Northeastern (11-12-2) opens the four-team tournament with a semifinal against Harvard (4-13-3) at 5 p.m. Monday at TD Garden. The rematch of last year’s final is well timed for the Huskies, who are back to full health.
After a first half of a season dominated by injuries, the Northeastern University men’s hockey team is back to full strength and confident of defending its title at the 71st Beanpot.
Northeastern (11-12-2) opens the four-team Boston event with a semifinal against Harvard at 5 p.m. Monday at TD Garden (televised by NESN and streaming on ESPN+; live updates by Northeastern Global News).
The Huskies have dominated the Beanpot while advancing to the last five men’s finals, winning four of them. They have a chance to clinch a back-to-back sweep of both trophies following Northeastern’s successful title defense last month in the historic Women’s Beanpot final at TD Garden.
Northeastern has won eight men’s Beanpots overall.
Among those back for another Beanpot run is senior Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, who scored both of Northeastern’s goals in regulation last year when the Huskies ultimately prevailed over Harvard in a title-game shootout.
“It gives you a little bit of confidence knowing that guys in that room have done it before and they know what it takes to win the Beanpot,” says Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe, who also earned a threepeat of Beanpot titles as an assistant to Jim Madigan (2018, ’19 and ’20). “The other part of it going into the tournament is expecting to win and not hoping to win.”
The Huskies have fueled those expectation with back-to-back home upsets against a pair of the nation’s best teams — 4-3 in overtime over No. 3 Boston University on Tuesday and 6-3 over No. 5 Maine on Friday. Their four-game winning streak (which has boosted Northeastern to No. 19 in the PairWise national rankings) comes as no surprise to Keefe’s players now that their team is complete again.
“We had our first practice [fully] healthy in months the other day,” says team captain Justin Hryckowian, who has recorded 21 points in 19 games since returning from injury. “It was just great to see everybody there. It was exciting to see everybody with a smile on their face, practicing and getting that vibe.”
The Huskies suffered key absences amid Hockey East’s emergence as the nation’s strongest conference, with three Northeastern rivals — Boston College, BU and Maine — among the top five nationally. A big takeaway for Keefe was that his shorthanded team kept up the fight against top opposition.
“We’ve been in some really good battles this year, we played great hockey,” Keefe says. “We feel confident that we can play against the best.”
Though the Huskies weren’t happy with their losses, they believe they strengthened their depth over the first three months.
“It helped us because a lot of the younger guys got more opportunities — some power-play time, some [penalty-kill] time — so that helped them get their feet wet,” says senior Alex Campbell, a transfer from Clarkson who co-leads the Huskies with 14 goals alongside sophomore Jack Williams. “Now that we’ve got everyone back, they feel a little more comfortable and at ease out there.”
The Huskies have made a long-running habit of playing their best hockey around the Beanpot.
“You always want to take pride in being good on the biggest stages, in the biggest games, and I think we’re very well prepared from our coaching staff,” says Hryckowian, who was recognized last season as the best defensive forward in Hockey East. “We just hone in on the details and we play with a lot of pride. You want to do it for the university, for the people who come out to the games, and we know how important it is. We’re just willing to do whatever it takes.”
The Beanpot helped draw Hryckowian to Northeastern.
“They bring us down here and you get to soak it in for the first time,” says Hryckowian, a junior from Montreal whose brother, freshman Dylan Hryckowian, plays on his line for the Huskies. “Northeastern won it that year and it was something I’ve never seen before — the student section, the band going — and just the top-notch quality of hockey is unreal.
“This is one of the best traditions in college hockey, this tournament here. It was a huge selling point for me and my family.”
Harvard (4-13-3) has also had a difficult season. Both teams are hoping the Beanpot will serve as a fresh start, launching them toward their conference tournaments in March.
“When adversity comes you’ve kind of got to smile — because you know something great is going to come out of it at some point,” Hryckowian says. “It feels like we’re turning that corner here. We’re battle-tested now. It’s a chip on our shoulder and I think we’re ready for anything.”