Three Things I Think: Beanpot Edition, February 5, 2013

Posted by: Joe Meloni

In case you missed it, the 61st annual Beanpot kicked off Monday night in the city I call home.

Northeastern defeated Boston University in the tournament for the first time in 25 years. Boston College defeated a fledgling Harvard team without any trouble, receiving a pair of goals from grinder Quinn Smith. The games set up next Monday’s matchups with BU and Harvard playing the consolation game, and Northeastern and BC battling for a Beanpot championship.

The storylines for each club couldn’t be more starkly contrasted. BC is looking for its fourth straight Beanpot title, a feat the program has never accomplished. Northeastern, on the other hand, seeks its first tournament championship since 1988. None of the players on Northeastern’s roster were born the last time the club won the tournament. Despite the dominance of BU and BC in the last two-plus decades, it’s shocking, really, that 25 years could pass without Northeastern winning. The fact that it’s now 20 years without a championship from Harvard is equally astounding.

The “Harvard is all about academics argument” doesn’t hold water in regard to hockey, since its one of the few sports an Ivy League school can still attract top talent in. Similarly, Northeastern’s problems are strange given the improving talent level on St. Botolph Street. Even with their struggles in Hockey East in the last four seasons, the Huskies’ roster features several high-end players.

Watching the two games last night really made the last 20 tournaments even stranger than I already thought they were. There are countless examples of a lesser opponents beating a better team during college hockey’s regular season and even into the regional and national playoffs. Never in the Beanpot, though. BC and Northeastern will play for the tournament championship next Monday, and history tells us the game is in the bag for the Eagles. As does the 9-3 drubbing they handed the Huskies on Jan. 19.

Northeastern coach Jim Madigan, his captain Vinny Saponari and freshman star Kevin Roy — who tallied a hat trick in Monday’s win over BU — unanimously agreed that a quarter decade of failure has nothing to do with next week’s game. They’re right, of course, but a loss would only add to the stigma and frustration for the program and those that follow it.

The Beanpot still matters

BU captain Wade Megan is the most prominent member of the first BU class to graduate without winning the tournament since 1965. After last night’s game, he fought back tears to address the issue. Composing himself just enough to answer questions from them media, Megan expressed his genuine guilt at failing to bring the trophy back to the East End of Commonwealth Avenue.

“I just feel bad for my teammates, my classmates, the school in general, the BU community,” he said. “But we still have a lot of season left. We can’t feel sorry ourselves. We’ll turn the page and move forward.”

The Terriers certainly have a lot left to play for this season. They’re contenders for Hockey East’s regular season and tournament championships, as well as a challenger for the national tournament. Should any of those distinctions come BU’s way, the season will be considered a rousing success. This tournament, though, will always be a sore spot for Megan and his classmates. Years from now, they’ll return to BU as alumni forever part of the Class that Didn’t Win the Beanpot. Senior members of BU’s general student body were equally dismayed after the loss.

Conversely, Northeastern’s small senior class, led by former BU player Vinny Saponari, has a chance to undo 25 years of frustration for alumni, coaches and fans. Even with their struggles in Hockey East — the Huskies are currently in 10th place — all anyone associated with Northeastern hockey can think about right now is next Monday night’s game with BC.

NU coach Jim Madigan now faces the task of preparing his team for a Hockey East game with Massachusetts on Friday before the Beanpot final six days from now. Regardless of NU’s fate in Amherst, a win next Monday would change the perception of the 2012-13 season. That’s the power of the Beanpot. The event is about bragging rights within the city.

For people outside of Boston or those without anything positive to say about the four programs in this city, I understand completely why the tournament is viewed with ambivalence and antipathy. None of that matters, though. Megan wasn’t concerned with that when he spoke so genuinely on Monday night, and Northeastern won’t be should its drought end next Monday.

Chris Rawlings’ legacy at Northeastern gets more confusing every week

Since he arrived at Matthews Arena nearly four years ago, Chris Rawlings has been the No. 1 goaltender for the Huskies. He’s temporarily lost his job more than once, only to regain it and perform well. However, his inconsistency has always returned at some point. Whether it’s his own doing or failure from those in front of him, Rawlings’ has never really emerged as premier collegiate goaltender.

It’s confounding because there’s no denying he’s been brilliant at several stages of his career. On Monday night, he made 32 saves in Northeastern’s 3-2 win over BU. The performance was excellent in a game Northeastern desperately needed to win. Not much has fallen in the Huskies’ favor this season, advancing to the Beanpot final is a positive twist to a frustrating season.

As Rawlings has shown throughout his career, though, there’s no reason to expect the same level of play next Monday against Boston College. He’s certainly capable, but stringing successful appearances together hasn’t been his strong suit. Moreover, the young NU defense hasn’t been particularly reliable on the year either.

On the year, Rawlings’ has a 2.82 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. These are both in range of his career 2.75 and .916 numbers. Again, hardly elite-level statistics. All of that goes away, though, with a tournament-winning performance next Monday night. BC isn’t interested in making Rawlings’ night an easy one, but one more quality outing for the senior would solidify his place in Northeastern hockey history.

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