The 68th Beanpot tournament begins on Monday, and while the rivalries are a constant, the storylines are anything but.
As he does every year, NESN broadcaster Tom Caron will describe the action from the ninth floor of the TD Garden, and he knows as well as anyone that this tournament is shaping up unlike any of the previous 67.
“For the first time ever, Northeastern and Harvard have won the last three Beanpots,” Caron said at the annual Beanpot luncheon. “That’s never happened, that BU and BC went three years without winning one.”
The previous three years have truly represented a power shift in the Beanpot. Harvard and Northeastern have combined for 17 Beanpot titles in total, compared to 30 for BU and 20 for BC.
With history on their side but recent memory telling otherwise, the Terriers and Eagles are as hungry as ever to get their hands on the historic trophy, BC senior forward and captain David Cotton said.
“These are the games that we really look forward to,” Cotton said.
Round one, taking place on Monday, will feature Cotton and the Eagles taking on the Terriers, skating with the 8 p.m. start time after Northeastern and Harvard face off in the first tournament semifinal just before.
A former BU captain himself, BU head coach Albie O’Connell is no stranger to this tournament. He won the Beanpot in each of his four opportunities as a player, starting a stretch that has seen BU take home the trophy in 13 of the last 25 tournaments.
While he enjoys his role behind the bench, the second-year boss admits he’d rather be out on the ice.
“[The Beanpot] was more exciting as a player, to be honest with you,” O’Connell said with a smile as he’s preparing for his second Beanpot at the helm for BU.
O’Connell was a freshman when the tournament first moved to the TD Garden after 42 years at the Boston Garden. BU holds a 15-10 record against arch-rival Boston College in the TD Garden, and O’Connell said he believes the rivalry has a tendency to create some magic between the two teams.
“It’s nice that we play BC in the first round, because it always brings out the best in both [of us],” O’Connell said.
The longest-tenured head coach among the four Beanpot contenders, BC’s Jerry York, agrees with O’Connell – the quartet’s newest coach – that there’s something special about BU vs. BC.
“When we’re both good, it’s better for college hockey,” York said.
The Terriers have met the Eagles more than any other opponent in the program’s extensive history, with the most recent clash coming less than two weeks ago at Conte Forum. The Eagles took the 4-3 victory in a back-and-forth affair, and BU graduate forward Alex Brink says the Terriers will be seeking revenge on Monday.
“If anything, I think [BC] should be more worried about us playing them a second time,” Brink said, “and maybe having a little more intensity and fire to beat them.”
Brink is the oldest player on the youngest team at the tournament. But while he and grad goaltender Sam Tucker are the team’s veterans in terms of age, they will both be competing in this tournament for the first time, having only arrived in Boston this past offseason.
Amidst his final semester of college hockey, Tucker, a former Yale goaltender, is embracing the opportunity to chase such a historic trophy for his first and only time as a Terrier.
“I think we’re just trying to enjoy the experience and take it one day at a time,” Tucker said. “With a tournament like this that has so much tradition … we’re really excited.”
Spearheading the team’s leadership group, senior forward and captain Patrick Curry remembers last year’s 2-1 overtime loss against Northeastern in the Beanpot semifinals, forcing BU to miss the championship game for the first time in five years.
In order to get back to the tournament final, the four-year veteran said his teammates need to control their nerves and stay in the moment.
“Obviously in these games there are a lot of distractions,” Curry said. “It gets pretty hectic in there and sometimes you can let your emotions get the best of you.”
The Terriers, whose largest class is their 13 freshmen, have struggled with consistency this season, but recent results may suggest that they are peaking at just the right time. BU beat and tied No. 12 University of Massachusetts Lowell last weekend, while BC dropped two contests to Maine at home, both of which were decided in overtime.
Entering a critical stretch, O’Connell likes where his Terriers are both in terms of health and recent form.
“We’ve been getting healthier,” O’Connell said. “It seems like each week we get better and better.”
On the other hand, BC has impressed all season, thanks in part to a Hockey East-leading 3.77 goals per game and freshman goaltender Spencer Knight’s 2.04 goals-against average, which ranks seventh in the nation. For BU, freshman goaltender Ashton Abel has posted a goals-against average mark of 1.58 through four appearances since arriving as a midseason addition, and the offense has put up the country’s fifth-most goals per game since December.
For Tom Caron up in the broadcast booth, it isn’t easy to pick a favorite between these two teams trending in similar directions.
“I think BU’s going to be a tough draw,” Caron said. “BC’s one of the best teams in the nation, so they’ll have their hands full.”
Puck drop for the 281st edition of BU vs. BC is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3, but the start time could be delayed if the prior semifinal goes into overtime. The game will be televised on NESN and NHL Network, and the Boston Hockey Blog will have coverage throughout the game on its live blog, which can be accessed through hockey.dailyfreepress.com or @BOShockeyblog on Twitter.