BU, BC fitting Beanpot finalists -- again
BOSTON -- The rumblings can be heard from Causeway Street to Commonwealth Avenue: The Beanpot needs fresh blood, and that means a champion other than Boston University or Boston College. But one of those two local powerhouses will take home the crown again this year, as the Terriers and Eagles meet in the final for the 21st time on Monday at TD Garden.
There's little doubt that the two best teams in the famed parochial tourney are squaring off in this final, as BU casually dispatched Harvard 3-1 and BC throttled Northeastern 7-1 in last week's semifinals.
"It was like boys against men," a somber Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said after Monday's loss to a relentless BC squad. "It's hard to come back after a slow start, not so much because of this tournament, but against that team.
"They're a very good team. They put a lot of pressure on you. They're coming all the time, regardless of if you're on the power play, or you're a man down, five-on-five, the offensive zone, the defensive zone, the neutral zone. They're just coming. And they have a high skill level, and a lot of confidence in their players."
BU coach Jack Parker, while admitting that the opening semifinal between the Terriers and the Crimson was an inexplicable "sleepwalk," said he doesn't expect the same doldrums to affect his team Monday night.
"I think it's tough playing in the afternoon game," said BU junior Wade Megan, who scored twice against Harvard. "Not a ton of fans, so you have to kind of make your own energy."
Although BU (17-9-1; 13-7-1 Hockey East) was ranked No. 1 in the country Monday, the Terriers hit a bit of a hiccup Friday, coming out flat against a determined University of Massachusetts squad and losing 3-2 on their home ice (virtually guaranteeing that they'll drop when the national polls are released Monday). Parker will need Megan -- one of the few players he praised after Friday's loss -- and the rest of his Terriers to bring a more concerted effort on Monday.
"We weren't horrible [on Friday], but we weren't ready to play," Parker said. "We got beat by a team that desired the game and needed the game much more than we did. I don't think that'll be the case on Monday. We might be a little jittery, playing our archrival in the Beanpot final. Sometimes you don't play the best team game because you're tight, but there's no way either of these teams are going to look past each other."
Conversely, the Eagles (18-10-1; 13-7-1 HE) appear to be hitting their stride, steamrolling Vermont 6-1 on the road Friday. In the college game, momentum can play an enormous factor.
"All of a sudden, the puck is jumping in the net for them," Parker said. "They've got a bunch of goals in their past couple of games. They had been having trouble getting the puck in the net. Now they're scoring short-handed goals, power-play goals, so they're probably feeling much better about themselves from an offensive point of view.
"And they might have solidified themselves with [junior Parker] Milner in the cage, and those were the two things that made them go through a real tough stretch," the BU coach said. "They started real well, and then they were playing .500 hockey for a long time. Now, all of a sudden, they're back, getting it going at both ends of the ice. So we're playing a team that's playing at the top of their game right now."
BC freshman sensation Johnny Gaudreau struck a similar tone after the Eagles' Beanpot semifinal win. "We, as a team, haven't been playing as well as we're capable of," the winger from New Jersey said. "We were just looking forward to getting that win. We were on track [when] we swept UNH last weekend, and we just wanted to keep things rolling. Coming out here and beating Northeastern 7-1, I think that as a team we're playing really well and it should carry over into next weekend."
Just don't expect the Eagles to ring up a half-dozen on BU. Senior goaltender Kieran Millan has been the Terriers' best player of late, and was one of BU's few bright spots Friday.
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"Goaltending usually wins big games, and we've got good goaltending," Parker said. "So we'll have a chance."
On Monday's 60th anniversary of the Beanpot, the longtime rivals will meet in the finals for the 21st time, and the eighth time in the past 13 years. BU, with 29 Beanpot crowns in its trophy case, holds a 12-8 edge over the first 20 matches, and a 4-3 margin since 2000. The Terriers also took the regular-season series from BC, two games to one, with each team winning on the other's rink.
On the neutral ice of TD Garden, however, the Eagles are gunning for their third straight Beanpot crown. Up front, BC coach Jerry York will rely on a balanced attack featuring power forwards Chris Kreider (two goals, assist against Vermont) and Kevin Hayes, and the latest generation of Mighty Mites in the mold of Brian Gionta and Nathan Gerbe, led by junior Steven Whitney (two goals, three points against Northeastern) and Gaudreau (four goals, two assists in the past two games).
"We were red-hot tonight," York said after BC's semifinal win last week. "We were excellent in creating turnovers, and then cashing them in."
The big stage doesn't rattle his team, York said, because of the Eagles' potent blend of veterans and newcomers. "We've had a lot of players who have played in big games and these types of circumstances -- tournaments, nationals or Beanpots -- and I think they respond pretty well to it," he said. "Your first time through, it's great to see Johnny Gaudreau learn from Stevie Whitney. So I think we're a little more accustomed to playing in these big events. That helps a lot."
York also noted that the choppy ice at the Garden during Monday's second game made for some unpredictable bounces, which his Eagles capitalized on. This week, Parker said he doesn't expect the ice to be a factor.
"It's what we refer to as NHL ice," Parker said. "If you want to go to the NHL, get used to playing on it."
That comment is bound to resonate with players on both teams. Say what you will about your preference for Beanpot finalists, BU and BC are the two local teams that are loaded with NHL-caliber talent. And that's a major reason they're meeting again on the second Monday of February.
Brion O'Connor covers college hockey for ESPNBoston.com.