It’s That Time Of Year
The first two Mondays in February. The Battle For Beantown. Boston College. Boston University. Harvard. Northeastern.
It’s time for the Beanpot.
“This is for the championship of Boston,” BU coach Jack Parker says. “There are people around here who come up to me when we’ve won the Beanpot and said, ‘Congratulations, what are you going to do in the offseason?’ They think the season is over. There are a lot of people who think that this is the most important thing.
“And the four teams play it like it is. Whether you’re in first place or in last place in your league and whether you’re having a great year or a not so great year, you can get some instant gratification here. You can win two games in a row and be the champion for the year against your biggest rivals.”
Getting the ball rolling at 5 o’clock will be Northeastern and Harvard. The last time one of these two perennial Beanpot underdogs took the championship was 1993 when the Crimson toppled BU, 4-2. Since that time Harvard has made only two title game appearances, none more recent than 1998, and the Huskies only three, all by virtue of defeating the Crimson in the opening round.
This time 10th-ranked Harvard is given a much better chance of taking the Beanpot based not only on a strong overall season to date, but also on wins earlier in the year over both BU and BC.
Northeastern, the only one of the four schools not ranked nationally, is clearly the only long shot.
“There isn’t any secret that we’re the underdog,” NU coach Bruce Crowder says. “If there have been 54 of these things, we’ve probably been the underdog in 50 of the 54. That part of it is always there and historically might always be there. But with our players, they don’t worry about the past, what happened 50 years ago.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here that have been very focused, have been through a lot over the last couple of years and they’ve really dedicated themselves to becoming better hockey players and making us a better team.”
The Huskies are coming off a weekend at Maine in which they took only one of four points, but could have fared better. On Friday, they battled tooth and nail in a game that remained scoreless deep into the third period only to fall, 1-0. One night later, they rallied to a 2-2 tie with the 15th-ranked Black Bears.
Northeastern may only be 9-13-4, but it has faced the fourth-toughest schedule in the country to date and can claim four wins and three ties against ranked opponents.
“That’s one of the things we’ve said to the guys,” Crowder says. “For any opponent we’ve had this year, we respect them all but we don’t fear them. That’s really been our motto all year long. That goes to anybody you have on your schedule. If you do that with everybody, you’re probably going to put yourself in a mental position to have success.
“What we were looking at as a staff when we were putting this schedule together was that now is the time of the year when you hope it helps you out. Knowing that you’ve got to come to play. Knowing that you’ve got to grind it out.
“I really thought that was a factor for us up at Maine. We only gave up three goals on the weekend up there. We played extremely well the second night up there. Even though we were down, 2-0, the kids kept coming and had some terrific opportunities. For us, we’ve got to take the encouraging things out of that.”
So maybe the Huskies aren’t so much of a long shot after all. That said, the competition is going to be tough.
“Harvard is having a great year,” Crowder says. “Teddy — [coach Ted Donato] — has done a great job over there. They’ve already played the upper echelon teams in our league and they’ve beaten Maine, Boston College and BU.
“There’s no doubt that we’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to make sure that we’re clicking on all cylinders. That’s going to be the most important thing, that we come with all 18 guys and a goalie coming like they should be coming to play. Then I think we’re going to keep ourselves in the game and really give them a contest.
“Just like Harvard’s seniors, our seniors haven’t had a chance to win a Beanpot yet. It’s their last chance.
“I just like the mental toughness these kids have had over the last four years. They’re ready.”
At eight o’clock, Boston College and Boston University renew their rivalry. The Eagles are ranked number one in the country and come in as the defending champions while BU can claim 21 Beanpot titles in the last 35 years including eight of the last 10.
The Eagles’ number one designation is well-earned. They are 17-3-4 and haven’t lost since Dec. 3.
“As we approached January, we looked at a month that had nine games in it and we said that it would be a critical month for our development,” BC coach Jerry York says. “We went 8-0-1 in January, but the way we did it was to me very impressive.
“We gave up 11 goals in the nine games so it was good defense and good goaltending. Those are numbers that you’re going to need if you’re going to play championship level hockey because the games never seem to be 6-5 and 5-4. It’s always either 1-0 or 2-1 type of games. So our defense and goaltending in January has been very, very solid.”
The goaltending has featured a rotation of senior Matti Kaltiainen (1.43 GAA, .934 Sv%) and undefeated freshman Corey Schneider (1.77, .921). In past years, Kaltiainen has played almost every game.
“[Corey] has had a great impact on us,” York says. “Probably the biggest impact he’s had is that he’s made Matti a better goaltender. Now Matti’s numbers are better than any he’s ever had in his career. So the competitive nature of the position has pushed Matti to the point where he’s playing his best hockey.
“We’ll play Corey on Friday and bring Matti back on Monday. I haven’t looked at next week, but we’ve been alternating and both are holding up their end of the bargain.”
The team defense, easily Hockey East’s best at 1.62 goals allowed per game when no other team is below 2.00, is supplemented by an increasingly explosive offense (3.25 goals per game, third in the league behind New Hampshire and Massachusetts-Lowell).
“We’re just starting to score some goals,” York says. “We’ve gone through the majority of the year thus far with two or three goals for each game. We were beneficiaries of a great defense so we could win a 2-1 game.
“But now we’re clicking a little better and we’re a little more cohesive offensively. You need a good balance. You can’t win with just defense.”
Boston University (15-10-1) was on a roll until three weeks ago when the Terriers were swept by BC in disheartening fashion and then were able to muster only a single point in two games at Maine. As a result, BU fell out of first place in Hockey East and, despite playing the second toughest schedule in the country, dropped to the lower slots in the Top 15. Since then, however, the Terriers have posted wins over Merrimack and Providence to get back on the winning track.
“We had a down weekend against BC, but I thought we played pretty well up at Maine,” Parker says. “I think our last effort was more like we were playing earlier in the year; we looked like were a little free-er, a little looser, back on track. So I’m pretty comfortable that we’re in good shape other than getting healthy in certain areas.”
The most significant health concern involves goaltender John Curry (1.98 GAA, .922 Sv%), whose shoulder injury in the Merrimack game had many wondering if that win had been of the Pyrrhic variety. Curry, of course, had been a major factor in the team’s success since his storybook ascendance into the number one role.
“In all probability, if he plays in a Beanpot it’ll be on the 14th and not the 7th,” Parker says.
Which puts the spotlight on Stephan Siwiec, who shut out Merrimack in 20 minutes of relief action and then allowed only two goals against Providence.
“Siwiec played well when he came off the bench against Merrimack and made a couple good saves and I thought he played very well the other night [against Providence],” Parker says. “So he’s back on his game and glad to have a chance to play in all probability.”
A superficial look at BU’s schedule could raise concerns about the team’s consistency. After all there were three straight losses the week of Thanksgiving and the 0-3-1 recent weekends against BC and Maine. Ignoring those two “cold spells” the Terriers would be on runs of 13-1-0 and 16-2-0.
So when you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not. Right?
“I haven’t been too concerned about the consistency,” Parker says. “We had those streaks where we lost at Denver and at Colorado College and then we played three out of those [recent] four games at BC and at Maine. Those are tough places to win hockey games.
“It wasn’t as if we were dropping games that we should have won. In fact, I thought we played extremely well in Denver and I thought we played extremely well, especially the second game that we lost, up at Maine.
“I was real concerned about how we played against BC, but we seem to have gotten over that.”
What may be of concern is that BU’s vaunted freshmen class, led by Chris Bourque, Peter MacArthur and Brian Ewing, will be playing in its first Beanpot. Will they continue to be big-time performers as the spotlight intensifies?
“First-timers don’t usually respond too well to this,” Parker says. “[They’re] more in awe. They came here to play in the Beanpot and now they’re finally here. There’s a little bit of — I won’t call it stage fright — but you get focused on the wrong stuff. So I don’t think you can depend on freshmen to do too much in the Beanpot.”
What the Terriers will depend on is keeping the contest with BC close to the vest.
“If somebody gets five it’s probably not going to be us so we’re hoping it’s a low-scoring game,” Parker says. “Both teams are capable of scoring goals, but both teams’ forte is team defense.
“From a team defense point of view, BC is one of the best in the nation. They’re great at killing penalties, they’re great in their own zone and they’re great in transition. So we’ll have to match their intensity defensively.”
Quotes From The Beanpot Luncheon
• Northeastern’s Jason Guerriero: “I want to tell the BU and BC guys who’ve been calling me Pedro and Vladimir that I’m Jason and I’m Italian, not Spanish.”
• Harvard coach Ted Donato: “Many a street hockey game was played when the neighborhood kids were BU, BC and Northeastern. I have to be honest, we didn’t pick Harvard much back then, but kids have changed now. At least my kids.”
• FleetCenter Director of Events Steve Nazro: “We’re honored to have the eight o’clock game feature two coaches who have each won over 700 games…. I haven’t won that many times even at Pac-Man. And I was playing against myself.”
• Jack Parker: “Jason Guerriero looks like Johnny Damon and Ted Donato looks like Billy Cleary.”
• Keynote speaker Paul Filipe, a member of Northeastern’s fabled 1980 squad which won the school’s first Beanpot, on the can of beans the winners were awarded: “The directions read, ‘Garnish athletes with sharp steel, drop hard rubber into frozen water, stir in hustle and enthusiasm, add pinch of glory to taste, allow to boil for 60 minutes. Serves 14,456.'”
• Several weeks ago this column noted that Maine needed goaltender Jimmy Howard to return fully to the All-World form he showed last year. His January statistics? How about a 1.24 GAA and a .942 save percentage. Note to opposing forwards: He’s baaaccckkk!
• BC’s Patrick Eaves is also on a roll, posting a 7-9–16 scoring line in eight January games.
• On a bizarre-o-meter scale of 1-to-10, the Lowell vs. UNH home-and-home series had to be a 10. Lowell applied a 7-0 pasting on Friday night at home to extend its unbeaten streak to 14 games only to lose 8-3 at the Whittemore Center. And that loss was a 10 on the scale all by itself. The River Hawks outshot their hosts, 17-2, in the first period and were still deadlocked at 3-3 early in the third period. UNH, however, scored four power-play goals in the third period, making it 6-for-11 on the game, including two while five-on-three. The conclusion prompted Lowell Sun writer Chaz Scoggins to write:
As far as UMass Lowell hockey coach Blaise MacDonald is concerned, his players are still unbeaten.
Sixth-ranked New Hampshire, shut out 7-0 by UMass Lowell on Friday night, took full advantage of a brutal officiating performance by referee Conrad Hache to score six power-play goals in 11 attempts against the third-least penalized team in the nation last night.
Quotes Of Note
• Merrimack coach Chris Serino, on Jeremy Wilson’s hit that injured BU goaltender John Curry. Serino reportedly will be sitting Jeremy Wilson for one additional game beyond the automatic one assessed for his game disqualification. “All I can tell you about that is I think you know I’m very sensitive about goaltenders [in light of the near-fatal injury to Joe Exter]. Us of all people. I’m very, very sensitive to goaltenders, and there’s no reason to hit a goaltender. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, but it doesn’t matter. It will be more than a one-game disqualification; I can guarantee that. I hope [Curry’s] fine…. I hope he doesn’t miss much because he’s a great goaltender; he’s having a great season; it’s a great story. I feel terrible, believe me when I tell you that.”
• BU’s Ryan Monaghan on his goal against Merrimack: “It was the first time somebody said to me, ‘Nice hands,’ and it wasn’t sarcastic. You ask anyone on the team, and I have bricks for hands.”
• Jack Parker on Brian “Boomer” Ewing: “We had a little session today just showing guys how fast they were early in the year. One of the film clips was Boomer chasing a guy down. By the time he gets to the goal line, Boomer’s all over him. It was so fast that all of the players were saying ‘Holy [bleep]! Look at him go!’ So I think he saw himself the way he was supposed to be for us and reminded him to get going.”
• BU goaltender Stephen Siwiec, after a win over Providence, on changing his approach since a tough start: “My mind frame was different. Earlier in the season, I put a lot of pressure on myself: I wanted to play and keep playing, so I put too much pressure on myself. I was too nervous. On Thursday [replacing Curry after he was injured], I was a little jittery the first minute, but I told myself to calm down, and I did. I could feel it. That’s the approach I took to today’s game, and it seemed to work out really well.”
• Maine coach Tim Whitehead on Michel Leveille’s five-minute spearing penalty in overtime: “Obviously that type of penalty is not going to win us any hockey games. If we’re going to continue to take penalties like that every third or fourth game I don’t know how far we’re going to go, but if we play disciplined then, hey, we’re going to make some noise going down the stretch.”
• Maine captain John Ronan on that 2-2 tie with Northeastern: “Its unacceptable being at home and blowing a two-goal lead like that. We were undisciplined and that’s when they took over.”
• PC coach Paul Pooley on a strong third period in the 3-2 loss to BU: “We’re looking to build on anything we possibly can because obviously we played a good hockey game. The effort was there; we’ve just got to execute a little more and win a hockey game. It’s all about Ws at this time of year.”
• Bruce Crowder on Keni Gibson: “He has played well all year. He’s a kid who has put himself in a position to be an all-star. He has improved so much since last year. He’s been consistent from the beginning this season. We need to make sure our goalie’s playing well, and he’s definitely giving us that.”
A Weekend Of Milestones
She shoots, she scores!!!
Congratulations to my niece Cherie Hendrickson on her first collegiate goal. The milestone came in 10th-ranked Providence’s 5-2 win on Saturday over No. 8 New Hampshire. Way to go, Cherie!
There should have been a second milestone on that same day as my nephew Kevin Hendrickson made a nice pass to set up a third-period goal in Wesleyan’s game against Colby. It would have been Kevin’s first collegiate point, but even though it was the only assist on a clear-cut play, the officials got the scoring wrong and, as a result, Kevin is still waiting for that first official point. Don’t worry about it, Kev. No matter what the box score says, it was a really good play and an important contribution to the team. Keep it up and the milestones will take care of themselves.
Congrats to both Cherie and Kevin.
Last week’s question went off topic and celebrated the New England Patriots’ return to the Super Bowl. It harkened back to the day when Bill Belichick and Scott Poili drafted Richard Seymour and asked which former Patriot Boston Globe writer Ron Borges likened the All-Pro defensive lineman to?
Borges opened his news piece on that draft — not an editorial, mind you — with the following piece of objective reporting: “Why would you draft another Ray Agnew?” Borges went on to note how terrible it was that the Pats didn’t instead draft wide receiver David Terrell. (Agnew was a mediocre, at best, defensive lineman drafted in 1990 by New England in the first round. )
The only reader able to answer correctly was Wesleyan assistant coach Jim Langlois, ironically one week after he was chided for not being quicker on the trigger. His cheer stays off topic and keeps the focus on the Pats:
“LOAD THE MUSKETS, KILL THE BIRDS!!!!!!!!!!!!”
This week’s question veers back on topic and with the Beanpot looming asks which current Terrier played for BC before coming to BU? With Scott Weighart filling in next week, email him with your answer. The winner will be notified by Tuesday; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Due to various calamities this week, this segment will be short and sweet.
Go Pats! Three for four!!
Thanks to Scott Weighart and Matthew Conyers.