Beanpot Redux

It’s a college hockey tournament that many say only appeals to the four teams that play in it. Just don’t tell that the the thousands of people who were expected to watch last night’s Beanpot semifinals.

Even though both of the two games were somewhat yawners – and yes, BC and BU are meeting in the championship game for the umteenth time – Beanpot officials said that the tournament has, in recent years, received some impressed television ratings.

Steve Nazro, the tournament director, annouced last week that the Beanpot has extended its current TV contract with NESN through 2012. Last night’s semifinals, along with next Monday’s title game, could be seen throughout the U.S. on cable and satellite TV (with regional sports networks, of course) as well as in Canada in the NHL Network.

That, though, doesn’t mean that the crowds who wanted to see the games were flocking to the TD Banknorth Garden on Monday. In fact, the building seemed downright dead throughout much of the night calling into question the 17,565 (sellout) attendance figure that was announced. Though the Northeastern and Boston University student sections looked about 2/3rds full for the opening game, the crowd at the nightcap between Boston College and Harvard was dismal.

Yours truly was blocked out by the Garden’s new multi-million dollar HDTV JumboTron at center ice and couldn’t see the Harvard section much of the game. When I finally did wander to the other end in the game’s final minute, and bear in mind the Crimson were trailing, 2-1, at this point, it looked like no-man’s land in the Harvard section.

I editorialized earlier this week that much of the problem with the tournament’s lack of popularity these days comes from what we’re going to see next Monday night – yet another BC/BU championship game. It truly seems that fans are tired of seeing these same two rivals clash on the second Monday of February and, even if all the tickets are sold out, people aren’t too concerned about staying home.

Tired Crimson?

Though captain Dylan Reese wouldn’t acknowledge it as an excuse after Monday’s 2-1 loss to BC, it was pretty apparent that Harvard was more fatigued than the Eagles during the third period. The Crimson truly looked legless in the game’s final 20 minutes, never penetrating the BC defense, and mustering only five shots all period.

What’s unfair is that Harvard, the only ECACHL team in the tournament, is forced by their league to play two games on each of the weekends preceding the Beanpot. Hockey East teams play just a single game on either Thursday or Friday and then have a couple of days to rest.

This is the first year since 2000-01 that the Crimson have been forced into the difficult three-games-in-four nights. The reasons weren’t explained on Monday, though one has to wonder if the ECACHL feels Harvard’s lack of recent success in the Beanpot is justiciation to not altering the league schedule in any way.

My thought is that if the league doesn’t change things back, there won’t be much future success for Harvard in the Beanpot either.

Irish Eyes are Smiling

For the first time in the program’s 39-year history, the University of Notre Dame tops the national rankings. The Irish’s weekend sweep of Bowling Green combined with No. 1 New Hampshire’s loss Friday night against Maine, allowed UND to leapfrog the Wildcats in both the and the USA Today polls.

This is quite a testiment to the success of second-year head coach Jeff Jackson, who has taken a team that two years ago had just five wins total and turned them into a national power.

In a way, Jackson’s accomplishments are similar to the past success he had at Lake Superior State, when he led the program to a perfect six-for-six NCAA bids in his short tenure in Sault Ste. Marie, including two national titles and a runner-up finish.

What’s different at UND, though, is the team that Jackson inherited. When at LSSU, Jackson took over a team that had made three straight NCAA tournament appearances and was only three years removed from its first national title.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has just one NCAA appearance all-time, coming under previous head coach Dave Poulin in 2004.

If anyone questioned whether or not Jackson could create a winner, your question have been answered. Hats off to a coach who is in position to turn many heads (well, those he hasn’t already turned) down the home stretch.

Surrendering Home Ice Advantage?

On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of traveling to Durham, N.H., to watch possibly the best college hockey game of the season between New Hampshire and Maine. The atmosphere created by the 5,601 in attendance at the Whittemore Center was absolutely electric. The entire place shook with UNH pride, particularly when the final buzzer sounded and the Wildcats were 2-1 winners.

The atmosphere, the crowd and the way the team, in turn, responded made it even more curious why the UNH administration chose to play the opening game of the Maine series on Friday night in Manchester, N.H.

The Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester has become a second-home for the Wildcats in recent years and with good reason. Manchester is closer to the state capitol of Concord and Manchester is the economic heart of the state. UNH, with an alumni base and corporate sponsors spread throughout the state, does what has to be considered a smart thing and brings hockey to that fan base a couple of times each season by playing games in Manchester.

The arena is an absolute gem, holding north of 10,000 fans. If all of those fans were wearing Wildcat blue and screaming for the host team, that would be a perfect scenario. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Reports on Friday night estimated that just under half of the building was comprised of Maine fans. The home ice and atmosphere created on Saturday were completely missing on Friday. It’s almost as though UNH took one of its two home games against its top rivals and moved it to a neutral site.

Though the school’s attempt to bring hockey to the masses throughout the state deserves praise, what has to be questioned is the choice of opponents that UNH plays in Manchester. Schedule teams like Dartmouth, St. Lawrence or Yale at Verizon.

With Hockey East almost always a competitive league top to bottom, giving up points to league opponents just doesn’t seem worth the sacrifice knowing that the Wildcats will lose the extremely unique atmosphere and advantage that the Whittemore Center offers.

Going Live

Assuming technology works correctly, I will be writing next week’s blog live from the press box at the TD Banknorth Garden for Monday’s Beanpot championship game between BC and BU. Yes, I know that we’re sick of a BC/BU Beanpot final, but I promise to throw some off-the-cuff humor your way that will keep you laughing, no matter how much you wanted to see Northeastern win the Beanpot.