Huskies seek Beanpot upset over BC

February, 9, 2014
Feb 9
10:09
PM ET
Despite the city's recent bounty of riches, Bostonians know what it's like to suffer. Before 2004, the last time the Red Sox won the Word Series was 1918, a drought of 86 years. The Bruins went 39 years without hoisting the Stanley Cup. The Patriots? Foxborough's favorite sons came into being in 1960, but didn't win the Super Bowl until 2001 (enduring a 46-10 humiliation to the Chicago Bears in the 1985 championship game along the way)

Now, consider the Northeastern University hockey program. No one on the current roster was even born the last time the Huskies captured the Beanpot Tournament, in 1988 (goaltender Bryan Mountain was born six months after that victory). The building where they won it four times -- the venerable Boston Garden -- doesn't even exist anymore, having closed in 1995 and been demolished in 1998.

Coach Jim Madigan was a 24-year-old assistant coach on the Northeastern bench the last time the Huskies won the Beanpot. He couldn't have any idea of the misery current Husky fans are dealing with, having won the Beanpot twice as a player in 1984 and '85. What he did know was the joy that comes long with city bragging rights.

[+] EnlargeJim Madigan
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesNortheastern hockey coach Jim Madigan was a 24-year-old assistant on the Huskies bench the last time they won the Beanpot -- in 1988.
"It's really something special to be a part of," said NU freshman Mike Szmatula after the Huskies dispatched Harvard in the opening round. "And today we just wanted to make sure we gave ourselves the opportunity to play in the final."

Monday, Madigan's 11th-ranked Huskies (16-9-3; 8-6-1 Hockey East) have another chance to end years of frustration when they take the ice on the second Monday in February for the third time in the past four years. Standing in their way is a formidable and familiar opponent, the Boston College Eagles (21-4-3; 13-1-1 HE), ranked No. 2 in the country and riding a 14-game undefeated streak (13-0-1).

It is a classic Eagle juggernaut -- air-tight in goal, compact on the blueline and explosive up front. Jerry York's current squad looks every bit as potent as the BC teams that have crushed Northeastern's Beanpot dreams in each of the past three years, including the championship games in 2011 and 2013. Madigan, however, said he's not dwelling on the past.

"This is a different team than last year," said Madigan. "I really like this team, because they come to practice every day, working their rear ends off. They want to get better each and every day. And a lot of that has to do with we have a lot of young players.

"It's a group that does get along very well," he said. "As a team, those freshmen contributors are pushing the upperclassmen."

After his team's convincing 6-0 win over Harvard in the Beanpot's opening round on Monday, Madigan said the tournament would boil down to three key factors: goaltending, special teams, and discipline. Then he added, with a smile, that Lady Luck might play a role as well.

[+] EnlargeNortheastern
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesHuskies Kevin Roy, John Stevens and Matt Benning celebrate a goal against Harvard in the opening round of the Beanpot Tournament last week.
Discipline and special teams

One of BC's greatest strengths is its special teams, where the Eagles are a league-leading plus-18 net on the season. By comparison, the Huskies are even.

Northeastern is Hockey East's most penalized team, averaging more than 15 minutes per contest in the sin bin. The Huskies survived an early match penalty to captain Josh Manson against a lethargic Harvard squad last Monday. BC, with an uber-efficient 22.2 percentage on the power play, likely won't be as forgiving.

On Friday, the Eagles popped home three power-play goals by three different players against Merrimack, serving notice that Manson and the rest of the Huskies (with a penalty kill rate of below 83 percent) can ill afford to collect careless infractions.

The Huskies also need to take advantage of having the man advantage. Ted Donato's Crimson squad learned the hard way, as the Huskies hung a six-pack on Harvard, including three power-play markers.

"That's a confident team. Their power play is very dangerous. [Kevin] Roy is one of the most dangerous forwards in college hockey. They have a good mix. Szmatula is dangerous. (Braden) Pimm is dangerous," said Donato. "If you take penalties, they have the ability to score, and to keep momentum. That's what they did to us."

The Eagles, meanwhile, aren't choir boys, registering almost 13 in penalty minutes per game, but a penalty-kill average above 91 percent helps cover many of those mistakes. The Huskies, with an 18 percent efficiency rating on the power play, must make the Eagles pay for their transgressions if they hope to win.

Goaltending

Both Boston College (2.14 goals-against average) and Northeastern (2.50) have rock-solid defensive outfits. Although the Huskies were never seriously threatened by the Crimson last Monday, Clay Witt still submitted a terrific performance, including a mercurial right-pad reaction save of a Sean Malone one-timer that made that night's Top 10 highlights on ESPN's SportsCenter.

"[The Beapot] is a short tournament, so you need goaltending," said Madigan. "Obviously, we feel comfortable with our goaltending."

Despite dropping a 3-0 decision to UMass on Friday, Witt (1.95 goals against average) was again excellent, stopping 45 of 47 Minutemen shots (the final tally was an empty-net strike). He'll need to be sharp on Monday for the Huskies to have a puncher's chance.

York clearly likes both his goaltenders, freshman Thatcher Demko and junior Brian Billett. But the BC coach paid Demko (1.83 GAA) quite the compliment after Monday's 3-1 win over Boston University, saying the freshman reminded him of former BC great Cory Schneider, who now plays for the New Jersey Devils. The tandem is beginning to look like the Schneider/Matti Kaltiainen combination from 2004-05, which backstopped the Eagles to two NCAA appearances.

With Demko getting the start in Friday's 6-1 win over Merrimack, it stands to reason that he'll get the nod against Northeastern.

[+] EnlargeBoston College, Beanpot
Richard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesJohnny Gaudreau led the way last week as the BC Eagles knocked off BU to reach the finals of the Beanpot.
Uneven offense

The flip side of a stout D and solid goaltending is the ability to put the puck in the net. After dismantling Harvard in the Beanpot opener, Northeastern suffered a power outage against a struggling UMass squad on Friday, getting shut out. The Huskies will need to rediscover their scoring touch if they hope to have any chance against Boston College.

"We're in a pretty good rhythm, offensively," said Madigan last week. "Now, you've got to keep working at that. It just doesn't happen overnight. It's taken us a while to get there, and that's something we've been working on, trying to develop that."

Currently, Madigan's men are second in Hockey East in overall scoring, accounting for 3.25 goals a game, led by super sophomore Roy (15 goals, 33 points). That looks impressive until you compare Northeastern with BC, which is at the top of the list, averaging more than a goal a game more than the Huskies, torching opponents at a 4.39 goal-a-game clip.

Last Monday, the Eagles had a tough time breaking down BU's defense, eventually pulling out a 3-1 win that wasn't sealed until junior Johnny Gaudreau's empty-net tally with only 31 seconds left in the game. On Friday, the Maroon and Gold were back to their high-flying ways, upending the Merrimack Warriors by a 5-goal margin.

BC's devastating first line of Gaudreau and seniors Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes had a relatively quiet night against the Terriers (though Hayes did get the eventual game-winner, and Gaudreau the insurance marker). Still, that trio, said York, "created an awful lot of offense, and won almost every shift they were on the ice. That line was very instrumental with how well we played."

On Friday, the line was in typically lethal form, with Arnold notching his first career hat trick and Gaudreau (24 goals, 56 points) collecting three assists to extend his scoring streak to 23 games. But BC's offense is also remarkably efficient. The Eagles and Warriors both had 24 shots on goal, but the Eagles scored on six of them (a 25 percent success rate). Those are numbers that put fear in opposing defenses.

"They're the measuring stick right now," said BU head coach Dave Quinn. "They're the premier program in college hockey, and everybody is trying to catch them."

Strength down the middle

Not only are the Huskies powered by a superb freshmen class, but those freshmen are playing the skilled positions. Northeastern's four lines are all centered by freshmen, including Szmatula (11 goals, 31 points), John Stevens (5 goals, 18 points), and Dalen Hedges (8 goals, 22 points), who opened the scoring in the Huskies' win over Harvard last Monday with a nifty unassisted effort.

"They've got a lot of hockey experience," said Madigan, noting that Szmatula, Stevens, and defensemen Matt Benning all played for USHL champion Dubuque last season. "They're good players."

The team they're trying to emulate, however, is also deep and experienced up the middle, led by Arnold (11 goals, 41 points), captain Patrick Brown (16 points), freshman Adam Gilmour (14 points), and junior Michael Sit (5 goals, 7 points).

A quick start

There's no question that both BC and Northeastern thrive on scoring first. BC is 16-0-1 when scoring first. Northeastern is 12-3-2.

On the big stage of the TD Garden, Northeastern can't have the same slow start they had Friday against UMass, when the Minutemen outgunned the Huskies 17 shots to five in the opening stanza on their way to a 3-0 win.

If there's one statistic that plays into Northeastern's favor, it's that the Eagles have surrendered 23 first-period goals, more than any other period. The Huskies have given up 18 goals in the opening frame.

Quinn They're the measuring stick right now. They're the premier program in college hockey, and everybody is trying to catch them.

-- BU head coach Dave Quinn, on BC hockey
The X-factor

A single-game championship on the NHL ice of the TD Garden makes that most fleeting of elements -- luck -- all the more important, especially for underdog Northeastern. Boston College is so strong, in all three zones, that without luck, the task facing the Huskies is all the more daunting.

"Against a team like that, you need a little luck," said Quinn after his Terriers were swept aside by the Eagles. "You need good goaltending, you need to be thorough, and you need a little bit of luck."

Nobody knows that better than Madigan. Following Monday's trouncing of Harvard, NU's bench boss reminisced about one of his Beanpot victories from the 1980s, before the use of instant replay. A goal against Northeastern was waved off when the on-ice officials mistakenly thought it rang off the crossbar, and the Huskies went on to win.

"You obviously need bounces along the way, but you don't want to rely on Lady Luck," he said.

Madigan's Huskies will gladly take a combination of talent and luck on Monday against a BC team that has dominated the Beanpot over the past four seasons. According to the numbers, they'll need both.

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