to get their hands on it. The Beanpot is wide-bellied and bulky but it lifts fairly easily with 22 guys beneath it.
“It felt pretty light,” said Kerfoot.