Tonight’s opening faceoff can’t come any sooner for John McCarthy.’
Memories of last Feb. 4 still haunt the senior co-captain of the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team, a group that has taken home every piece of hardware available to it this season. Vanquishing the University of North Dakota and Michigan State University to capture the season-opening Ice Breaker Invitational? Check. Knocking off the University of Denver on its home rink to skate away with the Wells Fargo Denver Cup? Mission accomplished.’
But starting tonight, playing in its final and most crucial in-season tournament of 2008-09, the stakes have never been higher for BU. What some might deem a pair of insignificant non-league games in early February mean so much more to these Terriers (19-5-1), who open up the 57th Annual Beanpot Tournament tonight at 5 p.m. against Harvard University (5-11-4) at TD Banknorth Garden.
For the 46-time finalists and 28-time champions of Boston’s crown jewel of a college hockey tournament, last year’s first-round exit stung with the shame and embarrassment that usually accompany a season-ending loss. Why? Because BU slipping up in the Beanpot simply doesn’t compute in the eyes of history.
For better or worse, this tournament has belonged to the Terriers over the course of time. In essence, they have authored a body of work so dominant that it’s created an almost unreasonable level of expectation that follows them into each and every ‘Pot.
‘It wasn’t a good feeling playing in that consolation game last year,’ McCarthy said in reference to BU’s third-place victory over Northeastern University last Feb. 11. ‘It’s a little bit of extra motivation this year because we don’t want to go back there.’
Following a one-year hiatus from championship contention, BU is chomping at the bit to right the ship and add another trophy to what has already become one of the most memorable seasons on Commonwealth Avenue in quite some time.
Extra motivation is never necessary for the Beanpot, but if BU was ever in need of some added incentive, it can think back to images of Boston College’s Nathan Gerbe celebrating his game-winning goal in overtime to end last year’s first-round thriller.
‘I don’t think there’s any question that it was just another aspect of a bad season for us last year that we didn’t get to the Beanpot final,’ BU coach Jack Parker, who became the third member of college hockey’s 800-win club Friday night, said. ‘Forget the fact that we didn’t win the Beanpot, but we had only been out of the Beanpot final like three times in 48 years. That’s a legacy these guys don’t want to have happen twice in a row, that’s for sure.’
Standing in the way of BU’s return to the title game? Not defending ‘Pot champion BC, nor the upstart Northeastern team that has caught the college hockey world by storm this season. The Terriers’ first-round foe is none other than Harvard, the tournament’s heavy underdog that, at least on paper, appears woefully out of place considering the otherwise vaunted field.’ ‘
Given the Crimson’s less-than-stellar overall record, 0-5-0 mark in non-conference bouts and the absence of standout goaltender Kyle Richter (2.19 goals-against average, .923 save percentage in 2007-08), who is sitting out this season for personal reasons, it would be rather easy for the Terriers to overlook a speedy Harvard squad that has little to lose playing the role of giant killers.
‘Everybody will be surprised when we get out there Monday night at the pace of the game, and it won’t just be BU,’ Parker said. ‘We’re going to have to work our butts off to stay with them because they can skate and they can get after people.’
Factors such as the Terriers’ unblemished non-conference record (7-0-0) and an unwavering game-to-game focus that has become their trademark, however, suggest BU will treat tonight’s contest with the same reverence it does each and every other.
And if by some chance his Terriers come up short on the scoreboard tonight, it’s a safe bet Parker won’t be pointing to a lack of effort from his even-keeled club.
‘Our job is to win games, and if the next game is the Beanpot, let’s see if we can win that,’ Parker said. ‘But let’s not make that the end-all, be-all either way. You can’t get too high or too low.’