The Unkindest Cut

It was supposed to be the year of the underdog. Championships had finally been earmarked for the perennially heartbroken. Droughts were over.

Just eight days earlier, the New England Patriots had won their first-ever Super Bowl. Rewinding the tape by 10 months showed Boston College ending its 52-year streak of hockey heartbreak, winning its second national championship. And on this evening, Northeastern seemed destined to win its first Beanpot title in 14 years.

The headline would be, “Now They Can Die In Peace.” The Huskies had won the fewest ‘Pots of the four Boston schools. Other than a glorious nine-year span from 1980 through 1988 in which they had captured four championships, Northeastern had been shut out for the rest of the tournament’s 50 years. In the other 40 years, bupkiss.

While Boston University had advanced to its 18th championship game in 19 years, not to mention its 41st in 50, Northeastern was appearing in only its second since 1988. While the Terriers were a fixture in the title tilt limelight, the Huskies had played in 11 consolation games in 13 years. And in one of the two recent prime time appearances, they had been embarrassed by BU, 11-4.

This year, however, was different. The Huskies had entered the tournament playing better than any other competitor. Even more importantly, destiny was on their side. It was the Huskies’ year.

The stars were aligned for an NU win. Exactly 22 years ago to the day, Wayne Turner scored in overtime in the 1980 championship game to give the school its first-ever Beanpot title and usher in its “golden era.” This evening would be a renewed dawning of early February joy on Huntington Avenue.

At least that is the way the Hollywood script read.

For 30 minutes, Boston University did everything but steal the Husky players’ girlfriends. The Terriers held a 2-0 lead and could have taken a much larger margin if not for the acrobatics of NU goaltender Keni Gibson.

“They had a 14-7 shot advantage in the first period,” said NU coach Bruce Crowder, “and they were 14 great shots.”

At the other end, BU netminder Sean Fields might have been forgiven if he’d taken a little nap because halfway into the 60-minute game he had yet to really face a tester.

The Terriers’ experience in Beanpot championship games was showing through, but in an ironic way. Their goals had come from two freshmen — Justin Maiser and Ryan Whitney — who, of course, were playing in their first one.

The Hollywood script, however, kicked in at 12:43 of the second period. On the power play, Chris Lynch tipped a Jim Fahey shot from the point into the net. Lynch, a product of BC High School, and Fahey, out of Catholic Memorial, were both seniors in pursuit of their first ‘Pot.
This was how it was meant to be. Two Boston kids strive for four years and finally achieve their dream. A sappy script perhaps, maybe even a shameless tear-jerker, but it would be a big hit on Huntington Avenue, not to mention all places where the term “The BU Invitational” amounts to fingernails on the chalkboard.

Then it got better.

A minute and a half later, on another power play, Lynch picked up an attempted BU clearing pass that Mike Ryan blocked and walked in on Fields. Stymied on his first shot, Lynch stuffed the rebound in five-hole.

Euphoria erupted in the Northeastern end. After flatlining for 30-plus minutes, the Huskies had tied it and had Big Mo’ on their side.

But wait. It gets even better.

With 10 seconds left in the third period, Fahey fired a shot that again beat Fields five-hole. Now Northeastern had a stunning 3-2 lead thanks to its third unanswered goal in the span of little more than seven minutes.

And in a plot twist that bordered on a little too much of a good thing, BU picked up a penalty at the close of the period to set the Huskies’ vaunted power play in motion when intermission ended.

Visions of Beanpot sugarplums danced in the heads of Husky fans.

“Just 20 more minutes,” whispered one.

Things began to unravel a bit in the opening two minutes of the third period when the power play couldn’t deliver. It then worsened at 3:13 during a promising Husky rush that turned sour with an interference penalty that put BU a man up.

The script really began to go haywire on the resulting power play when the puck took a freakish bounce off the boards, over defenseman Jon Awe’s stick and into the goal-scoring lap of BU’s Mike Pandolfo. The lone accomplished Terrier finisher wasted no time making it a 3-3 game.

Presumably, this was one of those scripts where the heroes see things go terribly wrong to make their goals all the tougher to achieve and therefore all the sweeter when the happy ending developed. Such as Tebucky Jones’ Super Bowl fumble return for a game-sealing touchdown being negated by a penalty that set up the St. Louis Rams 1st-and-goal. Just as the Adam Vinatieri kick for the win became all the sweeter, so, too, would the elusive Beanpot title be all the sweeter for the Huskies.

Mike Ryan, the one player whose stick Northeastern fans most want the puck on in scoring opportunities, saw two great ones go by the boards, the latter one with Fields caught out of the net.

Hey, the script called for making it tougher to be all the sweeter. Tebucky, right?

Unfortunately for fans from Huntington Avenue, the Terriers rewrote the script. With 1:12 left in regulation, Maiser scored his second goal, roofing an almost identical shot that Gibson had miraculously gotten a stick on in the first period. There would be no miracle this time, however. BU led, 4-3.

What kind of script was this? Maiser, a freshman from Minnesota, of all places? He’d only seen his first Beanpot last year and that was on tape! He’d never been to the tournament in person and here he was setting himself up for MVP honors?

Would this be an ending to beat all endings? The Huskies would get an extra attacker goal and then win it all in overtime?

Laying it on too thick? A little too melodramatic? Perhaps.

As it turned out, the critics never would get to make that charge. With Fields apparently down and out, Tim Judy ripped a shot that appeared destined to for the top of the net, a tie game and eventual overtime.

Until, that is, Fields flashed his glove to make a highlight-reel stop that did indeed save the game.

Destiny had failed the Huskies. Boston University was once again the Beanpot champion.

“That’s a great team we played tonight with a lot of heart,” said BU coach Jack Parker.

A lot of heart and a broken heart.