By Andy Merritt
BOSTON – On Feb. 9, 2009, Boston University owned more than half of the Beanpot titles ever contested, Osama bin Laden was still alive, and none of the players on this year’s Boston College roster had yet pulled on an Eagle sweater.
A lot has changed in the last four years.
Boston College is the Beanpot champion for the fourth straight year after beating Northeastern 6-3 in Monday night’s final at TD Garden. Sophomore Johnny Gaudreau scored a pair of goals for the Eagles, who got a scare from the Huskies early in the third, but pulled away to take the title. Gaudreau’s four goals and seven points over four career Beanpot games have him on pace to become one of the tournament’s all-time scoring leaders.
Steven Whitney (Reading, Mass.), one of six BC seniors who never lost a Beanpot game in their college careers, scored the game-winner for the Eagles, and his clincher came in dramatic fashion. Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) grabbed a puck left in the snowy ice by Northeastern goaltender Chris Rawlings (24 saves), turned and found Whitney, who made it 4-1 with just 0.4 seconds left on the second period clock. It was the second of two BC goals that came in the final 1:23 of the middle period, which took momentum away from the scrappy Huskies.
Northeastern, which is now 25 years removed from its last Beanpot title, scored twice in the third period, but couldn’t find the equalizer before Gaudreau gave the Eagles some breathing room late in the game, and senior captain Pat Mullane (Wallingford, Conn.) sealed the victory with an empty-net goal.
“I’m so incredibly proud of our club, but specifically our senior class, our captains that are in the senior class for what they’ve done over their careers,” said BC coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.), referring to captains Mullane, Whitney and Patrick Wey. “They really are model citizens for Boston College hockey.”
Northeastern’s Kevin Roy became the first tournament MVP to come from a losing team in nine years, after scoring five goals including his opening-round hat trick. Roy added two more in the final to spark the Huskies, who as in 2011’s overtime thriller gave BC a run for its money despite falling short.
“I think you saw what he brings to our team,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. “He’s a highly offensive, intelligent and skilled player. Around the net, he’s very dangerous, and he creates his shot as well as anyone. When he’s got the puck on his stick, good things are going to happen.
“In the third period, he knew we needed a jump,” Madigan said. “That’s him, that’s the type of player he is, he’s similar to Johnny Gaudreau on Boston College.”
The comparisons between Gaudreau and Roy are hard to avoid. Gaudreau was last year’s freshman phenom, and scored two goals and two assists in his debut Beanpot. Roy is the leading rookie scorer in the country this year, and his fourth and fifth Beanpot goals Monday night were also his 16th and 17th goals of the season.
Roy also scored the two biggest goals of the night for Northeastern. After a scoreless, but hard-fought and entertaining first period, Arnold and Gaudreau staked BC to a 2-0 lead with more than half of the game gone. Roy got the Huskies on the board with 4:56 to go in the second, gliding into the BC zone untouched before uncorking a wrister that snuck through BC goaltender Parker Milner (20 saves) to make it 2-1.
After Patrick Brown’s nifty tip of an Isaac MacLeod shot and Whitney’s final-second stunner turned the tide back in BC’s direction late in the second, Roy added his second of the game just 11 seconds into the third period, giving the Huskies reason to believe. Chris Rawlings made a pair of big saves in a scrum about a minute later, and With 16:04 to go, Vinny Saponari cut the Eagle lead to just 4-3, blasting a shot off teammate Braden Pimm’s foot and in.
“Earlier this year, we would have folded the tent [when BC went up 4-1], but as [Saponari] said, we’ve got a lot more resolve,” Madigan said. “Going into the end of the second period down 2-1, we would’ve been in really good shape. We just gave up two bad goals defensively in the second period.
“They’re just too good of a team to give goals to, and we gave them two goals in the second period,” Madigan said. “But for me, the story is how we battled in the third period. When the puck dropped, our guys went all out. We scored two goals and got back into it, we had some chances, and we just couldn’t close out that fourth one.”
Saponari very nearly set Roy up for his second Beanpot hat trick with about 9:20 to go, weaving past a BC defenseman and saucering a pass across the ice, but the rookie couldn’t get a handle on it as he arrived on Milner’s doorstep.
Yet even as the Huskies had given BC a real reason to sweat, Mullane said the Eagles weren’t rattled.
“Everyone stayed relaxed on the bench,” Mullane said. “Those are the kinds of things that make teams successful, and that have made us successful over the past few years.”
About four minutes later, Gaudreau all but clinched it for the Eagles, though it was the play of freshman defenseman Michael Matheson that deserved the biggest ovation. Matheson quickly sent the puck up to Steven Whitney against the grain of the play in his own end, and trailed until Whitney could find him in the offensive zone. Matheson slid the puck over to Gaudreau, who merely had to get a good piece of the puck to pop it home for a 5-3 BC lead.
All that was left was for Mullane to score his fourth and final Beanpot goal, into an empty net with 1:28 to go.
For Northeastern, it’ll be another year of “wait ‘til next year.” Yet the Huskies’ second strong Beanpot showing in three years gives cause for optimism on Huntington Avenue – and not just for the end of the 25-year Beanpot drought.
“We’ve got a lot of hockey left, and we can get back to this building if we play like we did in the third period,” said Madigan, whose team needs to pass two teams to get into the Hockey East playoffs and have a chance at returning to the Garden for the semifinals March 22.
Of course, if they do make it back to Causeway Street some five weeks from now, there’s a pretty good chance the Eagles will be there once again.
NOTES: Milner won the Eberly Award, given to the goaltender with the best two-game save percentage in the tournament. He finished with a .907 save percentage, stopping 39 of 43 shots over the two nights. … Roy is also the seventh freshman to win the MVP in tournament history, and the second in as many years after Gaudreau won it in 2012. … The last Husky to be named MVP was goaltender Bruce Racine in 1988. … The Eagles are 18-15 all-time in Beanpot finals; the Huskies are 4-11. … Tuesday’s women’s Beanpot final at Matthews Arena is also BC vs. Northeastern, marking the first time the men’s and women’s finals have pitted the same programs against each other.