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The pride of Beantown

Beanpot provides a unique taste of Boston

Published: Monday, February 3, 2003

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


Photo Courtesy of The Beanpot: Fifty Years of Thrills, Spills, and Chills

This is the first in a two-part series exploring the history of the storied Beanpot Tournament. Fill those seats at all costs. This was one of main reasons the New England Invitational Tournament first 51 years ago. For the first 13 years of its existence, there was not even a trophy to present to the winning university. Eventually there was a piece of hardware to distribute and the tournament's name became more succinct. Most Bostonians know this timeless classic as the Beanpot.

In a time when there was no Conte Forum and Walter Brown Arena had not yet been erected, each of the four competing schools shared the Boston Garden and the Boston Arena. In fact doubleheaders were commonplace, such a thing would be considered unthinkable in today's game.

Now in its 51st session, the Beanpot has become a staple of Boston's sports' heritage, but that certainly was not always the case. There was a time when it was nothing more than a way to fill the Boston Garden in between Celtics and Bruins games. In his recent book release, The Beanpot: 50 Years of Thrills, Spills, and Chills, Bernard M. Corbett quoted Northeastern's Jack Grinold as saying, "It was designed as a filler. I mean it was originally the first two nights after Christmas. It was to help the arena on off-nights." said Grinold, who is often considered the tournament's primary historian

The Beanpot was born on Dec. 26, 1952. Boston College Athletic Director John Curley, Boston University Athletic Director Buff Donelli, Harvard Athletic Association Business Manager Carroll Getchell, and Northeastern Head Coach Herb Gallagher all came together to meet with Walter Brown, the manager of the Boston Garden/Arena and its Treasurer Eddie Powers to discuss the possibility of having a four-team round-robin tournament.

The inaugural tournament drew consider attention from the media and upon the conclusion of the title game, which featured Harvard defeating BU 7-4, the coaches as well praised the tournament's ideals and its basic notion. The general feeling was that any team could get hot at the right time and win two straight games.

BC was the most dominant team during the first decade of competition, winning five of the first 10 titles. Legendary Head Coach John "Snooks" Kelley was the driving force behind the Eagles' supremacy during the early years. It was during this time that Snooks Kelley established himself as the face of BC hockey.

The 1960s were kind to the Eagles as well when BC won titles in 1961 and 63-65. The 1961 Beanpot Tournament's audience had the privilege of witnessing a Herculean performance by Eagles' defenseman Tom "Red" Martin. His play in that year's title game lent credence to the thought that he was more than a man, but less than a god in that game. Martin played for 58 out of a possible 60 minutes.

The Beanpots of late 1960s were especially interesting for BC and BU. As fate would have it, a young Jack Parker collided with a rising star for the Eagles by the name of Jerry York on more than one occasion during the regular season, but never during a Beanpot game. Little did they know that nearly 25 years later, the two would go on to lead their respective alma maters after the same trophy that they themselves so desperately chased.

BU saw a changing of the guard in early 1970s when Parker was named head coach. He actually was victorious in two of the first three Beanpot tournaments he coached. While the '70s were treating the Terriers like gold, this particular decade could very well have been the dark age of BC hockey. The team managed to win only one single championship during those 10 long years. More often than not, the Eagles were not even one of the teams competing for the trophy. BC was all but banished to the consolation game. 1972 did in fact mark the end of an era for the Eagles as Snooks Kelley stepped down as head coach. Len Ceglarski replaced him.

Why Boston? What makes this city so special that it can host a tournament of this magnitude? "I think the proximity of the four schools and the fact that the same four schools play every single year make it work. There is no other place that has four college teams in a big city like we do," said current BU Head Coach Jack Parker. "I don't think this would be possible anywhere else." Coach York echoed the sentiments of his old rival. "It's college hockey at its finest," he said.

The closeness of the four universities gives the tournament a more homey feeling to it. It is almost as if the teams were playing for bragging rights with the tiny "beanpot" trophy as a symbol of those rights.

Through the tournament's first three decades, each team enjoyed a stint of euphoria and a lull of futility, with the exception of Northeastern, who was never really a factor in the outcome of prior Beanpot tournaments.

It was quite apparent to most, if not all, Boston hockey fans that Walter Brown's vision of an all-Boston tournament was a complete success. "Like the Red Sox and the Boston Marathon, [the Beanpot] is part of the city's fabric now," said Parker. "It is one of the toughest tickets in town." At a time when there is a slight lull in the Celtics' and Bruins' seasons, the Beanpot Tournament offers fans the opportunity to see college hockey in its finest hour. For many it just does not get any better.

One of the major reasons the Beanpot is one of the hottest tickets in town is the remarkable job both York and Parker have done with their respective programs. York has brought the Eagles back from the depths of Hockey East, and the Eagles are once again a perennial contender for the national title. The improved quality of the BC-BU rivalry has helped to make Boston the best college hockey town in America, as well as making the Beanpot the most exciting college hockey tournament in the country. The cross-town rivalry encapsulates everything that is pure and uncorrupted about the sport of college hockey.

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