The Harvard Crimson and the Boston University Terriers have been on divergent paths since they met in the 41st annual Beanpot on February 8, 1993. Since the night of that 4-2 Harvard victory, the Crimson have won exactly zero Beanpot titles and have appeared in only two championship games — losing to BC in 1994 and BU in 1998, both times in overtime by a score of 2-1.
The Terriers, with a long history of success in the tournament, have become even more dominant in the dozen years since Harvard last won bragging rights. Over that stretch, BU has won nine championships, lost twice in the finals to Boston College, and only once (in 1994) has the team found itself playing in the matinee on the second Monday in February. In this year’s 54th Annual Beanpot, Boston University will be striving for its 27th championship.
The level of BU’s success in the Beanpot helps to give them an edge, believes Harvard coach Ted Donato.
“Mentally BU may have a bit of an advantage because they’ve won it so often,” he said. “Whether they’re having a down year or not, they usually have a great performance in the Beanpot.”
That long history of great performances on Boston’s biggest stage is not the only thing obstructing the Crimson’s quest to recapture some of its late-’80s and early-’90s glory. Harvard’s unique schedule, with its exam period in mid-to-late January, has long played havoc with the team’s continuity on the ice. Every season the Harvard players skate a pair of games in early January, and then hang up their skates for almost three full weeks before getting back on the ice in late January.
Up until the 2002-03 season, the ECAC schedule presented Harvard with an extra hurdle: where the three Hockey East schools would often have one game on the weekend before the Beanpot, Harvard would almost always have a pair of league games on the Friday and Saturday nights before the tournament began Monday afternoon. Even now with a modified ECACHL schedule that slates only one game on the Friday before the Beanpot, the Crimson still has to contend with the rink rust that developed over January.
“We’re just starting to get our wheels back from the long break,” Donato said. “But we know that we’re going to have to be sharp and on our game.”
The teams have met once already this season in a back-and-forth affair that ended with a final score of 2-2 after the Terriers’ Kevin Schaeffer tied the game with less than two minutes left.
“That was almost a tale of two games,” said Donato, noting that Harvard dominated play in the first period and would have built up a larger lead but for the stellar play of BU’s netminder.
“[John] Curry was outstanding in the first to keep the game at 2-0,” he said.
After that game, Parker agreed, saying: “John Curry played great. They could have had three or four goals in the first period.”
Parker made adjustments after the first period and lit a fire under his team; the Terriers came out with renewed energy and took the play to Harvard for the much of the second period and all of the third.
Almost two and a half months removed from that pre-Thanksgiving encounter, the two teams find themselves in vastly different places. While Donato and the Crimson work to shake off the rust that developed over exam period, they will face a team that has truly hit its stride.
The Terriers stand at 15-8-2 and are in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. The team’s play has elevated it into the Top 10 in both the weekly polls and in the PairWise Rankings.
“This game finds them playing much better than earlier in the year,” said Donato. “They’re one of the hottest teams in the country.”
History and momentum — not to mention the crowd at the TD BankNorth Garden — will be favoring the Terriers in Monday’s semifinal. Donato has confidence, though, that his team’s success earlier this year on the road against BC, New Hampshire, and North Dakota has prepared it for the intense atmosphere of the Beanpot. And while he readily admitted that the Terriers have the mental advantage, he maintained that Harvard’s Beanpot struggles in recent years are not necessarily a disadvantage.
“The slate is clean,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in our team’s ability to go out and compete; I have confidence that our guys will come out and play with poise.”