February 13, 2012

BU, BC set to clash for 21st time in Beanpot championship

By Andrew Merritt

BOSTON – And here we go again.

For the 21st time in the tournament’s history, Boston University and Boston College will clash tonight at TD Garden for the Beanpot title (7:30 p.m., NESN). 

BC forward Johnny Gaudreau had two goals and an assist in the Eagles 7-1 win over Northeastern. (Dave Arnold Photography)

The 60th Beanpot final pits Boston’s twin titans against each other for the second time in three years, and the 21st time overall. The Terriers own 29 Beanpot titles, and BC is a distant second with 16. The Eagles, however, won the last two Beanpots and three of the last four.

BU holds a 12-8 edge in Beanpot finals against Boston College, but the current BC seniors are 6-1 in the Beanpot – 2-0 against BU – and the Eagles are riding a four-game win streak that has given an uneven year (at least by BC standards) some better shape. BC has outscored its last four opponents 20-7 over that stretch, including last Monday’s 7-1 blitz of Northeastern in the tournament’s opening round.

“We as a team haven’t been playing as well as we’re capable,” said freshman Johnny Gaudreau after the opening-round win. “Coming out here and beating Northeastern 7-1, as a team I think we’re playing really well, and it should carry over into next weekend.”

At the center of that surge is Springfield, Mass., native Barry Almeida, who has seven goals and nine points over the last six games for the Eagles. A role player through his first three years who never had more than eight goals, Almeida has 17 this year, his 26 points the Eagles’ second best behind Boxford, Mass., native Chris Kreider (33).

History – even recent history – goes out the window in the Beanpot, though, said Kreider (Boxford, Mass.).

“Not really, it’s a different roster for them, different roster for us,” said Kreider, who had two goals and an assist on the game-winner in BC’s 7-6 overtime victory in the 2011 title game against Northeastern. I feel like especially at the college level, there’s too much turnover for that. At the same time, that’s their style, they play hard regardless.”

The Terriers come into tonight’s game off an ugly 3-1 defeats to UMass at home, one of several losses that don’t seem to fit in with the picture of a team that has at times been in first place in Hockey East, and enters tonight’s game as the No. 2 team in the country. But at 17-9-1, the Terriers are a near-shoo-in for the national tournament, and at least one of the favorites to win the Hockey East title in a month.

They’ve been backstopped by senior Kieran Millan, whose three shutouts in 2011-12 eclipse the combined two the Terriers had over the last two years. In his second and third year at BU, Millan fell off the stellar pace he set as a freshman, when he posted a 1.80 goals against average and .923 save percentage, but this season looks more like his old self, entering tonight’s game with a .925 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

The second Monday in February represents a turning point at BU, and even bad Terrier teams have found a way to sneak away with a title. On top of that, the Terriers were shut out of the last two finals, and are looking to keep from being the first group to go three years without a title since 1983-85.

A year after losing all three regular-season meetings to the Eagles, the Terriers hold a 2-1 edge this year against BC, though with the teams seemingly on a collision course toward the Hockey East championship, it’s a safe bet that tonight’s game won’t be the last time they hook up.

Nevertheless, records, trends and statistics all seem to fade into the background when BU and BC play for Boston’s beloved Beanpot, and tonight at the Garden, it will surely be a setting fit for a championship.