One of the great traditions in New England collegiate sports gets underway Monday as the Beanpot hockey tournament cranks up for the 62nd time.
Tenth-ranked Northeastern faces Harvard at 5 p.m. (NESN) followed by No. 2 Boston College vs. Boston University at 8 p.m. (NESN). The winners face each other the following Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game while the losers meet in the consolation game at 4:30 p.m. For both casual fans and hardcore hockey enthusiasts, the Beanpot still holds plenty of meaning with all of its inherited tradition and endless great memories of classic games, standout players and past championships.
The biggest storyline heading into this edition of the Beanpot is that Northeastern (15-8-3 overall, 8-5-1 in Hockey East) could finally break its 25-year drought. The Huskies have only won four Beanpots, by far the lowest total of the four schools. They can’t change their program’s past, but this season Northeastern has proven itself week-after-week on the national level. It is no fluke that they are ranked 10th in the most recent USA Today and USCHO.com polls (the new ones are released tomorrow). Clay Witt (13-6-2, 2.04 GAA, .943 save percentage, three shutouts) is the best goaltender in this tournament along with one of the top goalies in the country. They also have sophomore forward Kevin Roy (14 goals, 17 assists), who took the Beanpot by storm last season.
Meanwhile, it’s been another disappointing season for Harvard (6-11-3 overall, 3-9-3 in ECAC). The Crimson haven’t played Northeastern yet this season and they come into Monday on a positive note after a 3-2 win over Princeton on Friday. Harvard has 10 Beanpot titles on its resume, including the last one not captured by either BC or BU (way back in 1993). A win over the Huskies could go a long way towards a good end to the season for the Crimson. North Reading, Mass. native Jimmy Vesey, a sophomore forward, leads Harvard with 11 goals and six assists.
Of course, BC vs. BU is the main event no matter when it occurs on the calendar. The two Commonwealth Avenue rivals come in having traveled completely different paths.
The Eagles (19-4-3 overall, 12-1-1 Hockey East), as always, are not only the top team in Hockey East but also one of the top squads in the country, fully capable of bringing home another NCAA title to Chestnut Hill under legendary head coach Jerry York. Dave Quinn has had the unenviable task of replacing icon Jack Parker at BU, and not surprisingly, the Terriers (8-14-3 overall, 3-8-2 Hockey East) have taken more than their fair share of lumps this season. Head-to-head, BC is 2-0 vs. BU (5-1 and 6-4) so far in 2013-14.
The Eagles have 18 Beanpot titles, including the last four, as they try to extend their school record streak of hardware. BC junior forward Johnny Gaudreau (23 goals, 28 assists) leads the country in points and is the odds-on favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award this spring. The best defenseman in the tournament could be BU sophomore Ahti Oksanen, who leads the Terriers in points (5 goals, 14 assists).
Follow Metro Boston hockey writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate