Sports, Men's Hockey, Column

After Two Off Years, Eagles Desperately Need Success in Beanpot

Three years ago, TD Garden was rocking. Boston College and Boston University, longtime rivals, were scoreless through three periods and headed to overtime in the 64th Beanpot Championship Game. In the history of the four-team tournament, no contest had ever ended in a 1-0 scoreline, yet that was where this game was headed. With 15,702 in attendance and both student sections booming, each passing minute only amplified the significance.

So, two minutes and 43 seconds in overtime, when Eagles forward Alex Tuch scored the overtime game-winner, the place went nuts. BC’s student section, prominently featuring a banner displaying head coach Jerry York’s face and countless fans in hockey jerseys, was especially loud as the Eagles mobbed Tuch near center ice. It was the sixth Beanpot title in seven years for BC, with the team simply a class above the rest of the Boston area field.

Fast forward two years, and you could’ve heard a pin drop when the Eagles took the ice to face off against Harvard in the 2017 consolation game. While the attendance was reported at near 17,000, the student section was dismally empty. It wasn’t much fuller the week prior, as Northeastern fan’s flooded TD Garden while BC saw a much weaker showing from its fans.

This poor display of support from students, unfortunately, has become a reality for the school over the past two years. The Beanpot simply doesn’t mean what it used to, and that’s a shame for a program that prides itself on succeeding in the so-called “trophy season.”

Can you blame them, though? The last two years have been frustrating for the Eagles, falling in a heartbreaking manner to BU in the 2017 Hockey East finals before claiming the regular season title in 2018, but eventually falling to the Terriers once again in the semifinals. The team hasn’t had a non-conference win since before the aforementioned Beanpot championship, a run of 20-plus games of ineptitude against anybody not playing with the Hockey East logo on their jersey sleeve.

Things haven’t changed much this year, either. While the Eagles find themselves three points off the conference lead, trailing No. 2 Massachusetts, they have fewer total wins than nine of the 11 Hockey East teams. Sitting at 9-12-3, BC narrowly edges Merrimack (7-19-1) and Connecticut (7-17-2) in the win column, but the former was able to beat the Eagles at home back in November. Additionally, with nine non-Beanpot games remaining, the Eagles will have to push to avoid their first .500 or below season since 2001-02. Sure, David Cotton is fifth in the country in goals per game—he’s piled up 15 in 24 games, an impressive 0.62 pace—but the team as a whole has been woefully inconsistent.

Yes, the Eagles have flashed their true potential—they beat top-10 Providence in consecutive weekends in January—but they’ve also lost to the likes of Bentley and Maine. York can’t seem to find any form of consistency from his team, with the longest winning streak spanning three games near the start of the season. For a team that was picked to win the Hockey East at the outset of the season, BC is nowhere near where it should be, considering the returning talent and depth up and down the roster.

As a result, don’t expect many fans to go watch the Eagles take on Harvard in the first round. Sure, the student section might gradually fill up, but you won’t experience anything close to the atmosphere that was around just a few years back. Yes, that was a BC-BU matchup, a historic rivalry, but the game the week prior against Harvard—an exhilarating 3-2 victory for the Eagles—also featured an exciting atmosphere.

While it may seem foolish to sound nostalgic about something that happened just three years ago, it might make more sense if you consider the circumstances. Coming into BC last year, I—like many others in my grade—had the impression that it was a hockey school. After all, the Eagles have played in 12 of the last 20 Frozen Fours, York is the winningest coach in college hockey history, and the team has prominent NHL alums like Johnny Gaudreau, Brian Boyle, and Cam Atkinson. The team that I saw last year, though—while they did win the Hockey East regular season title—never inspired the excitement that was evident when you go back and watch highlights from Beanpots prior.

Going into last year’s tournament, it was pretty clear who was going to win. Northeastern hadn’t hoisted the Beanpot trophy since 1988, but with the country’s best line—it featured Hobey Baker Award winner Adam Gaudette—the Huskies were the heavy favorites. They had no problem dispatching BC in the first round before slipping past BU in the final, snapping a 30-year drought. When captain Nolan Stevens took the Beanpot trophy for a victory lap, the Huskies’ student section was filled to the brim, enthusiastically cheering. Both of their games were well-attended by fans—the same could not be said about the Eagles.

Hence the nostalgic look back. The Beanpot has been described as the “social event of the winter season” ever since it rose to prominence, but last year—and likely this year—won’t be the same for BC students. There’s always the chance that the new freshman class shows up in droves to cheer on York’s team in what will be his 26th year coaching at the Beanpot, but considering the struggles with attendance this season, you’d be safer betting that they opt to stay home. There’s not a lot of excitement around the team—save for the Comm. Ave rivalry game against BU—students haven’t been filling up Kelley Rink’s stands with regularity.

Going into Monday night’s matchup with Harvard, we find ourselves at a pivotal point in the Eagles’ season. A loss to Harvard would extend the non-conference skid—and the Beanpot losing streak—yet another game while simultaneously relegating them to a consolation game that would surely be sparsely attended. Sure, BC is still in the conference title race and could manage to surprise and claim a third regular season title in a row, but the game against the Crimson means an unbelievable amount.

It’s trophy season for a reason—these are games that carry more meaning then just your casual regular season matchup. As evidenced by the colossal amount of support in the final back in 2016, BC students come and go with how the team is playing. Right now, the team is far from peak form, losing plenty of winnable games and failing to get the most out of their talent. That’s why this year’s Beanpot is so important—it’s a chance for the team to actually find their footing, and regain the excitement the team once inspired on campus.

A win would mean that the Eagles will have a shot to reclaim momentum in the Beanpot final, and surely that would be the first step in what could be a late-year run. Lose and you can say goodbye to having any faith in the team for yet another stretch run.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

February 4, 2019