The Takeaway: BC Reaches Beanpot Final, Dominates Harvard, 4-1

Posted by: Michael King

BOSTON — Defeating Harvard Monday night, 4-1, at the TD Garden, Boston College will play for the Beanpot trophy next week. The Eagles won the second of the tournament’s semifinals. Northeastern defeated Boston University, 3-2, in the evening’s first game, both before a sell-out crowd of 17,565. Sophomore forward Quinn Smith scored twice for the Eagles, which offered an overall dominate defensive performance. In next Monday’s final, the Eagles have an opportunity to win their fourth-consecutive Beanpot title — the first school to earn that achievement since Boston University in the mid-1990s.

What I Saw

During the third period, the sense of comfort among the BC fans in the building was tangible as the Eagles seemed firmly in control (3-0 lead), while giving Harvard little space with which to operate. Danny Biega knocked the deficit to two, launching a slap-shot from the point on a screened Parker Milner mid-way through the stanza. Six minutes later, the Eagles firmly determined the outcome, as Steven Whitney skated from his own blue-line into the Harvard zone and scored on a stoic Crimson defense.

Harvard looked about to be escaping the second period only down one goal, having been vastly outplayed in the frame. With two minutes left, however, Smith scored his second of the game. This time it was a long rebound surrendered by Raphael Girard that the sophomore returned past the goalie. Then, just 44 seconds later, the Eagles converted a power play opportunity as defenseman Michael Matheson launched a one-time shot from the right face-off circle directly into the net.

Inversely, Harvard was the better team for most of the first period, but went into intermission with a one-goal deficit. BC’s third line scored the contest’s first goal after a shot by Patrick Wey was blocked in front by Harvard defensemen, only to have the puck drop in front of the sophomore Smith. The forward deftly handled the puck and put a quick shot past Girard.

What I Thought

During the first two periods, Girard kept Harvard in the game (42 saves). He used his positioning and consistently correct reads of BC passes to make saves. The junior gave his team a chance to win the hockey game, but Girard received little help from his defense and none from the offense. The goalie, however, experienced some bad luck in the game. On the third goal, the puck deflected off Biega’s stick and into the net after Matheson launched a hard, one-time shot. Statistically, the junior has suffered through a difficult year in net, with both goals-against average and save percentage significantly higher than his career averages. But Girard has made the third-most saves of any goalie in the ECAC, which is indicative of the amount of pucks he’s seeing per game and a lack of overall team support.

BC’s form entering the tournament was much discussed before its semifinal match-up with Harvard. The Eagles spent much of the year undoubtedly considered one of the nation’s top teams. BC had lost four of its past six games, including a pair at home to Maine — a team that was in last place in Hockey East at the time. However, there was little doubt among those who closely follow the sport that the Eagles would come to the TD Garden with their best hockey — regardless of recent results. This is the hallmark of a Jerry York coached team — to play your best hockey when it matters the most. The Eagles ended last season on a 19-game winning streak. Monday night’s win could be the birth of a new streak on the team’s way to potentially another conference title and NCAA championship.

Harvard has not enjoyed many positive experiences this season. But one such development has been the emergence of freshman Jimmy Vesey. The forward leads the team in points (10-4-14) and is far-and-away the leader in goals, as no teammate has double digits. Monday night, Vesey’s line felt the burden of playing against BC’s top defensive pairings and two-way forward combinations. Harvard lacks the depth of Boston College, so the match-ups were certainly in the Eagles’ favor. With Vesey’s line stymied, the Crimson relied on its defense to generate offense, which had limited success. In addition, the freshman was on the ice for two of BC’s goals as he finished the game with a -2 rating.

Next Monday, the Eagles have the opportunity to become the first school to win four consecutive Beanpots since BU’s six-year dominance between 1995 and 2000. This year’s Beanpot title for BC would mark a milestone in a shift of the tournament’s dominance. BU won 29 of the first 57 Beanpots. But a four-year shut-out — coupled with a four-year winning streak of its archrivals — would keep this from remaining a competition that BU annually seems to win.

What They Said

Harvard coach Ted Donato on his assessment of his team’s play: “Their speed was a factor as the game went on. The last couple minutes of the periods, was where our game management took away our ability to be in the game. We had a couple of guys in alone on the goalie to keep it close, but ultimately their speed on the forecheck gave us trouble.”

Girard on his perspective from the crease: “I was eager to get in the game and maybe a little nervous at the start. I wanted to be aggressive since I’m not the biggest goalie. They would throw the puck on net to look for rebounds or back-door opportunities. The forwards back-tracked well for me tonight.”

BC coach Jerry York on Steven Whitney’s excellent play in the third period: “When the game’s on the line in the third period, he just seems to get better and better. He’s had a good career at Boston College. He seems to thrive in that role, with the game tied and the team needing something to happen.”

Smith on his improvement as a sophomore during the 2012-13 season: “When I came in as a freshman, we had an unbelievable team, so it was hard to crack that line-up. But coach stayed on me to develop and become a better player. I’ve spent some time killing penalties and contributing where I can. I’ve tried to stick with it and play my role.”

What Else You Should Know

Given their three-consecutive titles, the Eagles extended their winning streak to 10 games in this tournament. This is BC’s 33rd appearance in the finals, and the fourth time that the Eagles have faced Northeastern for the title. The two teams last played in the final two years ago, where BC escaped a 7-6 shootout. Including Monday’s game, BC has scored in 14 consecutive periods against the Crimson.

Before BC can focus on Northeastern for next week’s final, the team first faces UMass Lowell at Conte Forum on Friday, in a game that has significant implications in the league standings. The Crimson also have the benefit of playing at home on Friday, as the team faces Dartmouth in ECAC play.

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