The No. 2/3 Boston University men’s hockey team knows how big this one is. When it takes the ice at TD Garden for the first round of the 63rd annual Beanpot Tournament on Tuesday, it has all the determination it needs. Though normally slated for the first two Mondays in February, the first round of the tournament was postponed a day because of impending snow.
BU (16-4-4, 11-2-2 Hockey East) hasn’t lifted the trophy since 2009 and hasn’t made a trip to the championship game since 2012, when its current seniors were freshmen.
“I’d say it’s hard not to be [focused],” said senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues. “Obviously, we haven’t had the best record in the Beanpot the past couple years, and I think our whole team is hungry, especially with the season we’ve had.”
BU is in its best position entering the Beanpot week in years. For the first time since the 1997-98 season, the Terriers enter the Beanpot preliminary with fewer than five losses on the season. But it will face the challenge of a treacherous No. 4/6 Harvard University squad, which the Terriers have not knocked off since Feb. 6, 2012.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t a little bit confident.
“All the boys know that we haven’t beat Harvard in two to three years, so it should be time now,” said junior forward Ahti Oksanen.
Harvard (12-5-2) has not taken home a Beanpot title since 1993. In fact, the trophy has solely belonged to Commonwealth Avenue, as a team besides Boston College or Boston University has not won the Beanpot since the Crimson last did so.
“Obviously some schools have had more success than others, but every year brings a completely different challenge,” said BU coach David Quinn. “The past and the history don’t really have any implications on what’s going to happen [Tuesday] night.”
Harvard has been plagued with an injury bug as of late, including most recently losing its top defenseman, Patrick McNally, to a lower-body injury. Nonetheless, the Crimson boast the nation’s third-best offense, scoring an average of 3.74 goals per game. Forward Jimmy Vesey ranks 12th in the nation in points with 33 this season, and has 18 goals in 19 games.
Earlier this season, the Terriers suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the Crimson on Nov. 25, 2014. Junior forward Matt Lane and Oksanen scored for the Terriers in that game, but Crimson forward Kyle Criscuolo delivered the final tally with 1:50 left in overtime to beat the Terriers.
“They’ve got an incredible first line. They block a lot of shots. They defend hard. They protect the net front,” Quinn said. “We’re going to have to add a grit element to our game if we’re gonna have success.”
BU has plenty of recent promise on its own team, though. Oksanen is fresh off a hat-trick performance in BU’s 9-5 victory over the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Friday.
Rodrigues, who leads all current Terriers with four Beanpot points (two goals, two assists), is also in the midst of a tear for the Terriers, with a nine-game point streak dating back to Dec. 13, 2014. Against UMass (8-17-1, 3-12-1) on Friday, he tied a program record with six assists. That total propelled him to second place in Hockey East and eighth in the nation in total points this season (34).
Rodrigues, alongside his fellow senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann, is looking finally to hoist the coveted trophy, and college hockey bragging rights, in the final year of his BU career, and said the team is anticipating the matchup.
“We’re a determined bunch right now, and we’re excited for [Tuesday],” Rodrigues said. “It’s going to be a good game, and it’s going to be loud in there … and the freshmen will have a great time playing their first game in the Garden.
“We’ve piled up a lot of wins, but like Quinn’s [been] reiterating throughout the week, wins don’t mean anything. It’s trophies and championships.”