Beanpot consolation game has consequences for Harvard, Northeastern

The consolation game of the Beanpot always has one guarantee that goes along with it: the lack of atmosphere in the TD Garden.

In the average Beanpot year, players hope a few students make the trek from campus to join the families cheering on their loved ones to maybe make the building that seats close to 18,000 feel more like a hockey rink and less like an empty cathedral.

Beanpot 2016

Semifinals: Feb. 1

No. 4 Boston College 3, No. 7 Harvard 2 | For Harvard, special teams trouble means another loss to Boston College, Beanpot heartbreak

No. 9 Boston University 3, Northeastern 1 | After year off, Boston University's Maguire regains his focus and shines in Beanpot semi

Feb. 8

Third place: Northeastern 5, Harvard 1

Championship: Boston College 1, Boston University 0 (OT)

When Mother Nature dropped a few inches of snow on the downtown Boston area on Monday and drilled the South Shore region with blizzard conditions, the best both Northeastern and Harvard could hope for was that Boston College and Boston University fans would arrive at the Garden early just to make sure they were on time for the finals.

The empty arena, however, didn’t take away from the fact that this was about a lot more than which team wouldn’t finish last in the legendary tournament. Each team had plenty to play for.

For Northeastern, which began the season with a win against Colgate then proceeded to go 0-11-2 over the next 13 games, Monday offered hope to continue some momentum it had built.

Since losing to UMass-Lowell on Nov. 27, the last of those 13 games in that ugly stretch, the Huskies were 8-2-3 coming into Monday. In Hockey East, Northeastern was 4-1-2 in that same stretch. So despite last Monday’s loss, the consolation game provided a chance for the Huskies to keep their second-half surge moving forward.

For Harvard, the game was probably even more important. The Crimson are on track for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, entering Monday ninth in the USCHO.com PairWise Rankings. A win could be powerful and move the Crimson to seventh, a position that at this point in the season is quite secure.

But an all-out effort by the Huskies, which included three goals in the opening 20 minutes, led to a 5-1 Northeastern win. A big positive for the Huskies.

The Crimson may leave Monday smarting. That potential seventh position in the PairWise morphed to sitting in 11th with three weekends to play in the ECAC Hockey regular season.

What’s more, Harvard’s loss on Monday culminated a recent struggle for ECAC teams against Hockey East clubs. A winning percentage that was, at one point in November, a 2-to-1 advantage against Hockey East has now basically become even (ECAC has a .508 winning percentage against Hockey East). You can’t blame Harvard for that, even though the Crimson lost each of their Beanpot games. In reality, the ECAC has 25 losses to Hockey East.

But when the league tournaments are over and the NCAA field is being selected, don’t be surprised to see an ECAC team on the NCAA bubble and possibly looking up at a Hockey East team.

These two leagues are battling it out for the final spots in the PairWise. Right now, Yale is 10th, Harvard is 11th, UMass-Lowell is 13th, Cornell is 14th, Dartmouth is 16th, Clarkson is 17th and Rensselaer is 22nd.

If we place the PairWise bubble after the 14th seed (Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA each have no teams in the top 16, thus the winners of the respective tournaments will take spots 15 and 16), four of those ECAC and Hockey East teams would be in the tournament and three would be out.

But every weekend, teams shift and shift quickly sometimes in the PairWise. Harvard faces six ECAC games before the league tournament. Three are nationally ranked. Win those games and its PairWise will benefit.

Any sort of slump, though, could be disaster for the Crimson. If Harvard loses all six remaining games, they are in oblivion, dropping to 23rd or so in the PairWise based on potential RPI. Had Harvard won Monday, it would still be on the bubble (17th) and would have a chance with some wins in the ECAC tournament.

So, yes, the Beanpot consolation game is boring and means nothing in the grand scheme of the tournament.

But if Harvard bubbles in the NCAA tournament, look back to this snowy Monday where Harvard was outplayed and lost bad and may have hurt its NCAA hopes.