BOSTON — Not many tournaments can promise twice as much action as the previous year’s incarnation, but the women’s Beanpot starting Tuesday night can legitimately make that claim.
History will be made at Harvard’s Bright Hockey Center as the 28th women’s Beanpot will be the first with all four Boston schools sending varsity teams. Boston University had been sending club teams to the championship for years.
With four varsity teams competing, the women’s Beanpot will no longer be half a tournament, for all intents and purposes. Although the members of BU’s club team did their best to represent their school, their presence always guaranteed that either the 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. game on any given day would be uncontested. A tournament in which BU managed to score a single goal would be considered a success.
Competing against BU’s club team always put the opposing varsity sides in an awkward situation. But those days are over, good riddance, and everyone is excited to see BU’s inaugural varsity team.
“I can’t wait for BU, they’re going to bring everyone closer together, and it’s going to be a heck of a Beanpot,” said Boston College coach Tom Mutch.
In addition to having the four varsities, this year’s edition should also display more parity between the four teams than ever before. Boston College is in the midst of a breakthrough season, Boston University has come along faster than most expected in its inaugural season, and perennial NCAA title contender Harvard is not as strong as in recent years. Given the relative lack of scoring among the teams, there is a considerable chance this will be the first year a goalie wins the Beanpot’s MVP award since Harvard’s Erin Villiote in 1995.
Harvard–the host, the seven-time defending Beanpot champion, and the only one of the four teams ranked in the USCHO.com poll–is still the clear favorite, but the Crimson (10-7-4) enters the tournament on an 0-2-2 winless streak during which the team has only scored three goals. Harvard has won the last four Beanpot finals by a combined 25-4 margin, and none of them have been decided by fewer than four goals. Harvard has won 11 Beanpot titles.
BC (13-9-4), which has not had a winning season since its inaugural year in 1995, looks poised to end that history this season now that Mutch has two of his own recruiting classes on the ice. BC ranks second in the Hockey East standings and is one of only two teams nationwide to beat New Hampshire this season. BC had won seven in a row before dropping back-to-back games to teams ranked in the top six of the USCHO.com poll. BC is the only school in the field never to win the title (BU won the title in 1981, before the other schools starting putting considerable money into their programs).
BU (10-13-4) was voted last in the Hockey East preseason poll, but the Terriers proved quickly that they would more off a playoff contender than a cellar contender. League wins over last season’s Hockey East championship finalists, Providence and Connecticut, rank among the highlights of the season. A four-game league losing streak has dampened their playoff hopes, as only Hockey East’s top four of eight teams qualify for the postseason. Now the Beanpot offers a welcome opportunity for the Terriers to turn their season back around.
Northeastern (5-20-1), the all-time leader in Beanpot crowns with 14, has struggled more than any other program in the four-team field, but the Huskies showed signs of tournament-readiness with 4-3 win over BU Saturday that snapped a nine-game losing streak. A 4-2 win over Brown, one of the leaders of ECACHL, is the most impressive result of their season.
BC versus Northeastern leads off the tournament schedule Tuesday at 5 p.m. BC has already swept the three-game Hockey East season series, but all three games were decided by just one goal.
“We’ve had success with [Northeastern], but it’s a whole different identity now,” Mutch said. “It’s one game, it’s a playoff game. It will be a playoff atmosphere for us — win or lose, that’s it.”
The Boston University versus Harvard matchup at 8 p.m. might be the most intriguing of the entire tournament. A Beanpot win would be a season-defining moment for BU in its inaugural season. Harvard coach Katey Stone can relate. Winning the 1995 Beanpot was the highlight during her first season as Harvard coach.
“BU is having a much better season than anticipated, they were here scouting us [Friday] night, they’re serious about this, and we’ll be serious about it,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “We’re expecting them to come in here and play their best hockey, and we’ll be ready to answer.”
Despite Harvard’s previous seven titles, an eighth would not mean any less to the Crimson players. Success in the tournament is a significant source of pride for the program.
“We get to play in a championship in February, that’s something special,” said Harvard senior Jennifer Raimondi, the leading per game scorer of any team in the tournament. “BU has a lot to prove, a first year varsity team, and they’ve had some good games this year if you look at their scores throughout the season, and they’ll be coming firing at us. But we want another Beanpot, and we’re not going to give them anything.”
The Beanpot consolation and final will take place on Feb. 14, a day on which women’s Olympic hockey will be televised nationwide. The connection does not end there — 13 Beanpot athletes are also Olympians, including Northeastern coach Laura Schuler. Eight of them are competing in Torino this year. Six of them have won the Beanpot MVP award.
Three of the previous Beanpot MVPs are playing in the upcoming 2006 Olympics Canada’s Vicky Sunohara (with Northeastern in 1989), USA’s Angela Ruggiero (with Harvard in 2004), and Canada’s Jennifer Botterill (with Harvard in 2000, 2001, and 2003). Botterill produced three of the most memorable moments in Beanpot history when she scored in overtime to beat Northeastern in all three tournaments from 1999 to 2001.
U.S. defensemen Jamie Hagerman (Harvard) and Caitlin Cahow (Harvard), top U.S. goalie Chanda Gunn (Northeastern), and Canadian forward Sarah Vaillancourt (Harvard) are making their Olympic debuts within years of competing in the Beanpot. U.S. forward Julie Chu (Harvard) rounds out the eight current Olympians with Beanpot experience.
Olympians of years past Sandra Whyte (with Harvard in 1992), Shelley Looney (with Northeastern in 2004), and A.J. Mleczko (with Harvard in 1999) have also claimed the Beanpot’s top individual honor. Looney and Whyte famously scored the second and third goals, respectively, of Team USA’s 3-1 win over Canada in the inaugural 1998 Olympic gold medal game, the most famed women’s hockey game of all-time in this country.
Pioneers Whyte, Looney, and Mleczko were among the first Olympians to take the ice after having competed in the Beanpot. In all likelihood, they will not be the last.