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Defending champion Huskies advance to sixth straight Beanpot men’s final with 3-2 overtime win vs. Harvard

A victory in the championship game next Monday will clinch a second straight sweep of both the men’s and women’s Beanpots for Northeastern.

A hockey player spikes a punch into a goal while a goalie tries to block the punch from going in before it ultimately does.
Gunnarwolfe Fontaine scores the winning goal for Northeastern in overtime. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In celebration of their favorite time of year, the defending champion Northeastern Huskies advanced to a sixth straight men’s Beanpot final with a 3-2 overtime win over Harvard on Monday night at TD Garden.

It was a rematch of last year’s final, which the Huskies won in an extra-time shootout for their fourth Beanpot championship in five tournaments.

In this semifinal they needed just 33 seconds of three-on-three overtime to beat Harvard on a winner struck by Gunnarwolfe Fontaine — who in last year’s final had scored both of the Huskies’ goals in regulation.

This was a back-and-forth night that affirmed the backbone of the Huskies, who have recovered from early-season defensive injuries to reach .500 for the first time since October. When the Huskies squandered an early lead (via an opening goal by Alex Campbell), they responded with a strong third period resulting in the equalizer by junior team leader Justin Hryckowian, who assisted on both of Northeastern’s other goals.

“I thought our captain just willed us tonight,” Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe said of Hryckowian. “In that third period he was outstanding every time he stepped on the ice.”

The overtime was just getting started when Fontaine dropped a pass to Hryckowian and slid across to the left side in time to swat his teammate’s give-and-go pass. It was Fontaine’s third goal in his last two Beanpot games and set off the kind of Northeastern celebration that has become familiar and yet never taken for granted.

“You want to put guys that want the puck on their stick in those situations — and you could tell Gunnar wanted the puck on his stick,” Keefe said. “He wanted the puck and you could tell there were no nerves. He wanted to be a difference-maker.”

The hockey world will classify No. 19 Northeastern (12-12-2) as the underdog vs. No. 3 Boston University (18-7-1) in the final next Monday. 

But the Huskies hold to a different opinion, having now won 10 of their last 11 games in Boston’s epic four-team tournament. When they look in the mirror they see champions.

In addition to their pursuit of a fifth men’s championship in the last six Beanpots, the Huskies are aiming for a back-to-back sweep of this year’s tournaments following Northeastern’s successful defense of its Women’s Beanpot title last month in this building.

The hot Huskies’ five-game winning streak includes upsets of BU and No. 5 Maine last week at Matthews Arena. In December they won 5-3 at BC, an early-season breakthrough that foreshadowed their recent gains.

It was one year ago against Harvard that the Huskies’ clinched their eighth men’s Beanpot title overall on a shootout goal by Aidan McDonough with the backing of goaltender Devon Levi. Both have moved on to the NHL, leaving the program to a new but experienced group of leaders. 

Two of those go-to players wasted little time Monday as Hryckowian sent a ninth-minute outlet pass up the right side to Campbell, a senior transfer, who centered himself and left-handed a shot past Harvard goalie Derek Mullahy (35 saves). It was Campbell’s team-leading 15th goal.

The Crimson equalized early in the middle period on a Ben MacDonald shot that whistled past two teammates to blindside Whitehead. (A Northeastern challenge of goaltender interference was dismissed).

A rare penalty shot was awarded to Harvard’s Ryan Healey when he was taken down from behind during a Crimson power play. But Northeastern freshman goaltender Cameron Whitehead handled Healey’s approach from the left side with ease, gloving it down to keep things even at 1-1 approaching the game’s midpoint. 

“The penalty shot was huge, to come up and make that save when he did,” Keefe said of Whitehead, who made 21 saves in his Beanpot debut. “He made a huge save against a really good player. Our team has so much confidence in him … I think he showed that he’s going to show up in the big games.”

The Huskies had chances to seize control early in the final period but were unable to exploit power-play opportunities for most of the opening four minutes. That failure haunted them moments after Harvard regained full strength when Crimson freshman Matthew Morden scored his first collegiate goal from near the blue line. He beat Whitehead just inside his left post to give Harvard a 2-1 advantage with 15:39 to go.

Six frantic minutes later the Huskies drew back even when a Vinny Borgesi shot pinballed within the crowded crease before clanging out to Hryckowian, who flicked it point-blank into the open net with 9:17 remaining. (His freshman brother Dylan Hryckowian assisted on the play.)

Northeastern’s experience and tradition of Beanpot success was crucial against the young Crimson. 

“It definitely helps having the experience,” Hryckowian said. “You feel a little more poised in these situations when you get a little older and you’ve been through it. And I think you have a greater appreciation for winning the thing when you’ve lost it before. My freshman year we came up short, so I think it just really gets you going.”

The Huskies know they’ll be underdogs next Monday. They know they’ll have the Dog House cheering in their corner. And they believe they’ll be ready.

“We’ve been able to string some wins together and we’ve won in different ways,” Keefe said. “We’ll lean on the guys who have won before. Those guys can help the younger guys.”