In the last ten years of the Beanpot — and in the last 12 games of the season — Harvard was on a roll.
A roll downhill, that is. Harvard had not made it to the big game on the second Monday in February since losing in overtime to perennial Beanpot champs Boston University back in 1998. Heck, they have been 3-6 in the consolation game over that stretch.
One of the funniest pre-Beanpot quotes came a few years ago from a Crimson captain who had lost every game he had played over his first three Beanpots. Asked about his favorite Beanpot memory, he reflected on the spate of losses and concluded that his happiest Beanpot memory was warming up before his first game.
This year didn’t look to be any different. After a promising 6-2-1 start, Harvard proceeded to go 1-9-2 over the next 12 games — giving Brown just its second win of the season all of three days ago.
Meanwhile, Northeastern students suffered through a six-hour wait for Beanpot tickets under the illusion that this might be the year the Huskies stop the chants of “1988.”
So what happens? Harvard comes out like stormtroopers and basically wins the game in the first eight minutes.
NU coach Greg Cronin was wary of the media focus on everybody but that other team in the Beanpot.
“You know, it was funny,” Cronin said. “You read the newspaper in the last couple of days, and you saw a lot about Northeastern and BU and BC. And nobody was mentioning Harvard. I told the guys before the game: If I’m [Harvard head coach] Teddy Donato, I’m reminding my players every day that Harvard is kind of the other school in the tournament because of the recent success that we’ve had and all the history with BU and BC.”
But if Cronin was well aware that the Crimson might have a little bulletin-board material, he still admitted that he was shocked by how they came out and shoved their game down the Huskies’ throats.
“They’ve got seven seniors that have never been to the finals before,” Cronin said. “There was a drive to their game that was visible right away. I think we were pretty comfortable coming into the game, but I’ve got to be honest with you: I think they shocked us early in the game.
“They had it down in our end, and they sustained the presence that we usually do in the cycle. They flipped the roles on us. And to their credit I was more impressed with how they kept structure on the ice for the last 50 minutes of the game. They didn’t give us any chances; they were very strong defensively.”
Crimson captain Mike Taylor, who led Harvard with a goal and an assist, explained how his team got its Beanpot roll reversed.
“I think that our class especially stressed to the team how badly we wanted this game,” Taylor said. “To be honest, the first few years as a freshman and a sophomore — especially for me being from Minnesota — you don’t really realize the importance of the game maybe necessarily right off the bat.
“Before this year, we watched a video of the history of the Beanpot. For me and the rest of my class, we realized how special this is. We really wanted this tonight probably more than any game I’ve played in my career.”
It certainly looked that way, as the Crimson rolled over the Huskies in the first seven minutes. Taylor acknowledged that the general lack of respect toward his team was an inspiring force.
“I think that definitely is part of our motivation,” Taylor said. “If we don’t get the press, that’s fine, but we knew we had to come out and let our play do the talking for us and gain some respect because we haven’t been earning it of late.”
For Donato, it was especially gratifying to his see his seniors get their first shot at the big prize.
“I think it’s great,” Donato said. “Growing up in Boston, the Beanpot is very important to me. But the importance really for me is to allow our team — in particular our seniors — to have a chance to play in the championship in front of a great crowd next week. I’ve got a great group of players, and I wanted them to enjoy the experience.
“We’ve had a lot of frustration in the last while in the Beanpot. When you have that frustration, maybe a little of the excitement and the luster that surrounds the Beanpot isn’t like it should be. I’m real excited for our guys. They worked hard for it, and we’re halfway there.”
If they can roll merrily along next Monday, the role reversal would be complete with the first Beanpot championship for Harvard since 1993 — not to mention just the second since Donato won it as a player in 1989.