Almost 60 years ago, the Harvard men?s ice hockey program captured the first ever Beanpot title when they crushed the Boston University Terriers 7-4. Fast-forward to the 21st century and it?s been a far cry for the Crimson the annual tournament from that inaugural gathering in December of 1952.
After advancing to the finals four times in the 1990?s — including a title in 1993 — the Harvard ice men have struggled in the four-team challenge. They found success in 2008, when they took down Northeastern in the opening round (for just the fourth time in 10 straight years against the Huskies in the tournament) but were clipped in the finals 6-5 in overtime thanks to Boston College?s Nick Petrecki?s game-winner.
It was the the first of three straight one-goal losses Harvard suffered heading into this year's challenge as they lost to BU in the opening round and BC in the consolation round last year, both by score of 4-3.
Senior captain Alex Biega was a sophomore that season, and is one of a few skaters who knows what the team needs to do to hoist that trophy and how much this annual event means to the city and its hockey fans.
He also knows how to keep things loose heading into the event.
?I?ve learned two things about the Beanpot,? he said at the media luncheon on Wednesday. ?One is any team can win the Beanpot in any given year. Two is that [head coach Ted] Donato probably has more hair than we have fans.?
While the follically challenged coach got a chuckle out of the remark, the Crimson?s season has been far from a happy one. Donato?s squad is hoping to change its Beanpot luck this year, but at just 5-11-3 overall, they will have a tough time getting past Boston College in the opening round on Monday. BC leads the Beanpot series against Harvard 24-13.
However, the Crimson do have one thing going for them heading into the tourney. Not only are they riding the underdog card against the powerful Eagles, they have also been able to find a way to win some games lately — or at least not lose them. After a dismal start to the season, no one was able to beat them in their last four games before their 2-1 loss to Princeton on Friday night. In that four-game winning streak, the team outscored its opponents 14-7.
?We?ve worked hard in practice,? freshman forward Louis Leblanc told the team?s Web site. ?We worked a lot on our offensive play, and all four lines have been clicking lately, and we?re starting to put the puck in the net.?
Despite playing in just his first season, Leblanc leads the squad with nine goals through 16 games. Leblanc is also tied for most points with Michael Biega — brother of team captain Alex — with 16. But there's one more Biega on this squad in freshman Danny, who is one of eight first-year skaters on this young squad that consists of just six seniors.
Despite the inexperience and slow play leading up to the tourney, these two Mondays may spring some life into this ECAC team — something Donato has seen the Beanpot do to the usual powerhouses Boston University and Boston College in the past.
?You look at BC and BU and I think they?ve used this tournament as a springboard to try to have success in the playoffs,? said the coach. ?I think it?s a great experience for our young guys to come in and win a Beanpot and really get our team in the right direction. Our schedule?s been difficult and we haven?t been successful, but as a Boston guy, I think we?d trade that in for a Beanpot championship.?
This year is as good a year as any for Harvard to play the upset card. Although these regular season games do count, the atmosphere in the Garden gives these contests an added flair that seems to even the playing field. Teams tend to forget records and previous matchups when the puck drops here.
?I think it?s very evenly matched, even if the records aren?t,? he added. ?I think it?s entertaining — it?s teams that historically have success nationwide and locally it has such history and tradition that all the teams are very excited about.?
If the younger players have any questions about the Beanpot, they don?t have to go far for answers. Donato is a 1991 graduate who won an NCAA title with Harvard in 1989 — the same year the Crimson won their ninth Beanpot crown.
Even after a 13-year career in the NHL, some of Donato?s fondest memories are from his college days — more specifically in this tournament.
?There?s so many ways that this is a special moment and a big part of the highlights of a player?s career. As I think about it, I have great memories and hopefully we?ll be able to create some great memories this year.?