It's what Boston sports fans come to expect in the post-holiday winter weeks of recent years. The Patriots make a postseason run, David Ortiz complains about his contract status, and the Boston College men's hockey team enters as the favorite to capture the Beanpot.
The 62d annual Beanpot kicks off tonight, and the Eagles (19-4-3) are looking to win their fifth in a row, and sixth of the last seven years. Ranked No. 2 in the country, BC has not lost since a stunning 5-4 upset at home against Holy Cross on Nov. 29.
"We're really excited with our season so far," said BC captain Patrick Brown. "We're still hungry though. We're trying to get better every day."
After the loss to the Crusaders, coach Jerry York decided to place Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, and Kevin Hayes on the first line, and the Eagles went 11-0-1 through December and January. The trio has combined for 27 goals and 41 assists (68 points) and a +56 plus/minus rating over the last two months.
"Jerry ruined it for everybody by putting all three of them together," Boston University coach David Quinn joked last week.
While BC might be the hottest team in the nation the last two months, BU, the Eagles' opponent Monday night, has gone 1-8-2 over the same stretch.
"I give the guys a lot of credit. It's not easy to stay upbeat during those times, but they've manged to do so," said Quinn, pointing to the leadership of his captains, senior defensemen Garrett Noonan and Patrick MacGregor.
It's Quinn's first year at the helm for the Terriers after taking over for legendary coach Jack Parker. Quinn did a bit of housecleaning, which meant plenty of changes to the roster.
"We have nine freshmen in the lineup every night, and they're young freshmen. They're not 20 years old, they're 18 years old," said Quinn.
Still, BU (8-14-3) has shown signs of improvement. The Terriers went into Conte Forum two weeks ago and played the Eagles tough before losing, 6-4.
"We're hoping to use this as a springboard for the second half of the year," Noonan said.
Harvard (6-11-3) is taking a similar approach in the first matchup of the evening, where the opponent will be the 10th-ranked Northeastern Huskies. The Crimson had only one win through December, and most of January, but added a 3-2 win last Friday night against Princeton to close out the month.
"We've been tested with some stiff competition the last few weeks in our league," said Harvard captain Dan Ford. "We feel confident that our best hockey is ahead of us."
Much like BU, Harvard is also young, with 10 of the 12 forwards who play most nights being freshmen and sophomores. Eight of Harvard's 11 losses have been by one goal.
"We've been so close," said Harvard coach Ted Donato. "We probably played our best game of the year last week at Union."
Harvard scored first, but the 4th-ranked Dutchmen settled down and eventually came away with the 4-3 win.
"We're still learning how to win," said Donato. "It hasn't shown up in wins and losses. We've had a bunch of one-goal losses in our last few weeks. We've made some major mistakes that have cost us, but I do think that this team is capable of getting over the top in one-goal games."
In his 10 seasons as head coach, Donato has never won the Beanpot, and has only advanced to the championship game once, a thrilling 6-5 overtime loss to eventual national champion Boston College in 2008. He acknowledged last week that some alumni might be getting impatient with the team's lack of success in the tournament.
"It's not a lot of fun to sit on the second Monday night and not be playing in the championship game," said Donato. "You see the crowd and the coverage. You go home and watch the replays of the game. As a coach, it's something I want our players to experience. For our university I want us to win. We want to get this turned around."
One team that has appeared to turn it around is Northeastern. The Huskies are 15-8-3 and find themselves trailing only BC in the Hockey East standings.
"We're thrilled with our start and where we're at, but we certainly know that there's a long way to go," said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. "We're taking it one game at a time. That's been our approach all season long. The season really begins now, from the Beanpot on. Our guys have been focused on that. This tournament has a uniqueness to it."
Whereas the Huskies have flown under the radar in recent years, this year's squad won't be sneaking up on the competition. Offensively, they are paced by sophomore Kevin Roy, the MVP of last year's Beanpot in a losing effort, as well as linemates John Stevens and Braden Pimm
"Every team's got a real good chance to win this tournament," said Madigan. "A lot of times the so-called favorite doesn't win because everyone brings their A game."
This may be true, and tonight's games should be competitive, but if both NU and BC prevail, it would mean a matchup of two teams ranked in the top 10, and the third time in the last four years the two schools meet in the championship.
(All games at TD Garden)
Monday, Feb. 3
Northeastern vs. Harvard, 5 p.m.
Boston University vs. Boston College, 8 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 10
Consolation game, 4:30 p.m.
Championship, 7:30 p.m.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell