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NU, BC approach final from different views

2/10/2013

BOSTON -- The final of the 61st Beanpot shapes up as a study in contrasts. For one Beanpot finalist, Monday's championship game is a tale of hope and redemption. For the other, it is another date in a long-running performance of sustained excellence.

Northeastern will be looking for its first Beanpot trophy in a quarter century, last won in 1988, before any of the current players on the Huskies' roster were born. Conversely, the Boston College Eagles are hoping to bring the trophy back to the The Heights for the fourth straight year, a feat never accomplished in the program's storied history.

Still, make no mistake -- despite the differences in their results from recent Beanpot tournaments, the players from Northeastern (8-13-3) and Boston College (16-7-2) know each other quite well.

For starters, the teams already have met three times this season, with the Huskies spoiling the Eagles' season-opener with a 3-1 win at Matthews Arena. BC responded the way they typically do, knocking off the Huntington Hounds a week later, 3-0, then routing coach Jim Madigan's club, 9-3, on Jan. 19. In that last contest, the squads were tied, 3-3, after the first period, but the Eagles ran away with 6 unanswered goals, chasing goaltender Chris Rawlings after the second period as he surrendered 6 goals on 16 shots.

The Eagles and Huskies also have recent Beanpot clashes, with BC coming out on top in each of the past two years. Last year, the Eagles bounced the Hounds in the opening round, 7-1. Two seasons ago, the teams locked horns in an epic final, with the Eagles getting the last laugh, winning 7-6 in overtime.

"They've beaten BU, which I think is a very, very good club, twice now, so that takes notice," BC coach Jerry York said last Monday after the Huskies tripped up the Terriers, 3-2, in the Beanpot opener.

Reality is that Northeastern, despite currently sitting in last place in Hockey East, has reached three of the last five Beanpot championship games (2009, 2011 and 2013). However, Madigan wants to make sure his players, and the Northeastern campus, keep perspective.

"We haven't won anything yet," Madigan said Friday. "We've put ourselves in position to win the championship game on Monday night, to compete for the championship, and that's what we're going to do. But we've got a monumental task in front of us, against a very good Boston College team. And we'll be ready to play."

If past history is any indicator, fans should expect fireworks inside TD Garden on Monday night. The schools have never combined to score fewer than 9 goals in a title bout. In 1980, Wayne "Beanpot" Turner got the overtime winner to give the Huskies their first Beanpot crown, 5-4. In 1983, BC prevailed, 8-2. And then there was the thrilling 2011 final, won by BC's Jimmy Hayes in overtime, 7-6. This year's edition of the Eagles has the same kind of firepower, which is a serious concern for Madigan.

"They're a very skilled and intelligent hockey club, from the forwards right through the defensemen and their goaltender," NU's second-year bench boss said. "So when you play a team that skilled and that intelligent, you've got to prepare. They think quick, they play the game fast. They react fast. They're always putting pressure on you, so that puts a lot of demands on our players. They're very good at transition. Offensively, they create quickly, but their transition game is extremely well-tuned, and they transition pucks quickly, and it creates offense for them right away. A lot of teams don't transition pucks quickly. They do. And within two passes, they're in on your goal. So their transition game really is as good as it gets."

Sound familiar? It should. Consider Boston University coach Jack Parker's comments prior to the 2012 final. "Against Boston College you really have to try to outwork them," Parker said. "You've got to be real good with the puck because they're a terrific transition team, so you've got to make sure you don't turn the puck over at either blue line to give them opportunities."

Plus, the Eagles are deep, with nine players registering 10 points or more. And even the role players are contributing, such as Quinn Smith's 2 goals against Harvard in BC's 4-1 opening-round win. If not for the acrobatics of Harvard netminder Raphael Girard (42 saves), the Eagles could have doubled their production last Monday.

"You need a whole realm of players," York said after that victory. "For every power-play player, you need someone who is going to kill penalties and block shots. The third and fourth lines in college -- and the pros are the same way -- you can talk about your top six, but the bottom six has to be very, very effective or you're not going to win a lot of hockey games."

That's a key reason why the Eagles have been successful not only on the national stage, winning three of the past five national championships, but also at the Beanpot, where they are gunning for a fourth straight crown.

"They've got some skill forwards who are really good around the net," Madigan said. "They've got two lines who can really score, but they've got balance through four lines, having changed their lineup a little bit. So that concerns us also. So you've got intelligence, you've got skill, you've got good transition, you've got smart offensive players. And the last thing is, they're battle-tested. They've been in big games, they know how to win big games. They're poised. They're calm. You don't rattle a Boston College club."

York, however, isn't taking the Huskies lightly. Northeastern is a team that's starting to put all the pieces together, he said, led by an explosive group of forwards -- with freshman Kevin Roy atop the Huskies' scoring list -- and senior Rawlings in net.

"Their club seems to be improving," York said. "Jim's been there for two years, and he's probably got a real good pulse of coaching in Hockey East. Their special teams, they did a terrific job on the penalty kill against BU last Monday night. (The Terriers went 0-for-6 with the man advantage.) That will be a factor. Trying to solve their penalty killing, and Rawlings is certainly a big part of that. And of course they have some electric players up front."

Roy has been a revelation, the leading freshman scorer in the nation with 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points. Madigan said the 19-year-old from Quebec has benefited from playing with gifted upperclassmen, including Vinny Saponari, Cody Ferriero, Braden Pimm and Garrett Vermeesch (Northeastern's top scorers after Roy).

"There's no doubt we're young at the back, on the blue line," Madigan said, noting his top six defenders last Monday included three freshmen and three sophomores. "But at this time of the year, they've played 25 games, they should be a little more battle-tested. If there's one area we have to keep getting better at, it's our defensive play. That's not just our defensemen. It's our goalies, our defensemen and the forwards. We give the opposition too much defensive zone time by not getting pucks out, by not pressuring defensively."

Meanwhile, Rawlings has been something of an enigma over his four years on Huntington Avenue. Clearly a top-flight talent, he's gone through stretches when he looks unfocused. That wasn't the case last Monday, when he stonewalled Boston University.

"I thought he played with a lot of confidence early in that game, and his confidence spilled over to our team really quickly," Madigan said. "He was making nice saves. That was a big win for our club, and Chris had a big part of it because of the confidence that he displayed."

For the record, BC holds a 32-9 edge over Northeastern in Beanpot competition. However, both coaches are concentrating solely on Monday's final. York, in particular, said his squad hasn't been spoiled by success.

"(Captain) Pat Mullane, and the whole senior class, has been a factor," he said. "Pat, along with his assistants Stevie Whitney and Pat Wey, they want to be good. There's an inner drive to those types of players. Their competitiveness, they want to be as good as they possibly can be. They push me every day to make that happen. As coaches we have to be on our toes, we've got to be ready for every practice, ready for every game, because they want an awful lot. There's absolutely no complacency that I can detect on my club."

"Any of the teams we play in a Beanpot final, it's a big opportunity for both clubs to pursue a trophy," York said. "I know it's just February, but it's an important trophy for the city of Boston and the teams involved. We're excited to play Northeastern."

Madigan said his players "had a real good businesslike focus and mentality" against BU, and they'll need the same intensity in the championship game.

"The mindset was great the last couple of days," he said. "I've been a part of this tournament for a long time, and I've heard all the facts and figures about what Northeastern's record has been the last 15 (times) since we beat BU." NU lost its previous 15 Beanpot matchups with the Terriers before last week's win.

"At the end of the day, facts and figures don't win games," Madigan said. "It's will, and our guys really go out there to compete."

Brion O'Connor covers college hockey for ESPNBoston.com.