UPDATE: Northeastern beat BU 4-3 in overtime to win the Beanpot final.
Monday night’s Beanpot hockey tournament final features Boston University—a school loaded with talent, including college hockey’s best player—against Northeastern University, a school that was long the also-ran in Boston’s hotly contested annual tournament but is now enjoying its sixth straight appearance in the final.
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The Beanpot is an annual mid-winter tilt between Boston’s four most prominent ice hockey programs: Boston College, BU, Harvard University and Northeastern. Though technically an exhibition, the games are hotly contested on the home ice of the NHL’s Bruins, which will see another sold-out room of 17,565 for tonight’s final.
“I don’t care what kind of a year you had. If you had an average or poor year everyone thought you were great if you won the Beanpot,” longtime Harvard coach Bill Cleary said in a 2003 documentary on the tournament.
Beyond local bragging rights, winning the Beanpot is the first step in winning the national championship—none of the schools have won a national championship without first winning the Beanpot. (Northeastern has never won a national title, while BC won one before the first Beanpot in 1952).
Most optimistic for a run to the Frozen Four is BU, which is ranked third in the nation and boasts 14 NHL draft picks on its roster. But the best player on the ice hasn’t even been old enough to enter the NHL draft: Macklin Celebrini, a 17-year-old Canadian center for the Terriers. Last year in the USHL, Celebrini had what is considered the greatest season there ever by a 16-year-old, running up 86 points. This season, the college freshman has scored 22 goals and tallied 19 assists, helping BU upset archrival BC in last week’s opening round by netting two goals.
Celebrini, whose father Rick is strength and conditioning coach for the Golden State Warriors, is a near-lock to be taken first in this June’s draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s expected to be a dominant point-producing center in the NHL. The only negative an early draft preview on Canadian TV could muster of Celebrini is that he isn’t Conor McDavid-level great.
On the other side of the bench is Northeastern. Playing .500 hockey this season, NU is unranked in the polls. Its eight—mostly late-round—NHL draft picks pale compared to BU’s 14. But the Huskies are in their sixth straight Beanpot final after having won just four titles between 1952 and 2018. NU has won the Beanpot four of the past five years, including besting Harvard last year. Despite the mediocre record in conference play, NU is an improving squad, recently beating sixth-ranked Maine and, to end January, BU.
The 4:30 p.m. consolation game offers a little bit of drama too. Top-ranked Boston College faces an underperforming Harvard team that ranks near the bottom of Division I hockey this season despite the 11 NHL picks on its roster. It’s not quite a must-win game for BC, which bounced back from losing to BU to dominate 16th-ranked New Hampshire on Friday, but beating Harvard helps its outlook for the postseason—as well as BU’s. In the selection process used by the NCAA to form the 16-team postseason field, wins over non-conference opponents is a major factor, helping both the winning team and its conference mates. The Pairwise rankings, which mimics the NCAA selection process, shows BC ranked first in the nation, which means it would be the top seed close to home in this year’s tournament, when the opening rounds are held in Providence, R.I., Springfield, Mass., Missouri and South Dakota. The Frozen Four will be in Tampa, Fla., in April.
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