College Puckcast: 2016 Beanpot Preview
While Northeastern tends to be the butt of most Beanpot jokes (the Huskies haven’t won the tournament since 1988), Harvard continues to experience quite the drought itself. The Crimson haven’t won since 1993, and they haven’t even made the final since 2008.
This year’s team is as good as any Harvard has had over the last 20 years, as the Crimson are currently 12-4-3 and fifth in the national Pairwise rankings. They’re well on their way to a second straight NCAA tournament appearance, and it would be fair to call them a national title contender.
Before they get to that, though, Harvard would like to end its Beanpot drought. On WEEI’s College Puckcast, Ted Donato — now in his 12th season as the Crimson’s head coach — admitted he’s feeling some Beanpot pressure.
“The truth of it is, yeah, we do put pressure on ourselves. I know I do,” Donato said. “I want to win the Beanpot at Harvard here. I want our guys to enjoy that experience. Our guys have certainly circled it on their calendars and schedules and know the importance of the game. I don’t think they put pressure on themselves in relation to the overall record over the years. Each team is a new team and each year is a new year, but there’s no denying that we would like to play really well and win the Beanpot.”
The Crimson open the tournament in Monday’s 5 p.m. game against No. 6 Boston College in what could very well be the game of the tournament. The Eagles rank in the top five nationally in both team offense and team defense, and they lead the country with a plus-2.36 goal margin per game. Simply put, BC is a team without any weaknesses.
“They have a very well-balanced team,” Donato said. “It starts in the net with Thatcher Demko being one of the best goalies in college hockey. Their D corps is a very talented group. Lot of experience there. They have a good mix of size and skill and speed. And then up front, they have their usual arsenal of dangerous forwards. Guys like [Ryan] Fitzgerald and Colin White and [Adam] Gilmour and [Chris] Calnan, [Austin] Cangelosi. The list goes on and on. They’re a very talented team with great balance. I expect the game to be very competitive, very fast, very skilled. They’re a tough challenge for anybody and we’re excited to have that opportunity.”
BC may have the deeper team, but Harvard probably has the best player and best line in the tournament, if not the country. Jimmy Vesey was already a Hobey Baker finalist last season, and he’s well on his way to being one again. The North Reading native and Predators draft pick is second nationally in points per game with 16 goals and 16 assists in 19 games. He and linemates Alex Kerfoot and Kyle Criscuolo have combined for 1.8 goals per game this season.
“I think Jimmy continues to improve and develop,” Donato said. “He’s become a really gifted 200-foot player. He’s gone from a guy that we relied on offensively to a guy that we rely on in all situations. He kills penalties. He’s out there not only if we’re down a goal at the end of the game, but also if we’re up a goal and trying to protect a lead. He’s really done a lot of things to improve as a player. He deserves a lot of credit.”
The Eagles, who are looking to win their sixth Beanpot in the last seven years, know that beating Harvard starts with limiting that line’s chances. Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini, two of the best defensemen in college hockey, should both see plenty of that trio throughout the game.
“They have great forwards,” BC associate head coach Greg Brown said on the College Puckcast. “Their first line is probably as good as any in the country, if not the best line in the country. We know you have to limit those guys. It’s hard to limit all their chances, but we know we can’t be loose with the puck against them because they can make you pay as much as anybody.”
The Eagles’ top line isn’t too shabby, either. Bruins draft pick Ryan Fitzgerald already has a career-high 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in a standout junior season, but it’s freshman center Colin White who drives BC’s No. 1 unit. The Hanover native and Senators first-round pick ranks second nationally among freshmen and eighth overall in points per game with 15 goals and 18 assists in 23 games.
“We knew he’s a tremendous hockey player and that he would be great,” Brown said of White. “I guess you never know how quickly the offense is going to come for a player. You know with a player of his caliber that the offense will come, but I guess you could say that even we were surprised that it came as quickly as it did. He had no trouble jumping right into college hockey, playing against bigger, stronger defensemen. It’s been impressive to watch.”
No. 8 Boston University takes on Northeastern in the night cap Monday. The game is a rematch of last year’s Beanpot championship game, which BU won 4-3 in overtime. The Terriers haven’t let the loss of Jack Eichel derail them, as they boast the eighth-best offense in the country. The Huskies, meanwhile, have turned things around after a dreadful start to the season and actually enter the Beanpot as the hottest team in the field with a six-game winning streak and eight-game unbeaten streak.
Check out our latest episode of the College Puckcast for more from Brown and Donato, as well as a complete tournament preview with John ‘Jocko’ Connolly of the Boston Herald.