BOSTON — There are relatively few things a person can count on life. Death and taxes head the list, but Boston University reaching the Beanpot championship game is almost as much of a sure thing.
For the 13th year in a row — and for the 40th time in the last 44 tournaments — the Terriers reached the championship, as No. 8 BU beat Northeastern 4-0 at the TD Banknorth Garden. Senior goaltender John Curry made 27 saves, notching his D-I best sixth shutout of the season, and fourth-liner Dan McGoff matched his previous career total in goals by scoring twice to seal the game in the third period. Pete MacArthur and Kenny Roche scored the more crucial first two goals for the Terriers.
“I thought it was one of our most thorough games of the year,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said. “I thought we were terrific in all three zones. We did a real good job killing penalties; we got a couple of power-play goals. We did a lot of things really well. We probably played two or three other games that were close to that as far as our ability to control our destiny, so to speak. … In general, I thought it was a terrific effort as a team.”
With the Huskies on an impressive 6-2-2 roll coming into Monday’s early game, Northeastern fans felt that this might just be the year that they bucked the overwhelming trend. NU looked good early and had any number of chances to make a game of it, but it turned out to be the same old, same old for the Huntington hounds.
“I really felt that it was men against boys that game,” Cronin said. “I thought we had pretty good possessions and momentum in the first ten minutes, but when you play BU, it becomes a trench battle with the play along the wall … I thought BU basically controlled the boards. We had very few second shots. The bottom line is they outskated us, outhit us, and out-possessed us with the puck. Game over.”
The Huskies dominated the opening minutes. After a Chad Costello backhand bid at the 45-second mark, Joe Vitale almost put NU ahead at the two-minute mark. Vitale picked up the puck in the left-wing faceoff circle and walked in unmolested on Curry, only to have the senior make the first of many great saves on the night.
“They had the jump, the legs, the shot advantage,” Terrier captain Sean Sullivan said. “We held strong and once we settled down we started taking it to them.”
BU gradually turned the momentum around, and only a great save by Brad Thiessen kept the game scoreless at 8:11. Behind the goal line, Bryan “Boomer” Ewing teed up the puck for Roche from 15 feet out. Roche blasted a one-timer, but somehow Thiessen got a piece of it with his left arm to prevent a sure goal.
“We had a little swagger going,” Cronin said, summarizing his feelings about the team’s confidence coming into the game. “You don’t go up to Maine and wallop them 6-1 and follow it up with an overtime loss and not feel good about yourself. But after the ten-minute mark of the first period, the tide changed. BU started to come on in waves. You could sense on the bench that there was a sluggishness that was hard to describe.”
The Terriers continued to get most of the chances for the next eight or nine minutes. Chris Higgins looked good setting up linemate Peter MacArthur for a chance and then had a bid of his own, crashing the net at 17:10. Seconds later, MacArthur wheeled and fired a shot from just inside the blue line, catching the outside of the net near a post.
The tables turned again with a BU penalty at 17:57. Northeastern put heavy pressure on Curry, and at one point a blocked shot went straight up above the BU net before a defenseman knocked it wide. The Terriers emerged unscathed.
The second period started cautiously with no scoring chances through the first seven minutes. Then BU freshman Brian Strait hammered Husky winger Jimmy Russo into the boards, and — coincidentally or not — the action took off from that point.
On a power play at 8:00, Roche had a great chance in tight. That didn’t fly, but BU finally capitalized at 8:59. Higgins got the puck in the left-wing faceoff circle and fired a pass to MacArthur at the far post, where the junior buried a one-timer to make it 1-0.
Just 48 seconds later, BU struck again, Senior captain Sean Sullivan connected on a long touchdown pass from deep in his own end to Roche breaking across the blue line. In an unusual variation on a spin-o-rama move, Roche the lost the puck momentarily, spun in a circle to retrieve it and break in alone on Thiessen. He beat the freshman goaltender with a shot over the right pad.
NU appeared to be deflated for the next several minutes. BU D-man Matt Gilroy clanged a shot off a post at 13:20. Then Northeastern took a couple of frustration penalties, both hitting from behind. BU couldn’t score on those but almost got another from freshman Luke Popko, who hit another post at 17:00.
As had happened in the first period, Northeastern ended the period with tons of momentum. At 18:00, Husky freshman Kyle Kraemer walked in alone after intercepting an unwise pass by Kevin Schaeffer, but Curry was equal to the challenge again.
Then the Huskies got a five-on-three for 1:42 running through the end of the period and into the third. Again, the pressure was substantial — a Steve Birnstill shot rebounded off of Curry and came close, but BU survived the crisis with a little help from the intermission.
“We played solid defensively all night,” Curry said. “The defense was doing a good job of getting their bodies in the shooting lanes and clearing out loose pucks. It was an all-around good defensive effort.”
Northeastern had a great chance to halve the two-goal deficit when Kraemer went in alone on Curry for a second time at 8:20, but Curry extended his left leg for the pad save when the freshman tried for the short side.
BU almost got a highlight-reel goal at 13:07. Higgins lost his stick on a two-on-one but managed to kick the puck to Eric Thomassian for a great chance, but he couldn’t convert it.
The game was effectively wrapped up at 15:37 on a fluke goal by Dan McGoff. The puck was dumped into the Husky zone, and Thiessen skated out to the faceoff circle to field it. He hesitated with the puck on his backhand, though, and McGoff hit his stick, sending the puck slowly into the Northeastern net.
“That was strange,” Cronin said. “It was like slow motion. He had the puck for about three seconds, and McGoff kept coming on him; I thought he was going to move the puck up to our bench right away. I don’t know if he got confused with the defenseman who was coming at him as well. But Thiessen played a heck of a game. It would’ve been 4-0 after the second period if not for him.”
BU (14-5-8) plays at UMass Friday before returning to the Garden Monday to attempt to win its 28th Beanpot title in the 55 years that the tournament has been played. Northeastern (10-13-4) plays at Massachusetts-Lowell on Thursday night before playing in the Beanpot consolation.
“Next week’s consolation is a tough game to be in because the other two teams are getting ready for a huge game,” Parker said. “It’s almost like an aside. It counts in the national standings, but it’s an aside to what’s happening at eight o’clock. So it’s always a relief to avoid that mess.
Parker was humble in reflecting on BU’s remarkable first-round success. “I don’t think we think too much about the 40 out of 44,” Parker said. “The streak is truly amazing considering how good the other teams are, but at the same it’s like flipping a coin. If you flip it 100 times, it might come up 50-50, but it might come up tails 35 times in a row. I guess I hope I won’t be around when it goes the other way.”