Last Monday night I decided to take in the experience of one of college hockey’s oldest and historic tournaments – The Beanpot. In my lifetime of playing, scouting, and spectating I have certainly seen my fair share of NCAA action. Many of the rinks in which I have been a part of the action possess great history like Lynah, Ingalls, Alfond, Appleton, and even Boston University’s rink of the past in Walter Brown Arena or Clarkson’s former home of Walker Arena. The beauty of college hockey, each facility is unique with its own culture and rich traditions. Even though the games are played upon the home ice of the Boston Bruins, you would have never known for the night cap game.
So when the opportunity came to visit TD Garden for championship Monday in February it was a no brainer. No more would I decline the invite.
So early Monday morning I rolled out of town and headed east down I-90 with my son. Even though he was well aware of the 6-plus hour trek, this pee wee will watch pretty much any hockey game live or on television. When he realized the game we were going to view was the Beanpot, it could have been a 16-hour ride, he didn’t care. After all it was another chance to see “Johnny Hockey” in action again.
It was a smooth ride to the North Shore and we were well on time. We headed away from downtown as a college teammate of mine was gracious enough to offer his hospitality for the night. Plus it gave my son the chance to experience the commuter rail of Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. Just like players were accustomed to doing during the Jerry York playing days – public transportation.
As the train rolled into the North Station it left us with just a 100 yard walk to the event’s site. The consolation match-up pitted Boston University (Hockey East) versus their cross Charles River opponent from Cambridge in Harvard University (ECAC). Having a game on the first day of the work week in late afternoon does not make much to encourage attendance records. It also does not help the cause that both teams are sub-.500 clubs. Regardless it was good time to sprawl out and enjoy some draft prospects and free agent talent.
Then it was almost time for the main event. But just prior entering in our seats at center ice for the championship between the #1 ranked Boston College Eagles and inter-conference foe, Northeastern Huskies, I ran into an old friend.
If anybody knows anything about the hockey world is that it’s a small world. So some 400 miles away from home in the hallway of TD Garden an old prep school teammate in soccer and hockey was there in front of me. He, himself, is a former collegiate player at Yale during the Tim Taylor days. After quickly reminiscing about our own glory days, it was time for puck drop.
Right from the get-go the action was high paced as each team displayed their speed and crisp tape-to-tape passes in creating scoring opportunities. From point blank shots to break-a-way chances the game brought high intensity.
To be honest, at first I wasn’t quite sure how the college hockey experience would amount. Especially after seeing seeing so many black and yellow seats just hours prior. But it did not take long for the pep bands to engage and the student sections located in the upper bowl to show their presence. In fact the lady seating in front of me with her husband was far from being entertained from the great hockey action in front of her face, rather she gained excitement from the vocal BC and Northeastern faithful.
“Jesus Loves Us!” was ringing aloud by the supporters from Chestnut Hill in response to their counterpart’s rant of “Sunday School!” For a second I had to think and remember that I was indeed at a hockey game and not chapel.
This 62nd edition was regaling with its product both on and off the ice. Each team gave their fans something to get excited about whether it was a show stopping save by Northeastern’s Sr. goalie, Clay Witt or by BC’s rookie and 2014 NHL Draft Prospect net minder, Thatcher Demko.
The crowd was a sellout. They were loud and engaging. The seconds were ticking down in the 3rd period as the teams were all squared away at 1-1. Boston College was striving for its fifth title in a row and has recently started to put a dent into Boston University’s overall trophy lead. On the flip side the NU Huskies were trying to earn hardware that had eluded their program since 1988.
Then the play came at 14:30 of the final frame. It was probably the reason why Boston College was triumphant. As Northeastern’s head coach, Jim Madigan, referenced to in his post-game presser, it was doing the little things. The face-off was in Northeastern’s zone and we all know that draws become so critical, especially with the game on the line late.
On this night, BC’s senior captain, Patrick Brown, was up to the task in more ways than one. The confidence, the demeanor, the determination was evident in the 3-time Beanpot champion and Bloomfield Hills, MI native. He won the face-off back to his defenseman; the Eagles gained possession and kept possession. The puck eventually came back to the point on Isaac MacLeod’s stick. The senior assistant captain made a crafty stutter step freezing the defending shot blocker and then fired a shot intentionally wide. Then Brown’s time came who has earned every shift in his 4-year collegiate career, undrafted, and the leader for a reason. His pure effort and willingness to battle out front allowed him the opportunity to re-direct the shot as he was falling to the ice and the puck slipped 5-hole for the game-winning goal.
The masses erupted inside the arena and Brown capped his night off with another tally minutes later on a self-made break-a-way going top shelf to cap his conquering night and putting on the exclamation mark. Good teams find a way to win. Boston College is a good team. The Eagles played sound defenively, got big time saves, used their speed, were quick on transition, and capitalized on their opportunities. They executed the little things.
It was a valiant effort by all players and coaches. For a tourney that first began following Christmas in 1952 it truly lived up to its hype. It is what college hockey is all about with its passion and ambiance. It was two great teams and schools battling it out under a boisterous roof. If you are a recruit thinking about competing in the NCAA ranks you are completely sold. The Beanpot is unique, it is historic, and it is awesome.
As my college roommate who grew up in the Boston area used to petition, “If you ain’t livn’ in Beantown, you ain’t livn’!”
Well I may just have one for my long-time friend. “If you ain’t livn’ the Beanpot, you ain’t livn’!”
You can follow Russ Bitely on Twitter for my hockey news, articles, and comments: @russbites