NCAA Hockey 101: Beanpot that might have actually mattered

Via Boston College

BOSTON — On Feb. 14, 1993, Harvard won the Beanpot for the 10th and final time.

On that date, exactly sevenplayers in this year's iteration of the Beanpot were actually alive. 

Not one of them was out of diapers. The oldest of them, Boston University's Mike Moran, had just rounded the bend into his Terrible Twos the previous September. For Northeastern and Harvard, the title droughts are now well into their Terrible Twenties. In recent years, the problem has really begun to weigh heavily on both the psyche of those two programs, and the attendance figures at TD Garden.

This was the last chance for the last of a literal generation of hockey players for Northeastern or Harvard to make a dent in a four-team tournament dominated by just two teams. From 1994 to present, Boston College and Boston University have won nine and 13 Beanpots, respectively, and only lost to either Northeastern or Harvard a combined five times in elimination games.

And most of the time, there is at least one punching bag in the field, a team that was guaranteed to get absolutely stomped. Often, there were two. Almost as surely as the sun rose and set, so too did BC and BU meet in the Beanpot final. All but four of the times there could have been a BC/BU final since 1994, there was one. In the tournament's 63-year history, there has never been a Northeastern/Harvard final.

But all that theoretically could have changed this season. For the first time in recent memory, well beyond 1993, all four of Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern entered the Beanpot playing a high-quality brand of hockey:

Northeastern might have come into another Beanpot below .500 at just 9-12-4 this year, but six of those wins have come in their last six games, giving them the longest such streak in the nation, and they've lost just once since Nov. 28 (to the BC Eagles back on Dec. 6).

BU enters on a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) and has lost just once since Dec. 12, dropping a road game at, well, Boston College. They were 14-7-4 on the year coming in.

BC came out of the holiday break on a three-game losing streak, but was unbeaten headed into the Beanpot, going 4-0-3 to run their record to 17-4-4 on the season. They have 32 goals in those last seven games.

Harvard had won three of its last four, and is 12-3-4 on the season and scores basically at will, with 73 goals in just 19 games.

And it's not just wins and losses where these teams are performing well these days. Harvard was the “worst” possession team of the bunch, and they're still well into the top half of the country, at 51.5 percent and 23rd of 60 Division 1 teams. Northeastern checked in at 52.7 percent (19th), BC at 54.1 percent (10th), and BU at 56 percent (sixth).

Northeastern, which is receiving votes and therefore technically 24th in the national polls is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament. All of BU, Harvard, and BC are in the nation's Top 9. Those last three are also extremely well-positioned to make the national tournament, with BU the lowest of the group at eighth.

In that way, too, wins here are incredibly important. If BC could get by Harvard on Monday night, it would be their biggest win of the season in terms of beating an actual quality opponent, and vice-versa. Likewise, BU needed to get past Northeastern to further stake its claim as a legitimate national title contender, but with the Huskies playing their best hockey in at least the last few years, a win was anything but assured.

In a very real way, this was actually anyone's Beanpot in the tournament in which it is usually anyone's-but-Harvard-and-Northeastern's Beanpot. But there was a catch: This wasn't one of the every-three-years situations where BC and BU play each other in the first round — that's coming next season — so if Harvard and Northeastern wanted to beat back decades worth of demons, they'd have to do it against their primary tormentors. In the past 60-plus years, Northeastern has lost to BU 32 times out of 40, and Harvard has suffered a similar fate against the Eagles, losing 27 of 40.

And for at least a while in the first game, it looked as though this very good Harvard team might finally have what it takes to advance to the Beanpot final for the first time in two decades: They conceded faster than any team has in this tournament over the last 10 years but also scored on their first two shots, and held a 2-1 lead through the end of the first period.

But then reality set in, BC scored twice on the power play in 4:24 midway through the second, and Harvard shrank from the competition after that. They might as well have just put up a running clock. That's how over it was.

So that was one apparent contender down, and its long-time tyrant advancing. How did things go in the other game?

Take a wild guess.

Through 20 minutes it was 2-0 BU and while Northeastern had earned a few decent looks, none were really bothering goaltender Sean Maguire, another of the lucky seven who were alive for Harvard's last Beanpot title. It wasn't until Northeastern pulled the goalie with more than three minutes to go in the game and answered with a goal from John Stevens shortly thereafter that any life came back into the (mostly empty) building.

And even then, it was short-lived. The Terriers scored into an empty net from their own defensive zone and that was it. Final shots were 34-25, and that was reflective of the way the game was played. Same as it ever was.

The fact that either game devolved into a joyless fait accompli the second the perennial underdog was hit with any sort of adversity, that should tell you everything about the air of resignation currently hanging over this entire so-called tournament.

At least it guarantees an extra BC/BU game every year, though. Those are always good, right?

A somewhat arbitrary ranking of teams which are pretty good in my opinion only (and just for right now but maybe for a little longer too?)

1. Quinnipiac (won at Dartmouth)

2. North Dakota (swept at Western Michigan)

3. Boston College (won at Notre Dame)

4. St. Cloud (beat Minnesota State and Bemidji State to win the North Star College Cup)

5. Michigan (swept at Penn State)

6. UMass Lowell (swept Arizona State)

7. Harvard (beat Princeton)

8. Providence (split a home-and-home with UNH)

9. Harvard (beat Princeton)

10. Boston University (beat Merrimack)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist and also covers the NCAA for College Hockey News. His email is here and his Twitter is here.