USCHO GAME OF THE WEEK: Annual Beanpot tournament ‘great for New England hockey and college hockey in general’

- The Boston College Eagles defeated the Northeastern University Huskies 6-3 for their fourth consecutive Beanpot championship on Monday, February 11, 2013, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
The battle for the Beanpot starts tonight at TD Garden (photo:

When Boston College’s Alex Tuch scored at 1:57 of overtime on Feb. 8, 2016, his Eagles team won their sixth Beanpot in seven years, beating archrival Boston University.

That marked the 24th straight year that either Boston College or Boston University captured the championship in Boston’s annual four-team tournament.

The greatest odds makers in the world wouldn’t take a bet that for 24 straight seasons, only two teams would win a four-team tournament, but that’s exactly what happened.

That evening marked the second consecutive year that the Beanpot championship game was not a sellout.

Traditionally, 17,565 was the listed attendance for every single Beanpot night since the tournament moved from the old Boston Garden to the current TD Garden venue in 1996.

It was somewhat clear that the Beanpot, with the dominance of Boston University and Boston College, was beginning to lose its luster. Once thought of as the social event of the college hockey calendar in Boston, many fans made the Beanpot an afterthought.

But since that second Monday in Feb. 2016, the face of the Beanpot has changed significantly.

One year later, Harvard won the title with a 6-3 over Boston University. The Crimson qualified for the Frozen Four later that year.

In 2018, Northeastern cracked the longest title drought in tournament history when it beat BU 5-2, hoisting the trophy for the first time since 1988. Last year, the Huskies repeated the feat with a 4-2 win over Boston College.

This year’s Beanpot semifinals kick off with Northeastern-Harvard tonight at 5 p.m., followed by Boston College-Boston University at 8 p.m. The consolation game is next Monday, Feb. 10, at 4:30 p.m., with the championship game that same night at 7:30 p.m.

To say the Beanpot is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance might be an understatement.

“It’s great for New England hockey and college hockey in general that all four [Beanpot] programs are coming on strong,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “There’s been years where two of [the teams] were strong, or three were strong, or sometimes just one was strong. But the last couple of years, boy, between Northeastern, Harvard, BC and BU there’s been some outstanding programs.

“It bodes well for the lore of the Beanpot.”

Northeastern’s ability to win back-to-back over the last two years has maybe been the biggest injection that the tournament needed. Prior to 2018, when Adam Gaudette’s hat trick ended the Huskies 30-year title drought, Northeastern won the title just four times – all between the years of 1980 and 1988.

While Northeastern’s student section has been one of the strongest of the tournament, even during NU’s drought, the ability to watch those few thousand co-eds celebrate was enjoyable for most anyone except their opponent.

“I think up until three years ago, [Harvard coach] Teddy [Donato] and us had to do our share to make this thing more relevant, make the outcome less predictable. With the two of us, having won it over the last couple of years, fans feel the excitement a little more. The Beanpot always carries excitement and enthusiasm, but now people come in knowing any of the four schools can win this event.

“For our juniors and seniors, because it had been 30 years since we had won it, it’s been very special. Two years ago, it was special because we broke the curse and last year was special because it was back to back and we had only one other team that won it back-to-back.

As Northeastern leads this renaissance for the Beanpot, similar to how it did in the 1980s, the actual makeup of the roster have changed significantly when it comes to recruiting local players.

In 1979-80, in fact, Northeastern’s top five scorers were all Canadians, including the man they nicknamed “Beanpot”, Wayne Turner, whose overtime goal against Boston College in gave the Huskies their first title in 1980. At that time, almost the entire Boston College lineup and a healthy part of both Boston University and Harvard were made up of local players, kids who grew up in Massachusetts watching the Beanpot.

Today, that number has nearly inverted.

This year’s Northeastern team has 14 Massachusetts-born players, one less than the combined number of Massachusetts players on the Boston College, Boston University and Harvard rosters combined.

“The kids grow up going to this tournament, watching this tournament,” said Madigan. “So it’s more special for them to win.”

While both Northeastern’s and Harvard’s recent success has been excellent for the tournament, it wasn’t enough to maintain a long-standing tradition of allowing the defending champion to play in the second semifinal on the opening Monday.

Not surprisingly, that second game is generally the scene of great atmosphere at the TD Garden as many fans from the opening semifinal stick around for the start and, combined with the crowds of the two teams playing in the late game create a truly unmatched atmosphere for a college hockey tournament.

This, though, would have been the first time in more than 30 years that said late game would feature Northeastern and Harvard and tournament organizers decided to move the Boston College-Boston University game into that slot to help bolster the television ratings.

Madigan, whose team is getting passed over, approached the topic with a smile and a positive outlook.

“The unwritten rule was that the team who wins it has the ability to be in [the second semifinal] the next year,” said Madigan. “I certainly understand the Garden and the Beanpot committee wanting BC-BU in the feature game.

“It is what it is. For us, by the time the middle of the first game rolls around, the building is full, the excitement is there. We’re home earlier and we have a game on the road later that week. It gets us more into our routine.

“Would be rather play the 8 o’clock game? Absolutely. But we’ll do what we have to.”

If that results in a third straight title for the Huskies, who are they to complain?