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Huskies seek their first three-peat in Beanpot final

Zach Solow and his teammates will try to go where no Huskies have gone before in pursuit of a third straight Beanpot title Monday night at TD Garden. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

A third straight Beanpot title for the first time in school history. A seventh straight win in Beanpot games dating back to 2017. A chance for Northeastern’s two ice hockey programs to sweep the city championships.

All kinds of incentives are built into the championship final Monday at 7:30 p.m. at TD Garden, where the Northeastern men (15-8-2) will be seeking a historic Beanpot three-peat against Boston University (10-9-7). 

“It’s for the players to be able to say they won three Beanpots in a row and set themselves apart from any other Northeastern team,” says coach Jim Madigan, whose Huskies are No. 11 nationally in the PairWise rankings. “It’s for the university—for the student body who support our team throughout the year, for our administration and our alumni who support us. 

“For me, it extends itself out to every corner of the university, and athletics and hockey is another window of excellence into all the great accomplishments taking place on Huntington Avenue.”

Additionally, the Northeastern women will be seeking their first Beanpot title since 2013 on Tuesday at 8 p.m., also against Boston University. They could produce Northeastern’s first sweep of both Beanpots in 32 years.

But first things first. Much of the success for the Husky men has come at the expense of BU. Of the Huskies’ six consecutive Beanpot wins, half have come against the Terriers—which should further BU’s resolve. After a discouraging 2-6-5 start, the talented young Terriers have gone 8-3-2 over the past two months. In their Beanpot semifinal last week, they scored three goals in the final eight minutes before advancing in overtime against Boston College. 

In their lone meeting this season, the Huskies lost 6-3 at BU in December. BU’s Patrick Curry (15 goals), David Farrance (12), Patrick Harper (12), and Trevor Zegras (8) have combined for 115 points—half of the team’s production this season. The Terriers have won a record 30 Beanpot titles, though none since 2015.

“It’s a skilled team that can strike fast, and you can’t get in a track meet against them,” says Madigan, who as a player, assistant coach, and head coach has been involved in five of Northeastern’s six Beanpot titles. “We have a defensive structure and identity, and when we play to it, we’re very good—we exit our zone really quick. But when you don’t exit your own zone, it extends shifts for the offensive team, and that’s when breakdowns happen. A team like BU, they can sense that and strike fast. We want to eliminate those situations.”

The Huskies have drawn newfound strength from goaltender Craig Pantano, who started for two years at Merrimack before transferring to Northeastern for this season. He has allowed 2.42 goals per game for the Huskies.

Pantano has a quick smile and a relaxed personality that has helped him take over the assignment of All-America goaltender Cayden Primeau, the MVP of last year’s Beanpot. Last week, in his Beanpot debut, Pantano overcame his own anticipated nerves—as well as an opening goal in the sixth minute—to help lead the Huskies to a 3-1 semifinal win over Harvard.

“I was a little bit nervous in the beginning,” Pantano says. “The best thing that happened was getting scored on early, I think. Before that, I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be. Then once you get scored on, you’re like, OK, it’s a game; and now you get to play and put everything aside.”

He made 27 saves overall, including 14 in the final period when Harvard was pushing for overtime. The Huskies, who are 11-1-2 this season when allowing two goals or fewer, will need a similar performance in order to emerge.

“It’s not a surprise that he’s played this well, because he played very well at Merrimack for his last three years,” Madigan says of Pantano. “He’s had over 60 starts in the last couple of years, and  might not have had the strong defensive team in front of him. But he’s won a playoff series, and he’s in every building in Hockey East. He’s given us a chance to win every night.”

Instead of making him feel as though he had to reenact the leading role of Primeau, Pantano’s teammates have been committed to helping him work through the high expectations that he has inherited at Northeastern.

“He was just a great teammate right away,” says junior forward Zach Solow, who has been Pantano’s roommate this season. “He blended in with the culture, and the guys really rallied around him. It just makes guys want to do a little extra for him.”

Who knows when the big plays will be made, and who will make them? As the Huskies have learned over their past two Beanpot championships, every little effort will contribute to what could be their biggest victory thus far.

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