COLUMN: Boston’s Winter Tradition

Where I come from, hockey is everything.

Back home in Minnesota, people eat, sleep, and breathe hockey all year long.

As a Minnesotan, I believe that the greatest amateur hockey tournament in the U.S. is the Minnesota State High School Championship. But I’ve found that others are just as passionate about the Beanpot Tournament – the championship of Boston.

As a non-Bostonian, the Beanpot Tournament was foreign to me. I didn’t fully comprehend the rich history of the Beanpot, or its unique ability to ignite rivalries while crowning a champion of Boston’s top hockey team.

Former Boston University star and 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal winner Dave Silk gave his tournament perspective at the 1993 Beanpot luncheon: “What the Beanpot means to me?” he said. “Quite simply, there are two words that come to mind: tradition and emotion. Anyone who has a pulse around here knows about the tradition of the Beanpot. I started coming to the Beanpot about the same time I started playing hockey.”

Since the Beanpot first debuted in 1952, the four-team tournament has grown exponentially. Nobody could have predicted its success during its early stages. The tournament was originally the first two nights after Christmas in 1952, designed as a way to help the arena gain revenue on off nights.

It wasn’t until 1960 that the schedule shifted to the first two Mondays in February. The first sellout occurred in 1961 with 13,909 people attending the championship game between Boston College and Harvard. Ever since, the Beanpot has continuously sold out.

To give you a perspective of the Beanpot in the 1960s, the game was very different. Nobody wore facemasks, not even the goalies. Players were even prohibited from checking in the offensive zone. Although the game itself has shifted, the tradition and history of the Beanpot remains the same.

The same four teams have participated in the Beanpot since the beginning of its existence. BC, Northeastern, Harvard, and BU have all fought over the years for Boston’s hockey bragging rights.

With the tournament growing larger each year, it has become difficult for many fans to get tickets as prices soar year after year. Former players and alumni from the four schools dominate the ticket sales, as members continuously return to watch their alma maters each year.

“Playing in the Beanpot was an unbelieveable feeling,” said former BC captain Mike Spalla, BC ’94. “Our whole focus was on winning those two high-intensity games. The tournamnet carries a lot of pride, and being crowned the best team in Boston is something I’ll never forget.”

Mike’s father, Denny, is also a regular Beanpot viewer, who appreciates the history of the tournament. “Boston is a really small town when it comes to traditional rivalries, and the BC nation is very close and enriching,” he said.

The Beanpot champions have been relatively consistent since its beginning. BC dominated the early days of the Beanpot, winning eight titles in the first 13 years, while Harvard took four, and BU just one. But since 1966, BU has been a powerhouse, winning 28 championships in 47 years. Recently, however, BC and BU continue to meet in the final game.

Lately, there have been other schools that have tried to replicate their own version of the Beanpot. The Great Lakes Invitational held in Michigan invites the same three teams, Michigan, Michigan Tech, and Michigan State, each year, with an alternating fourth team. The North Star College Cup in Minnesota also began this year with a rotating group of five in-state programs, with hopes of gaining popularity in the years to come. The tournament held last weekend included Minnesota, Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State.

Although these new tournaments may be very successful, they fall to the Beanpot in one key area: location. Harvard, BU, BC, and Northeastern are all within a five-mile radius of each other. This rivalry makes the Beanpot the most unique tournament of its kind.

This year marks the 62nd Beanpot tournament. BC has won four straight championships, and it is seeking its fifth trophy on Feb. 10. As a Bostonian, I’m looking forward to participating in this historic winter tradition.


January 29, 2014