Boston -- For the 22nd time in the 64 year history of the Beanpot, Boston College and Boston University will meet in the second game on the second Monday of February.
Leading up to the tournament, this year was billed as different. Harvard had been a top five team nationally for much of the season. Northeastern was riding an eight-game unbeaten streak.
But, it wasn't to be. The drought for Harvard and Northeastern will continue for yet another year. Not since 1993 when Harvard won the Beanpot has a team other than BC or BU won the pot that signifies bragging rights for college hockey's four Boston schools.
The Eagles and Terriers find themselves facing off for yet another Beanpot title in large part due to the fact both teams were vastly superior in the puck possession battle against their foes on the other side of the ice Monday night.
BU Overwhelms Northeastern
Boston University advanced to the Beanpot Tournament championship game for the 51st time with Monday's 3-1 win over Northeastern at TD Garden.
BC stymied a very good Crimson offense and all but completely nullified any comeback bid in the third period. Harvard was able to muster just 23 shots on goal, and only six in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Junior defenseman Ian McCoshen was an absolute force in all three zones. The Florida Panthers prospect was on the ice for all three goals the Eagles scored, assisting on both power play tallies in the second period. He was outstanding in his own zone. He was in position and had a good stick, keeping the Crimson at bay. His skating is so good that it looks effortless. McCoshen and his defensive partner, Casey Fitzgerald, did an excellent job preventing the Crimson from taking advantage of their speed up front.
BC's top forwards were able to use their skating ability, size and strength to win battles for loose pucks and keep possession for long stretches of time. Although Harvard had a 2-1 lead after one period, BC came out flying and kept the puck deep in the Crimson zone for much of the first five minutes of the game.
Colin White, who had a goal and an assist, and Zach Sanford, who scored a power play goal right on top of the goalmouth, were BC's top forwards.
One doesn't have to look any further than BC's first goal to realize the impact White has on the game. A strong stick helped White lift Harvard defenseman Clay Anderson's stick to win a puck battle and give Matty Gaudreau two shots from high quality scoring areas. Then, he wins a battle along the boards, kicking the puck to Ryan Fitzgerald who whipped a backhand pass out to his brother Casey who had moved down from the point into the high slot. Harvard had four men in the right corner where White had won the puck battle along the boards. It allowed Casey Fitzgerald free rein to get off a high quality shot and put the Eagles up 1-0 just 1:35 into the game.
On Sanford's power play goal, White gave a quick pass to McCoshen at the top of the point, who did a nice job walking the blue line. He waited for a shooting lane to open up before firing a simple wrist shot on net. Alex Tuch redirects it then pushes the rebound just far enough out of the grasp of Merrick Madsen to allow Sanford to bang it home.
On the game-winning goal on the man advantage, White, at the left circle, receives a pass from Teddy Doherty. He sees an opening and makes a move for the net. Instead of firing the puck at first chance, he patiently waits and lets Harvard defenseman Adam Baughman go by. He then makes one more quick stick handle before firing a shot that found its way into the back of the net between the goaltender's glove and torso.
Give credit to Tuch on that power play goal. He wasn't credited with an assist, but he was able to keep possession of the puck through traffic. Harvard penalty killer Alexander Kerfoot lost his stick in the battle for control of the puck. Another key moment in the sequence was how quickly McCoshen retrieved the puck and started the transition back into the offensive zone.
In essence, BC's top players were its best players on Monday night. The Eagles took advantage of their opportunities, won most of the battles for loose pucks and dominated time of possession. That, and only taking two penalties, both of which they killed, is why the Eagles will be playing in the late game next Monday night.
Boston University will be joining the Eagles in that late game for many of the same reasons. The Terriers jumped on the board first on a scoring play that started with Ryan Cloonan winning a puck battle. NU defenseman Eric Williams poked the puck away from him as he entered the zone, but he beat two Huskies for the puck and slid it over to Bobo Carpenter. The other NU defenseman on the ice, Colton Saucerman, blocked Carpenter's first shot, but Carpenter swiped it from Saucerman's skates. That second chance was going to the side of the net where Robbie Baillargeon batted it in from midair.
The second goal was pure skill as freshman defenseman Charlie McAvoy finished off a transition sequence. Oskar Andren started the play, sending it from the left wing at the top of the defensive zone over to Danny O'Regan who was streaking up the right side. O'Regan gained the zone and dropped it back to McAvoy, who used his long reach to draw the puck a little bit closer to him before firing a laser of a wrist shot into the top corner of the net. He was helped by a falling NU defender who acted as a screen on his own goalie.
While Northeastern had a few near misses throughout the rest of the game, most were one and done plays. There were really no sustained scoring opportunities while at even strength. BU's defensemen were active and used their superior skating ability to break the puck out.
Brien Diffley, who has been mired in a sophomore slump, was terrific. His lackluster play and BU's depth on the blue line sent him to the stands or up to fourth line forward a few nights. The last three games, including Monday night, he's been on top of his game. He's smooth, moves the puck up ice and skates well to be just good enough in his own zone. The Burlington, Mass. native is +6 over the last three games after not dressing in three of the previous four contests.
So once again, Boston College and Boston University will meet for the Beanpot championship, a trophy the two schools have not lost a grip on since 1993.