BOSTON — It’s been said that experience wins championships, a cliché that proved very true in the championship game of the 62nd Beanpot on Monday.
Tied at one, top-ranked Boston College (22-4-3) had been outplayed through much of the game by No. 12 Northeastern (16-10-3).
Semifinals: Feb. 3
• Third place: Harvard 6, Boston University 2
• Championship: Boston College 4, Northeastern 1 | Once again, Boston College finds another gear to extend Beanpot stranglehold | For Northeastern, more than a quarter-century of close calls but no Beanpot titles
BC added an empty-net goal by Johnny Gaudreau with 1:16 left and Brown scored his second of the period on a breakaway with 49.5 seconds left for a 4-1 final, a score hardly indicative of how evenly played the game was.
The game-winning goal came off a faceoff after a TV timeout. BC won an offensive-zone draw and the puck ended up on the stick of senior Isaac MacLeod at the left point. With NU’s Braden Pimm coming out to challenge him, MacLeod found a shooting lane and fired a low puck towards the net.
Brown was embroiled in a physical battle with NU’s John Stevens and as he fell to the ground, Brown kept his eye on the puck and redirected it to the far post past Witt.
Though maybe not with the same flare for the dramatic, it’s a play that Brown says he practices all the time.
“I was getting mauled,” said Brown of the play. “You just have to focus, you have to keep your eye on the puck.
“We have some big ‘D,’ so they do a pretty good job of training you for that in practice.”
BC coach Jerry York, who ties legendary Eagles coach John ‘Snooks’ Kelley with eight Beanpot titles, has seen his fair share of dramatic game-winning goals.
Given the degree of difficulty for Brown’s goal on Monday, he puts that one straight at the top.
“I want to see it again on film,” said York. “From the bench, he was on his knees, then his back and reached back and redirected the puck. That’s an amazing goal for us.”
While the goal was the back-breaker for the Huskies, it hardly was the result of complete domination by the nation’s top team.
In fact, the second period was territorially dominated by the Huskies, who forced countless BC turnovers. The two major factors that kept NU from entering the third in the lead was the play of the BC defense in blocking shots (the Eagles blocked 12 shots in the second period alone) and when the shots got through, BC goaltender Thatcher Demko (29 saves, Eberly Award as tournament’s top goaltender) was a solid last line of defense.
“The game of hockey is about mistakes and how you recover from mistakes,” said York. “We never play a perfect game. Northeastern is a very good hockey team. They’re going to make plays [to force us] to turn pucks over.
“You just have to go back and get the puck. Don’t sulk about it.”
Despite NU scoring the only goal of the second period, a Stevens tally with 1:24 left in the frame after Kevin Roy intercepted a pass and was stopped on a breakaway, Huskies’ coach Jim Madigan felt his team simply ran out of gas in the final stanza, BC holding a 16-6 shot advantage in the final 20.
“In the third period, we just couldn’t match their speed,” said Madigan. “They came at us and we just didn’t have a correct enough response.”
It didn’t take long in the opening period to have the game’s first momentum shift. After the teams felt one another out for the opening few minutes, it appeared Northeastern took a 1-0 lead on a goal by fourth-line winger Ryan Belonger.
On a 3-on-2, Belonger got a shot off that Demko couldn’t handle. The rebound came right back to the sophomore and he backhanded it into the top right corner.
Referee Dave Hansen immediately signaled ‘no goal’ as a BC and Northeastern player were tangled up crashing the net and dislodged the left post just a fraction of a second before the puck entered.
Video replay confirmed the call on the ice.
Michael Matheson was assessed an interference penalty for pushing the NU player into the post, but the Huskies couldn’t do anything with the ensuing power play. And just 19 seconds after the power play expired, BC scored.
The nation’s hottest player, Gaudreau made a nifty backhand pass to Kevin Hayes, the tournament’s MVP, who one-timed his 21st goal of the season between the legs of Witt at 8:40 for the 1-0 lead.
BC maintained momentum, but couldn’t bury a second goal.
Instead, Witt made a highlight-reel save on Ryan Fitzgerald with five minutes remaining. Skating 2-on-1, Fitzgerald one-touched a pass that beat Witt, but just before the puck entered the net, the junior netminder slapped at the puck, picking it out of midair to knock it wide.
Northeastern held a 16-11 in shots in the opening stanza with each team trading grade-A chances in the closing seconds only to be denied by the respective goalies.
The victory, BC’s fifth straight in the 62-year-old tournament, is just one shy of Boston University’s record six straight from 1995-2000. Many of those BU wins, BC was on the losing end, often putting forth magnanimous efforts in defeat.
That’s something that Northeastern, having now lost to BC three of the last four years in the finals, now knows all too well.