Youth clashes with experience in 68th Beanpot final

Patrick Curry vs. Northeastern at TD Garden in 2019 Hockey East semifinals. Photo by Emily Hunter.

Last year, youth paid off for Northeastern during the Beanpot semifinals against BU with then-freshman forward Tyler Madden scoring the overtime-winner and sophomore goaltender Cayden Primeau stopping 33 of 34 shots to defeat the Terriers.

This year, BU freshman netminder Ashton Abel stopped 37 shots (unofficially), freshman forward Robert Mastrosimone scored a goal late in regulation to give the Terriers the lead and freshman forward Wilmer Skoog scored the double-overtime game-winner against fifth-ranked Boston College to lift BU to the Beanpot finals, where they will meet the No. 13/12 Huskies (15-8-2, 8-7-1 HEA) once again.

In the 68th year of the tournament, the Beanpot is steeped with tradition, as are the four schools in the tournament – BU, BC, Northeastern and Harvard – and sometimes, it is the Beanpot’s newest participants that have the biggest hand in adding to the tradition. Whether it is Madden and Primeau last year, Skoog and Co. this season, or even Harvard senior captain Nathan Krusko, who earned Beanpot MVP in 2017 as a freshman, underclassmen can prove to be some of the Beanpot’s brightest stars.

The Terriers  (10-9-7, 7-5-5 HEA) had a blend of youth and veteran experience get them past BC last Monday, but junior defenseman and assistant captain Cam Crotty knows his group cannot focus on past performances, nor opponents.

 “We don’t really care what team we’re playing, if we come and play our ‘A’ game and our players are going the way they should, it’s really tough for us to lose games,” Crotty said.

“We just need our best players to be our best players,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said.

On Dec. 7 in the final game before the semester break, the Terriers defeated the Huskies, 6-3, at Agganis Arena, but O’Connell is not putting much stock in the teams’ first meeting of the season.

“They were coming back from [the Friendship Four in] Northern Ireland, and we were at home,” O’Connell said. “They’re a lot better team now, and we’re a lot better team than what we were then.”

Not only are the Terriers better, according to O’Connell, but they are also nearly a completely different team as well. As midseason additions over the break, Abel and Skoog were not even on the roster, and junior forward and assistant captain Logan Cockerill was out with injury when BU and Northeastern first met this season.

“We played well against [Northeastern] in the first half, and we’ve had great games against them in the past,” Crotty added. “I think it just comes down to being disciplined.

“Northeastern’s a really good team. It’ll be a test for us, but we’ve handled them before – we’ve just got to do it again.”

For the first time ever, BU and Northeastern are meeting in the Beanpot championship in both the men’s and women’s tournaments in the same season. Crotty recognizes the opportunity ahead of both squads.

“We were actually talking about [what it would be like for both the men and women to win] – I think that would be crazy,” Crotty said. “I think if we got that opportunity to both bring it home, it would be pretty special for this school and for both teams.”

Unlike BU’s women’s team, who are defending their Beanpot title from last year, the upperclassmen on O’Connell’s squad do not know the feeling of winning the Beanpot, with the seniors having made it to two fruitless Beanpot finals in a row (2017 and 2018). Crotty and his fellow upperclassmen have been trying to keep the group focused on the task at hand, coming off of the semifinals and heading into Monday night.

“Sometimes it’s hard as a young guy to have that desperation, knowing you have another go at it, and the seniors have their last shot at the Beanpot, ever,” Crotty said. “Between periods and before the game [last Monday], we were emphasizing ‘if you can’t play for yourself, play for the [seniors]’ because they’re never going to get another chance.

“It means a lot to them, and it really shows on the ice. We’re just going to follow them and try to get that ‘W’ for them.”

Two veterans who could make a difference for BU are senior forward and assistant captain Patrick Harper and junior defenseman David Farrance. The team-leader in points, Farrance (12-20-32) got BU’s comeback started on Monday before Harper (12-19-31) tied things up for the Terriers.

Through seven appearances between the pipes, Abel holds a 3-2-2 record with one shutout, a .911 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average.

For Northeastern, Madden is pacing the team offensively with 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points in 25 games. Senior assistant captain Zach Solow (12-15-27) and senior captain Ryan Shea (4-21-25) are both scoring at a point-per-game clip.

In goal, graduate transfer Craig Pantano boasts a 15-8-2 record with one shutout, a .915 save percentage, and 2.42 GAA in 25 starts.

Contrary to BU’s path to success last Monday, it was the veterans who stepped on for the Huskies in their semifinal matchup against Harvard. Solow tied the game up for Northeastern in the first period, graduate transfer Brendan Van Riemsdyk scored the game-winner in the second period, and Shea added insurance with the empty-netter late in regulation on top of 27 saves for Pantano in the 3-1 win.

Taking on an older team, Mastrosimone feels an extra buzz among the young Terriers and thinks the team can use the added energy as an advantage.

“I think [last Monday] was a huge win for us against a good team in BC,” Mastrosimone said. “I think we can use all the momentum.

“I think after [last Monday] was obviously crazy. There was so much energy and it was so electric [in the room]. You can feel the energy”

Freshman forward Sam Stevens ended Monday’s semifinal contest centering the second line between Cockerill senior forward and captain Patrick Curry after starting on the fourth line. Heading into the championship, Stevens is ready to help his team however he can.

“At the end of the day it’s what the team needs from you,” Stevens said. “We’re just trying to do whatever we can to help the team, whether they need you on the first line or fourth line.”

With as young of a team as BU is this season, Stevens knows the underclassmen cannot afford to let the moment become too big for them.

“It would be easy to count us out because of how young we are, but we’re just trying to be mature and go about our business,” Stevens said.  “At the end of the day, it’s another hockey game – three 20-minute periods and whoever wins, wins. It’s a championship game obviously, so [there’s] just a little more to it.”

The Terriers last won the Beanpot, the program’s 30th, in 2015 when now-Boston Bruins and former BU captain Matt Grzlecyk scored the overtime winner against Northeastern. Puck-drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at TD Garden.