Boston University and Boston College entered Monday's Beanpot final ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the nation, respectively. But even their jockeying in the national rankings this season doesn't hold a candle to the excitement we're typically exposed to when these two teams meet up in the annual tournament.
Prior to Monday night's championship showdown, each of the last eight head-to-head Beanpot matchups between BU and BC were decided by one goal, with four of those contests needing more than 60 minutes to settle. Of those eight games, five came with the Beanpot title on the line.
But one could argue that Monday's see-saw battle, from which Boston College emerged victorious, was the best of them all. After all, it met all of the above criteria.
"BU played an outstanding hockey game," BC head coach Jerry York said after the win. "I thought we came right back with the same attitude to our team, so that was college hockey at its finest. We're both ranked in the top five in the country, so we kind of expect that. And then with the rivalry between the two schools, it had all the makings of a classic college hockey game and it unfolded just like that."
A classic indeed.
The game's first tally came after BC saw freshman Quinn Smith get sent off for boarding at 7:38 of the first period. But just as they did last week, the Eagles showed they can still be dangerous when playing a man down, as Pat Mullane got BC on the board with Smith still in the box.
The two teams then traded power-play goals in the second period before Garrett Noonan's second goal of the night (11th of the season) pulled the Terriers even with just 13 minutes left in regulation.
With neither team able to capitalize down the stretch, the game required an extra period, and looked poised for a second overtime.
Bill Arnold had other plans.
The sophomore took a feed from junior Steven Whitney, and ripped a wrist shot past BU goaltender Kieran Millan for the game-winner, handing Boston College its third straight Beanpot title.
"I'm in the clouds right now," Arnold said of his title-clinching goal. "You dream about this as a kid and you never really expect it to happen, so this is unbelievable."
A native of Needham, Mass., Arnold grew up watching the Beanpot and rooting for BC, so he firmly understands the importance of the annual tournament in the Boston-area. And while the event will always remain popular locally, Monday's Garden thriller served as the latest example of just how competitive the tournament remains, and how it's possible for the tourney to still reach new heights even though it just blew out its 60th birthday candle.
"Over the last few years, people have talked about, 'Has the Beanpot kind of lost its luster?' 'How are the crowds?' and 'Where is college hockey in the Boston area?' Well tonight was a statement," York said. "That place was jammed with fans of college hockey, whether they're associated with BU or BC or Harvard or Northeastern, I think the Beanpot's in good hands. It has been for a long time, and it's going to continue, especially with that type of hockey game tonight."
York may not have been referring directly to BC when he said the Beanpot is in good hands, but his team's fingerprints are the only ones to be all over it for three straight years. BC's six seniors haven't lost a Beanpot game since their first, when the Eagles fell to Northeastern, 6-1, in the first round in 2009.
Defenseman Tommy Cross, one of those six seniors and a 2007 draft pick of the Boston Bruins, is relishing the success. But he isn't ready to discredit anything any of the other three participating schools bring to the table annually.
"I don't know if it's that BC is taking over the Beanpot. I don't think that's the case," Cross said. "Last year was overtime, this year was overtime. I think it just speaks to the level of play of the four schools in Boston. Every game's tough, whether it's the first round or whether it's the finals. BU's got a great hockey team, BC's got a great hockey team. The level of play, certainly this year, it gets better every year. It speaks to our program, but also the other programs in the Beanpot."
Next season, BC will look to become the first school to win four Beanpot titles in a row since BU won six in a row from 1995 to 2000.
If the recent trend holds true, it won't be easy. Then again, is it ever? The level of competitiveness is what allows the Beanpot to maintain its luster after all these years. It's not simply a matter of which hands the famous trophy ends up in. It's a matter of how it gets there.
And this year's incredible final, during which the trophy seemingly switched hands 10 different times in a one-hour period, shows why the event remains an intriguing one for even the most casual hockey fan.