Two Beanpots. Two championships. Two entirely different styles spaced one year apart.
The ingredients of Northeastern’s first back-to-back Beanpot titles since 1984-85 covered the spectrum of winning hockey. Last year, the Huskies won with star power up front; on Monday, they defended their title with a defensive stance around goaltender Cayden Primeau (the tournament’s Most Valuable Player) and aggressive contributions from everyone.
Here’s how the Huskies have turned themselves into the best of Boston.
Timely scoring. In the semifinal last Monday, Patrick Schule needed fewer than four minutes to open the scoring in a 2-1 overtime win against Boston University. One week later, Austin Plevy gave the Huskies a crucial 1-0 lead that led to their eventual 4-2 win over Boston College in the final.
“We’ve been struggling to score goals and [been] a little bit inconsistent,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. “We get that first one, it just takes off the pressure.”
The Huskies spent the early weeks of this season developing the identity of a come-from-behind team that won five times with comebacks in the third period. But that model wasn’t sustainable. Over the past three weeks they had lost five of six Hockey East games by an aggregate score of 20-7; the early goals against BU and BC relieved the angst, enabling them to play to their defensive strengths.
It also helped that Northeastern’s first three goals were scored by seniors—showings of leadership in a high-stakes game.
The line change. As the “home” team for the final, Madigan was able to make changes in response to the lines put out by BC. Madigan revealed an aggressive mentality by seeking to match his first or second line against BC’s fourth line in the early going. Plevy, a fourth-string forward, was grouped with second-liners Lincoln Griffin and Zach Solow when he knocked the puck loose from BC goalie Joe Woll for the opening score.
Later, as forward David Cotton threatened to swing the game for the Eagles, Madigan appeared to be focused on neutralizing BC’s top line with optimism that Northeastern’s superior depth would prevail in other matchups. BC won 43 of 65 faceoffs and yet played from behind over the final two periods while generating as many shots (35) as Northeastern.
“Usually when we win faceoffs like that,” said BC coach Jerry York, “we win the game.”
Primeau’s prime. The Huskies didn’t simply rely on their sophomore goalie to bail them out. His teammates blocked shots and pushed BC out to the edges throughout the first two periods, until Cotton led a sustained rush to almost recover from BC’s 3-0 deficit. The Eagles outshot Northeastern 15-9 in the third period while pressuring Primeau over the final 7:46, when the Huskies held a scant one-goal lead until Solow’s empty netter with 5 seconds left.
Primeau stopped 59 of 62 shots in two games to earn the Eberly Award as the Beanpot’s top goalie for the second straight year. Just last month he was leading the United States to a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver.
“My only concern is he’s having so much success, the red, white, and blue in Montreal might be coming after him sooner rather than later,” said Madigan, referring to the Montreal Canadiens’ claim on Primeau after stealing him with a seventh-round pick in 2017. “But that’s a good thing.”
Tyler Madden, game-changer. Nearing the end of the second period, Madden took on three Eagles—somehow keeping his balance while cutting back upstream—on his way to leaving the puck for Matt Thomson to assist Schule’s goal for a 2-0 Northeastern lead.
Madden has scored only 9 goals, but his stats aren’t nearly so important as the quality of his play. That assist was more artistic and almost as important as the breakaway he finished to win the overtime semifinal against BU. As the freshman continues to mature into his leadership role offensively, the Huskies will be hoping for an extended NCAA Tournament run around their dynamic of Primeau-led defense, depth, and opportunistic scoring.
The DogHouse. Is the landscape shifting in Boston? BU (with 30 titles) and BC (20) have dominated the Beanpot historically, but they are now enduring the longest championship droughts at four and three years, respectively.
To put it another way: While BC has won seven of the past 12 Beanpots, the Eagles have now lost four straight tournament games to the Huskies.
The new expectations and confidence of Northeastern hockey were voiced across both nights at TD Garden by the DogHouse of students who set a university record by purchasing more than 1,800 tickets for the Beanpot final. Players say they provide the Huskies with the best home ice advantage in Boston, as well as a sense of momentum as Madigan continues to reach high.
“Next year we’ve got to win three [in a row],” Madigan said. “We’ve never won three.”