Once the distraction of the Super Bowl passes, Hub hockey fans can again turn their attention to the most cherished parochial trophy in college hockey. The marquee match of the first night of the 62nd Beanpot Tournament on Monday pits longtime rivals Boston College and Boston University in the nightcap (8 p.m. start). The "undercard" begins at 5 p.m., with a revived Northeastern squad squaring off against a persevering Harvard club.
Let's take a look at the four combatants:
BOSTON COLLEGE (19-4-3; 12-1-1 Hockey East)
The Eagles, ranked No. 2 nationally, are turning the tables on their longtime nemesis Boston University by threatening to retire the Beanpot. The only players on the current team who haven't won the Beanpot are the freshmen, as Jerry York's Eagles have captured the past four tournaments and 18 altogether.
Why it's important to win: Two years ago, the Eagles rode the momentum of their Beanpot crown all the way to an NCAA championship. York (26-12 in Beanpot competition) makes no secret of the program's explicit goal of "winning trophies." And next to the NCAA title, the Beanpot may be the most cherished (with all due respect to Hockey East). York's calm, gentlemanly demeanor belies a ruthlessness that his teams adopt. There is no such thing as moral victories at The Heights. Just victories. That mindset, and a talented team, make the Eagles the odds-on favorite to win York's eighth Beanpot since he took over the program in 1995.
How they win: Offense, offense and more offense. The Eagles are loaded and deep, with a dozen players racking up double-digit points. Leading the charge is junior Johnny Gaudreau, the former Northeastern recruit who comes into the Beanpot riding a 21-game scoring streak (23 goals, 51 points on the season), and seniors Kevin Hayes (45 points) and Bill Arnold (36 points). But York often rolls four lines, and all of them can put the puck in the net. Plus, the Eagles are battle-tested and know how to win close games -- three of BC's past four Beanpot crowns were won by a single goal, twice in overtime.
Who needs to show up: The goaltender. Will York opt for junior Brian Billett or freshman Thatcher Demko? Billett (2.40 goals against average; .920 save percentage) has the goods but has a tendency to allow the occasional howler. The last time BC met the Terriers on Jan. 17, the Eagles were cruising to a win when Billett let a wide-angle BU prayer squeeze through him. The goal fired up the Terriers, and BC needed a late empty-net goal from Gaudreau to secure the 6-4 win. Demko (1.98; .927) was between the pipes when the Eagles whitewashed Providence 2-0 on Friday. Demko or Billett will have to channel his inner John Muse (.955 in 2010) to give BC the edge in nets.
BOSTON UNIVERSITY (8-14-3; 3-8-2 HE)
This won't be the first time under the big arena lights for Dave Quinn's team. The Terriers went into New York City's Madison Square Garden on Nov. 30 and knocked off the Big Red of Cornell 3-2. However, that win is one of few highlights for BU this season, and Quinn finds his squad mired in 10th place in Hockey East. The Terriers are starting nine freshmen and have had more than their fair share of injuries, but Quinn is not the type to make excuses. The Terriers need to make a statement on Monday to get their season back on track.
Why it's important: The Terriers used to own the Beanpot (29 crowns and holding), but those days are quickly fading in the rearview mirror. Last year's seniors walked away without ever hoisting the precious trophy, a devastating admission that the once-proud program, which won a national championship as recently as 2009, has slipped dramatically. In fact, the Terriers have made the final only once in the past three years and have lost six of their past seven Beanpot matches. A win on Monday would be a giant step forward for Quinn, not only ending BC's four-year run but also giving BU a chance to regain its lost Beanpot luster.
How they win: When the Terriers put together a full 60 minutes, they're very dangerous. However, the same mysterious lulls that plagued former coach Jack Parker in his final years haunt Quinn in his first season at the helm of his alma mater. The Cornell game is a great example, as the Terriers built a 3-0 lead, then had to hang on for dear life to secure the one-goal victory. Sophomore goaltenders Matt O'Connor (3.05; .921) and Sean Maguire (3.13; .912) have been solid -- O'Connor registered 46 saves in Friday's 3-3 tie against UMass -- and the Terriers will need a show-stopping performance against the high-flying Eagles.
Who needs to show up: The Terriers' top offensive players. Although eight BU players have scored in double digits, its leading scorer is a defenseman, Ahti Oksanen (four goals, 19 points). Not a single forward has double-digit goals (Cason Hohmann and Danny O'Regan lead the team with eight each). That's a statistic that would surely drive Parker nuts and must concern Quinn.
NORTHEASTERN (15-8-3; 8-5-1 HE)
Jim Madigan's team has been knocking on the Beanpot door for the better part of the past decade, but it hasn't been able to get past the bouncer. Madigan has a hand in three of the school's four Beanpot crowns (two as a player in 1984 and '85 and one as an assistant coach in 1988). But 1988 was the last time the Huskies took the Beanpot home, and that's left a bitter, bitter taste.
Why it's important: The No. 10 Huskies have made huge strides this season and are arguably the biggest surprise not only in Hockey East but in college hockey. But the fact remains that until they win another Beanpot, the Huskies will be seen as the third best team, right or wrong, in a city that lives and breathes hockey. They would love another crack at the Eagles (provided BC gets past the Terriers), having lost two close early-season games to York's squad.
How they win: Madigan's nickname in college was Mad Dog, and that's how his squad needs to compete to be effective. When the Huntington Hounds play like a pack a rabid canines, opponents have little room to move. The Hounds have a balanced attack, with 10 players in double figures, led by super sophomore Kevin Roy (14 goals, 31 points) and senior Braden Pimm (15 goals, 25 points).
Who needs to show up: A lot will be made of Roy, who won the Beanpot MVP last year despite being on the losing side. But the key player in any short, two-game series is going to be the goaltender, and that puts the spotlight squarely on junior Clay Witt (2.04 GAA, .943 save percentage). The Florida native and reigning league defensive player of the week has been the team's MVP this season, allowing the Northeastern faithful to forget the tantalizing-but-unfulfilled talents of Chris Rawlings. Witt will need two superb performances to finally bring the Beanpot back to Huntington Avenue.
HARVARD (6-11-3; 3-9-3 ECAC)
Coach Ted Donato clearly is growing weary of the questions regarding Harvard's Beanpot drought. It's been more than 20 years since the Crimson won the tournament by edging BU 4-2 in 1993. Worse, Harvard hasn't made the late game on the second Monday of February since 2008, when the Crimson lost a 6-5 heartbreaker to BC in overtime. It is the only time during Donato's tenure as head coach that Harvard has reached the championship game. A gritty 3-2 win over Princeton on Friday should put the Crimson in the right state of mind to take on Northeastern.
Why it's important: Despite being the crowned princes of the Ivy League, members of the Crimson seem to need not only a confidence boost but a breakthrough. There are no gifts, no legacies, in college hockey, and Donato needs to ask his men whether they're hungry enough to get over the hump. Three years ago, Harvard went on a second-half tear after bouncing BU in the Beanpot consolation game. A good showing Monday could spur a similar streak.
How they win: Despite their record, the Crimson rarely get run out of the building. Nine of the team's 11 losses have been by two goals or less (seven by a single-goal margin). The team allows only 2.67 goals per game, and both Raphael Girard (2.35 GAA, .931 save percentage) and Steve Michalek (2.93; .909) have been solid in net. Conversely, the offense is providing just 2.5 goals a game, which simply isn't getting the job done (a 7-4 victory over BU being the exception, not the rule).
Who needs to show up: Sophomores Jimmy Vesey (11 points, 17 points) and Kyle Criscuolo (10 goals, 15 points), along with freshman Sean Malone (13 points), have been carrying the scoring load for the Crimson. Harvard needs more production from its other forwards and a goal or two from its blueliners.