Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead

Boston University fans had taken to calling it the BU Invitational. At the start of the game, they unfurled a banner proclaiming:

Welcome to the Terrier Classic

Another sign even invoked the deity:

God’s On Our Side. Go B.U.

For Terrier opponents, it may well have seemed as if God has been wearing the scarlet-and-white on the first two Mondays in February. BU entered the evening with an unprecedented six consecutive titles and nine in the last 11 years.

Any game against Boston College, Northeastern or Harvard would include BU fans chanting a taunt that had no answer: “Where’s your Beanpot?”

No opponent has felt the sting of BU’s Beanpot dominance more than its archrival at the other end of Commonwealth Avenue. The last time that Boston College defeated the Terriers in the ‘Pot was a semifinal game in 1981. The last time it happened in the championship game was 1976. As USCHO colleague Scott Weighart pointed out, not one BU or BC player was alive for that event.

That’s what makes it so special, that … that hate between the two schools.

— BU captain Carl Corazzini, acknowledging the core of the BU-BC rivalry

Yet despite the dominance, BU was the team the BC players hoped to face in the finals this year once the we-don’t-care politically correct answers were dispensed with.

“If the hockey gods are willing, we’ll meet them in the finals,” said BC senior Bobby Allen a week and a half earlier at the Beanpot Luncheon. “The three [regular season] games you really want to play are the BU games. It’s a battle every time you play against those guys.

“There’s a lot of dislike between the two teams, but we really respect each other.”

Two minutes earlier Allen had been “fraternizing with the enemy” as he chatted with Terrier forward Nick Gillis, with whom he’d played at Cushing Academy. The two had even gone to a Beanpot game together.

“I grew up playing with him my whole life and now he’s on the other side of Comm. Ave and I’m on the nicer side,” said Allen with a laugh. “A lot of us have grown up together playing. So it’s a tremendous battle when we play those guys.

“We could play BU out on a backyard pond somewhere and it would still be a battle and it would still be nice to beat them.”

BU captain Carl Corazzini agreed from the other side of the fence.

“We’ve grown up playing with those kids,” he said, “and fought for scholarships at either one of the schools and decided on one or the other. That’s what makes it so special, that…”

Corazzini paused, unable to come up with a diplomatic word instead of the one that instinctively came to his lips. Finally, he gave up.

“…that hate between the two schools.”

He laughed.

“I didn’t want to say it, but I guess I have to.”

Although the Eagles would have taken anyone in the title game, another edition of the Battle for Comm. Ave under the Beanpot spotlight would be even better. If an end to the BU title stranglehold could be achieved, it would make the championship all the sweeter.

“Oh yeah, it would,” said Allen. “I’m not going to lie. It’d be nice to get them in the title game and have some success against them.”

Why, then, had success been so hard to come by against BU? Had God flipped a coin and it come up Terriers?

More likely, it had to do with dominant talent and dominant goaltending.

During BU’s 9-of-11 Beanpot streak, it qualified for the NCAA tournament 10-of-11 years, including a stretch of seven Frozen Fours in eight years and one national championship. And when the team itself wasn’t dominant, its goaltending invariably was.

Of the all-time leaders in Beanpot save percentage (minimum two tournaments), the top three are all Terriers, as are five of the top six: Michel Larocque (.950, 1997-99), Dan Brady (.942, 1971-72), Jim McCann (.940, 1967-68), Northeastern’s Marc Robitaille (.929, 1997-98), Tom Noble (.923, 1995-98) and Ed Walsh (.916, 1973-74).

The Eberly Award, given annually to the netminder with the highest save percentage who played in both games, went to BU goaltenders in 7-of-11 of the past Beanpots. And in two of the non-Eberly years, 1997 and 1998, Larocque and Noble each played one game, thereby removing them from consideration.

In particular, BU goaltenders the last two years made the difference against teams more talented than the Terriers. Larocque in 1999 and Ricky DiPietro in 2000 became the only BU netminders to simultaneously win the Eberly and also be named tournament Most Valuable Player.

“The most frustrating one was [two years] ago when I thought we were way better,” said BC coach Jerry York. “Larocque just stole it from us.”

Indeed he did. With BC headed to the Frozen Four and BU spiraling down to a 14-20-3 mark and the only NCAA non-appearance in the last 11 years, Larocque sparkled in a 3-2 overtime win over BC in the semifinal as well as a 4-2 victory over Northeastern in the final.

Last year, with BU very talented, but BC just a little bit more, DiPietro was again the difference, posting statistics bordering on the absurd: a 0.50 GAA and a .981 save percentage.

This time, with second-ranked Boston College head and shoulders above the rest of all the other Eastern teams, Jason Tapp would be on the spot to fill the shoes of DiPietro, Larocque and the many others who preceded them. Tapp had struggled as the season opened, but had rebounded to play very well of late.

Unfortunately for the Terriers, he turned in perhaps his worst game of the year. He was too deep in his crease on BC’s first goal at 9:33 of the first, susceptible for what might have been a deflection off a BU defender.

On the second four minutes later, he flat-out missed a low shot along the ice that luckily went wide. Krys Kolanos skated to the loose puck and was able to fight off a defender and one-hand a shot in because of Tapp’s ineffective dive across the goalmouth.

While the two goals may have given the Eagles an extra sense of confidence after opening the game in shaky fashion, Tapp began to redeem himself in the second period. He had no chance on the goal he allowed and made a potentially tide-turning save at the 15-minute mark on a Tony Voce deflection. When the Terriers promptly scored to make it 3-2 — with Tapp making a beautiful up-ice pass for an assist, no less — it was anybody’s game.

Sadly for Tapp, he allowed his worst goal at 2:19 in the third. Rob Scuderi’s slapshot hit Tapp in the glove, bounced up and over the netminder, hit once in the crease and slid into the net.

Adding an exclamation point to the disappointing performance was Tapp’s staggeringly stupid penalty with 3:55 remaining and BU down, 5-3, effectively killing off the last good chance at a comeback.

When you’re a sub-.500 club going against the number-two team in the country, you typically can’t survive three soft goals. There were plenty of other mistakes that had been made, but the string of performances by DiPietro, Larocque and company had finally caught up with the Terriers.

“In order to win a tournament like this, you’ve got to get great goaltending,” said BU coach Jack Parker after the loss. “In order to upset anybody anytime you’ve got to get great goaltending.

“I felt kind of bad for Jason. He certainly didn’t have his best game tonight for us and for himself. He was jumpy and it bounced off him a couple times and caused us some problems.

“But he also came and made some big saves and got us back into the game in the second period. He still made some great saves, but I’m sure he’s not very happy with his performance. I’m sure he’d like to have a couple of them back.

“But he’s a competitor. He’ll come back next weekend and play well. He’s had a great run for us. One of the reasons why we’ve done well in the middle of the season is he’s played so well for us.”

Ding, dong, the witch is dead. Someone had finally toppled BU. BC had finally gotten the Beanpot monkey off its back.

“Our neighbors in Watertown think this is bigger than the national tournament,” said York with a smile.

“It feels really good. I won it as a player back in ’65. It’s been a while. …

“The champion goes down hard. It was a difficult task for us. … They don’t give you that trophy. You have to earn it.”

For Allen, the kid from Hull, Mass., who’d had to hear about the Beanpot during the offseason from his boyhood friends turned rivals, it was a great moment.

“It feels real good,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of words I can use to describe it. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid.”

Parker was gracious to a fault. For all that opponents might have viewed the Terriers as the wicked witch of the Beanpot, he didn’t go down screaming, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

“I think it was good for the Beanpot to have another champion,” he said. “I didn’t want it to happen, believe me, but I think people were getting tired of us doing this. It’s more exciting to have a few different clubs to win this thing.

“I think it makes it a little easier to lose to a team that’s as good as BC is this year. It wasn’t as if we let something slip away. We played pretty hard tonight.

“We played arguably the best team in the nation, certainly in the top two or three teams in the nation right now and far and away the best team in our league and a team that will be vying for the national championship at the end of the year.

“So it’s not as if we fell down to a team that’s not a real good club. If you lose and you’re going to have your championship taken away, you want to have it taken away by a good champion and certainly Boston College is that.

“We haven’t lost a Beanpot final to BC in a quarter of a century, so I guess you could say they were due. And they came with a good team to be due with. It wasn’t fate. It was the great players on the BC roster.”

And so, perhaps a new streak of Beanpot dominance is about to begin, this time with Boston College the team to beat. Or maybe not.

“I don’t think [winning six straight] will happen again, that’s for sure, by us or by anybody else,” said Parker.

Just in case, the BC fans hadn’t wasted any time after the final buzzer in dusting off their newest cheer. With a sign that now proclaimed that God was on BC‘s side, their chant echoed from the Eagle end of the FleetCenter.

“Where’s your Beanpot?”