Columnists, Ice Hockey, Sports

HAYES: Beanpot loss a sign of parity

There are few events on the Boston sports calendar that have more local significance than the Beanpot. Nothing is quite like the annual showdown between the four premier hockey schools that dot the Greater Boston area.

Two weeks ago, if you asked any fan of Boston University men’s hockey how the team would fare in this year’s edition of the tournament, last place probably would not be their answer. Third seemed like the favorite, given the Terriers’ first round match-up with the flaming hot No. 1 Boston College Eagles. First or second were also decent possibilities, albeit a bit less likely. But last? There was no way BU would finish last place in the Beanpot. That would mean losing to Harvard University or Northeastern University, and Terrier Hockey does not lose to Harvard or Northeastern.

On Monday, however, that is where we found ourselves: the undeniable losers of the Beanpot. After battling BC into overtime in the first round, we were then outplayed in every way possible by the atrocity that is the Harvard men’s hockey team. For the first time since 1980, the Terriers earned fourth place in the venerable tournament.

We all know BU’s extensive history at the Beanpot. Since the tournament was started in 1952, and in the 59 editions that have come since then, the Terriers have utterly dominated the field, winning 29 titles – 14 more than BC, and far more than the two other schools involved. If you don’t think that’s something to be proud of, you have no right donning the Scarlet and White.

Before this year’s edition, however, BU men’s hockey coach Jack Parker made an interesting statement. Speaking on the history of the tournament, the three-time NCAA Coach of the Year said to The Daily Free Press, “I do think BU in particular and BU and BC together have won the Beanpot too many times. There’s too much of a drought for Northeastern and Harvard.”

In 59 years, the Crimson and the Huskies have won a combined total of 15 times. In the past 18 years, that number has been zero. The last win for the team from Cambridge came in 1993, when they snagged a 4-2 victory over BU in the final. Northeastern has not won since 1988, when they also crushed BU, by a larger margin of 6-3.

Since that last Crimson win, the Beanpot has just switched hands between the two teams on the B Line, never venturing across the waters of the Charles or through the swamps of the Fens.
For the tournament as a whole, that is not a good thing. Success in the long term depends on parity between all four teams, not dominance by one team and the occasional threat from another. This needs to be, as Parker said, more about all four teams.

This year, for the first time in a while, it ended up being about four teams. Part of this may be thanks to the schedule, which pitted BU against BC in the first round, meaning either Harvard or Northeastern would make it to the championship by default. At the same time, however, hockey fans were treated to three excellent games, including above-par performances by the perennial underachievers.

Northeastern managed to keep Monday evening’s championship game tight, right through a quarter of overtime, until Jimmy Hayes (a man who, frankly, brings down my family name) scored to bring the pot back to Chestnut Hill. Even after NU coach Greg Cronin made outlandish statements about what the police would have to do on the campus of his university if the Huskies were to win, and displayed an almost extreme level of confidence in his team, it still seemed insane to think they would be able to play toe to toe with the best team in the country. This is Northeastern, after all. They aren’t that good at hockey. But somehow, they pulled it off.

The 7-6 thriller was just as exciting as the Eagles’ overtime victory against the Terriers in the first round the week prior. Were it not for BU defenseman Ryan Ruikka’s idiotic, moronic and plain foolish check just minutes into the extra time, that game could have lasted much longer, and maybe even led to a BU win. Either way, that BU-BC game on Feb. 7 was rightfully described by all who witnessed it as an instant classic.

Even the consolation game was something to write home about. Sure, the Terriers played as if they had never touched the ice before, and were afraid to play defense more than an NBA all-star team, but they were in the hunt for third right up until the final five minutes on Monday. In the end, they collapsed, but at least there was some parity brought to an event desperately in need of it.

To paraphrase what Jack Parker said, the Beanpot has become too much about BU and BC, which shouldn’t be its purpose. Instead, it should be an actual tournament between all four schools, as exciting and unpredictable as possible. This year’s edition certainly brought us much closer to that ideal, but there is still a way to go.

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