February 7, 2012

Eagles easily handle Huskies, will meet BU in Beanpot final

By Andrew Merritt

BOSTON – Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Boston College and Boston University will meet in the Beanpot final next Monday. 

Junior forward Steve Whitney (left) tallied twice in Boston College's runaway win over Northeastern. (Dave Arnold Photography)

Hours after BU dispatched Harvard in the first semifinal Monday night at TD Garden, the Eagles ran roughshod over Northeastern, punching their ticket to the final with a 7-1 blowout in the nightcap.

Three BC players – freshman Johnny Gaudreau, junior Steven Whitney and senior Paul Carey (Weymouth, Mass.) – had two-goal games, and Patch Alber and Pat Mullane each had two assists as BC earned its third straight trip to the final, with designs on its third straight title and fourth in five years.

In a year when it seemed the annual Boston collegiate tournament might be more wide open than in recent memory, the Eagles put any thought of a Husky uprising to rest early, scoring the game’s first two goals and finding the net three times in the second period, twice while shorthanded.

BC also scored two shorthanded goals in the dominating win, and outshot Northeastern 46-23.

“They outplayed us, outcoached us, they wanted it more than us,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. “They were much hungrier, they were stronger on pucks. Right from the get go they just took it to us, and we couldn’t get going.”

Gaudreau’s pair of strikes were particularly painful for the Huskies, to whom the New Jersey native committed as a highly-touted recruit before opting out after former NU coach Greg Cronin departed to the NHL. Gaudreau scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season Monday, making him one of the few freshmen in the nation with double-digit goals this year – one of only three in Hockey East.

“When I was younger, I always watched the BC-BU rivalry, always watched Beanpots, and when I was a kid always dreamed about playing in one,” Gaudreau said. “Just to get a chance to play in one let alone do well in it was an awesome experience for me, and it was a lot of fun tonight.”

How little doubt was there about this one? Gaudreau’s first strike, with 10:17 to go in the first period, was the game-winner, coming unassisted off a Northeastern turnover to make it 2-0. Anthony Bitetto cut the lead to 2-1 minutes later on a 5-on-3 power play, but in the second period the Eagles put their talons firmly on the gas.

Barry Almeida (Springfield, Mass.) started the middle-period rally by getting in Bitetto’s face as the sophomore defenseman tried to corral a puck at the blue line on a Northeastern power play. Almeida poked the puck through Bitetto and took off down the ice. When he realized he couldn’t beat the scrambling Bitetto to the net, he held for a trailing Steven Whitney and fed him for the 3-1 goal 6:51 into the second.

Gaudreau scored his second on a rebound from a Patch Alber shot just over two minutes later, and BC was truly off to the races. With 6:49 to go in the second, Whitney nearly mimicked Almeida’s earlier play in the defensive zone, again on the penalty kill, getting the puck past Justin Daniels and taking off down ice. Whitney tried to return Almeida’s earlier favor by feeding him cross-ice, but the puck was deflected back to him, so Whitney calmly buried it past NU goaltender Chris Rawlings (24 saves), making it 5-1.

“We’ve got some players with good offensive instincts, and I think if they see a loose puck they can really jump on it and make a play out of nothing,” said BC coach Jerry York, who will coach his 12th Beanpot final next Monday – his 10th against BU. That speed allows you to do those things.”

The Eagles only let up slightly in the third, but still managed to score twice. Almeida upped the lead to 6-1 on a feed from Brian Dumoulin 8:47 into the final frame, and Paul Carey, who opened the scoring 5:14 into the game, bookended it with a goal with 2:40 to go, putting a final touch on the masterful BC performance.

The BC romp sets up another clash of the Boston titans. The Eagles are winners of four of the last five Beanpot titles, including the last two. The Terriers own 29 titles in a tournament occasionally dubbed the “BU Invitational,” but have lost their last three Beanpot games against BC. BU does, however, hold a 2-1 edge over the Eagles in their previous three meetings this year.

Of course, the records don’t matter much in the Beanpot.

“To be honest the way those games panned out there’s not a lot of familiarity,” BC junior Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) said. “They were all blowouts. It was a strange, strange three games against them, I don’t think either team really got a good feel for how the other team plays, or can play.”

Next Monday night in the main event, they’ll get a much better feel, up close and personal, on a very familiar stage.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com