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On College Hockey

BC gets bragging rights - for now

By John Powers
February 14, 2012
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This is the only way this hockey game could have ended, on the last rush of overtime with the first-line center scoring the only even-strength goal of the night. If this most stirring of Beanpot finals between the city’s two tribal rivals had gone on much longer, coaches Jerry York and Jack Parker would have had to pull on their old game jerseys over a suit of armor and settle it medieval-style at center ice.

“People have been saying the last couple of years, has the Beanpot lost its luster,’’ York mused after his Boston College varsity had subdued Boston University, 3-2, on Bill Arnold’s wrister with 6.4 seconds on the clock. “This was a statement.’’

It was more like the scream of an Eagle. Not since York was a sophomore in 1965 had BC won three of these silver cooking utensils in a row. Now, the folks from The Heights have done it again and they rightfully can claim that they own the town.

Not by much, mind you. Each of those three victories was by one goal and two of them in overtime. But each one ended with a maroon-and-gold pig-pile on the Garden floor. That was no coincidence. “Every year is fresh and it’s new,’’ York said. “We didn’t win it this year because we won last year.’’

The Eagles won it because they did something nobody had done all year - they scored a shorthanded goal on the Terriers to get the jump in the ninth minute. They won it because goalie Parker Milner is very much back on his game.

Mostly, they won it because they kept coming all night, peppering BU goalie Kieran Millan with 47 shots, most notably the final one that Arnold took when most of the fans were starting to head for the concession stand and some black coffee. “That was playoff hockey at its best,’’ declared BU captain Chris Connolly. “The kind of game you play in March and April.’’

Odds are that both squads still will be playing once spring has sprung. Entering last night’s game, BU was second in the PairWise rankings and BC was tied for fourth. Both of them figure to make the NCAA Tournament, which hasn’t happened in five years, and both could earn a top seed. First, though, they have to play a half-dozen Hockey East games just to figure out who’ll play whom and where.

“Neither one of us is in first place in our league,’’ observed Parker, whose club is tied with BC for second behind UMass-Lowell. “It’s a long way to get to another championship, that’s for sure.’’

For both of these schools, it’s always about April. They love taking a victory lap with the Beanpot and cherish the bragging rights it brings but after having won three of the last four national crowns, BC and BU have become used to more expensive hardware. What they’re hoping is that last night’s stirring showdown is a preview of coming attractions.

For the Eagles, it was a nostalgic throwback to a time when they ruled the roost hereabouts. That 1965 team had John Cunniff as top gun and Snooks Kelley dropping R’s behind the dasher and it went all the way to the national championship game. That was the Last Hurrah on the Heights. BU took over the next year and built an extraordinary dynasty that spanned generations.

It seems unimaginable now but between 1965 and 1994, BC won only two Beanpots. The Eagles since have made the tournament an extension of their season series - last night was their 41st Monday meeting with BU and their 21st for the title. It was the ninth straight time the rivals have played a one-goal game in the Beanpot and the fifth time that they’d gone to overtime.

As always, it came down to one shot. Had the Terriers made it, they would have won exactly half of the 60 tournaments. But second place brings no joy at their end of Commonwealth Avenue. “You don’t take anything out of this except a loss,’’ said Parker.

But the Terriers made a statement here, too. They played much of the evening as though they had a death wish - giving up the shorthander, handing BC two five-on-threes in the second, Connolly taking a 10-minute misconduct. And yet, they were one bounce from a restoration. “BU could have won just as easy,’’ acknowledged York. “I’m very astute about that.’’

The Eagles and Terriers have split four games now and they could end up playing six. After two years off the national stage, BU has its old snarl back, which made last night’s showdown all the more invigorating and left the street-corner faithful hoping that the past will be prelude yet again.

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.

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