BOSTON — The Northeastern Huskies have officially made their statement. And they did it on the biggest stage.
The No. 3 Huskies, playing opportunistic hockey, exploded for five unanswered goals to break a 1-1 tie en route to a 6-1 victory over No. 12 Boston College in the second semifinal of the 57th annual Beanpot.
It was the largest win for the Huskies in a semifinal in the history of the event and the first time that Northeastern has beaten Boston College in a semifinal since 1988, which coincidentally was the last time the school captured the tournament title and bragging rights.
The Huskies will face perennial Beanpot powerhouse Boston University, a 4-3 winner over Harvard in the opening game, in next Monday night’s championship.
The key to the victory for the Huskies was their ability to pressure Boston College with a relentless forecheck. That pressure led to turnovers, particularly in the second period when Northeastern scored three times to break open the game.
Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin said that much of his team’s fortune in the second period was luck. Three Boston College turnovers, two coming from the stick of stalwart goaltender John Muse (18 saves), led to three goals. But as Billy Zane said near the end of the movie Titanic, some people make their own luck.
“Northeastern forced [the turnovers],” said Boston College head coach Jerry York. “They turned pucks over with their aggression. Johnny [Muse] got caught twice outside the net, but Northeastern forced [those turnovers].”
Hard to ignore, too, was the play of Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen. While his counterpart was struggling, Thiessen was stymieing the Eagles’ offense, finishing the night with 45 saves to match his career high. That came just three nights after the junior netminder allowed a season-high six goals in a 6-4 loss at Massachusetts on Friday.
“I thought Thiessen was outstanding,” said York. “One of our objectives going into the game was to create a lot of shots and scoring chances and I thought we did that. But he made some remarkable saves.”
The opening period featured back-and-forth action, with the Huskies holding a 9-8 advantage in shots.
Northeastern, which a year ago was buried by a slow start against Harvard in the Beanpot semifinals, came out with plenty of jump and struck first. After the Eagles were whistled for back-to-back minors, setting up an extended five-on-three, Ryan Ginand scored his 18th goal of the season, sniping a shot high on the short side over Muse’s glove at 3:24 to give the Huskies the 1-0 lead.
It was the first of two power-play goals on the night for the Huskies to go along with a perfect 7-for-7 penalty kill.
The Eagles answered at 8:06 during a delayed penalty call. After Muse got to the bench, Matt Price jumped on as the extra attacker and took a pass at the point from Kyle Kucharski. Price fired a low, quick shot that Thiessen got a piece of but couldn’t keep from trickling over the goal line to knot the game at 1.
Northeastern responded, though, exactly three minutes later. After Chris Donovan was stopped on back-to-back bids in close, Greg Costa fired a rebound from a tough angle that again beat Muse on the short side to give the Huskies the 2-1 lead through one.
In the second, the Eagles came alive offensively, plastering 21 shots on the Northeastern net. But Thiessen’s perfection combined with miscues by both Muse and the BC defense led to the Huskies exploding for three goals to break the game open.
Everything started at the 11:58 mark with Northeastern on the power play. A dump-in by Steve Silva took a strange bounce in the corner, which led to Muse losing his balance as he played the puck behind the net. Steve Qualier centered a pass that defenseman Louis Liotti blasted on net before Muse could regain his position to give Northeastern a 3-1 lead.
Just 42 seconds later, BC’s defense turned the puck over on the breakout, allowing Dennis McCauley to launch a shot from the right point that moved through a screen and beat a surprised Muse to extend the Northeastern lead to 4-1.
After the Eagles pressed with quality scoring chances including a Barry Almeida shot that rang off the right pipe at 14:30, another Muse miscue behind the net again wound up in the back of the net. Donovan forechecked for the Huskies and forced Muse to fumble with the puck behind the goal.
When he eventually turned it over, Donovan’s centering pass landed right on the stick of Qualier, who calmly buried the puck into the empty net with 1:41 remaining to give Northeastern a 5-1 lead.
As the period came to a close, BC’s Brock Bradford attempted to pounce on a rebound. His effort, though, was overzealous, leading to him burying Thiessen instead of the puck. Huskies defenseman Denis Chisholm took extreme exception and began drilling Bradford with punches. Both players were assessed major penalties, Bradford for charging and Chisholm for punching. Chisholm, though, also received a game disqualification and will be suspended on Friday when Northeastern faces Merrimack.
In the third, Northeastern played solid defense, still allowing 17 shots to a pressing Boston College offense, though many of them came from the perimeter. While Thiessen was stonewalling the Eagles, Muse mishandled a knuckling shot with 7:58 remaining that led to Donovan poking home the rebound.
Donovan finished the game with a career-high four points (one goal, three assists), while BC’s Muse was relieved by rookie Chris Venti (three saves), the first time Muse has been lifted from a game in his career.
“We’ll look at the tape and John will learn from it,” said York. “I’m a big baseball fan and I watched Sandy Koufax get shelled some nights and then he comes back and wins -something games. This wasn’t his night, but goaltenders have to bounce back from difficult outings.”
The victory marked just the 13th time in the 57-year history of the tournament that Northeastern has reached the championship game. Next Monday’s matchup with Boston University will be the 11th time the two clubs have met in the title game with the Terriers holding a lopsided 7-3 advantage.
But for Cronin and his Huskies, next Monday will signal an opportunity to end 21 years of Beanpot futility and bring the title — and the associated bragging rights — back to Huntington Avenue.
“The drought that we’ve experience over the years, it does weigh on us,” said Cronin. “They’re kids; you can’t filter out the media attention [given to the drought]. Now it’s one game. You put this one in the bank and move on.”