With six minutes to go in the Beanpot final, the Huskies still had a chance at bringing down the Goliath that is Boston College. Through 44 minutes of fast-paced, physical, and intense play, they clung to the Eagles, looking to become the first team to upset the reigning champions in the tournament in four years.
“There’s a reason why they’re No. 1 in the country,” said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan. “I thought our guys battled. We had a chance to win with under five minutes left. Those are the situations, where if you can win as the underdog you want to be in.”
In the end, the game would come down to close chances for each team. On those opportunities, though, it was BC that would come through, pulling off a late statement to win its fifth straight Beanpot championship.
“When it comes to big games like this, it’s all about the little plays and you’ve just got to bear down and finish your opportunities,” said Northeastern forward Braden Pimm. “We had the chances, we just didn’t bear down enough to get one by.”
Early in the game, the pieces were coming together. Northeastern goaltender Clay Witt, who boasted the highest save percentage in college hockey entering the night, was on his game.
The game was at full tilt right from the start, and Witt stayed composed, racking up 10 saves in the first period and 14 in the second. With Witt performing well, it looked like the Huskies were going to put up an early lead on the Eagles when, just under seven minutes in, Eagles goalie Thatcher Demko was caught off-guard and Northeastern found the net. After a review of the play, the net was deemed to have been off its bearings, negating the goal and the potential Husky lead. Two minutes later, Kevin Hayes struck first blood for the Eagles.
Hayes’ shot, which came off of a pass from Johnny Gaudreau that was tipped by Bill Arnold, fired into the top left corner of the net before Witt could react.
For 44 minutes, however, that was the only blip on the scoreboard, and Northeastern played its cleanest game-at least in terms of penalty minutes-in 12 years, not sending a single player from the box.
The Huskies finally managed to even the score late in the second period when a bad pass from Scott Savage was intercepted by Northeastern’s star forward Kevin Roy.
Roy hadn’t been much of a presence on the ice during the majority of the first two periods, failing to gain a significant chance on goal through more than 38 minutes of play. Madigan was still happy with his effort, though.
“I thought he played well,” Madigan said. “He was jumping, looking for opportunities to get in and around the net, you know, everyone knows when he’s on the ice, kind of like how we know when 13 and 12 are on for them. And a couple times he had shots blocked, they were stick on puck on him a lot, and they converge on him.”
While the Eagles could control most of Roy’s scoring efforts, this time he charged the net, shooting one at Demko for a near miss that rebounded straight back to teammate John Stevens, who finished the effort, going top shelf.
With that point finally lighting up the scoreboard for the Huskies, they would go into the third period deadlocked with the Eagles.
“I liked the way our team played, competed hard, battled for the whole game,” Madigan said. “Through two periods I liked where we were, being 1-1 or up a goal or down a goal in the third period, you’ve got a chance to win.”
The game was within reach, and the Huskies started out the third period with a breakaway chance that nearly tipped the scales in their favor, but Demko, who would end the night with the Eberly Award for his goaltending performance during the tournament, saved the near chance to keep the game even.
“If we score then it’s 2-1 and they’re chasing us a bit,” Madigan said. “As the game went on, you look at our third periods and our third periods have been our best period, we shortened the bench a little bit but they were relentless.”
The Eagles began to kick into gear, dominating the neutral zone and keeping the Huskies from setting up opportunities on offense. While the Eagles created chance after chance, it was Witt who kept Northeastern in it.
“I thought he played fabulous,” Madigan said. “I thought both goalies played really well tonight, and he gave us a chance to win.”
Witt made save after save, diving through the crease, scrambling, and at one point even batting the puck out of the air with his stick to clear it after nearly a straight minute of attack from the Eagles’ firing squad.
He couldn’t hold on forever, though.
“They kept on coming at us and they’d get us in our own zone and every time we’d get it out we’d be tired looking for a change and they’d be coming again,” Madigan said.
With five and a half minutes remaining to play, Isaac MacLeod managed to get a shot off from the point. Patrick Brown, who had been competing for space in front of the net, had just fallen, but from the ground he managed to get stick on puck for the tip. It was a tiny deflection, a tiny moment, but it was enough to tip the scales in the hard-fought game as the Eagles managed to finish their scoring effort, beating Witt to go up 2-1.
“In the third period, we just couldn’t match their speed,” Madigan said. “They came at us and we didn’t have enough response. On that winning goal we did a good job of tying Brown up in front of the net, and he was falling, but somehow we didn’t have his stick and he scored the wining goal.”
From there, the floodgates opened as the blow that was Brown’s goal made way for an empty netter from Gaudreau four minutes later, and a final cherry on top from Brown once again with under a minute to play, after Witt had been put back in goal.
In the beginning of the third period, the stage had been set for an upset, but the little things-a missed opportunity there, a minute deflection there-were what cost the Huskies their first Beanpot title since 1988.
“I’m not walking away happy with a loss,” Madigan said. “But I’m happy with the way our guys competed and battled and they prepared themselves for this game. That’s the part that stings the most, because you walk out of here a little hurt because you didn’t get the job done.”