BOSTON -- Talk about two teams with something to play for. When Northeastern University and Boston College square off for the Beanpot championship next Monday night, both will have plenty of incentive.
The Northeastern Huskies (8-13-3), after knocking off Boston University for the first time in 16 Beanpot contests, are looking to end 25 years of frustration and bring their first Beanpot crown to Huntington Avenue since 1988. There's also a measure of revenge, as BC broke the hearts of the Northeastern faithful when it edged the Huskies in overtime 7-6 in the 2011 final.
Rest assured, though, that the Eagles (16-7-2) are aiming to spoil Northeastern's party plans. After bouncing the Harvard Crimson 4-1 in the opening-round nightcap to run their Beanpot record to 7-0, BC's seniors -- including captain Pat Mullane, goaltender Parker Milner, Steve Whitney, Patrick Wey, Patch Alber and Brooks Dyroff -- are looking for their own place in the history books with a rare four-peat as Beanpot champions.
"It would mean a lot to me to win four in a row," said BC's Whitney, of nearby Reading, Mass., after the Eagles brushed aside Harvard. "I grew up watching the Beanpot. It's very special to me. The rest of the seniors feel the same way.
"Northeastern is definitely a very competitive opponent," he said. "They're starting to get hot, and we have to be well prepared for Monday."
Speaking of hot, expect the Eagles to keep special tabs on Northeastern's Kevin Roy, the freshman who almost single-handedly took out the Terriers with a hat trick in the Huskies' 3-2 opening-round victory.
"I think when the pressure is higher, I get the better performance," the Quebec native said. "I was just excited to start and see what it was like. It was a great experience, a great team win. Everyone did what they had to do, and that's why we came up with the win at the end."
Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said the emergence of Roy (15 goals, 15 assists), combined with the team's newfound poise and commitment to defense, is beginning to reap rewards.
"Kevin is a highly skilled player. He's opportunistic," Madigan said. "The bigger the stage is, the bigger the event, he likes to rise to that occasion. So we'll see where he is next Monday."
Perhaps of greatest concern for Northeastern next Monday will be BC's remarkable record of having unsung players step up at just the right moment. On Monday, it was sophomore Quinn Smith, who tallied the first two goals for the Eagles, doubling his production for the season, as they built a 3-0 lead.
"Part of Quinn's role is to bring energy to this team. And he does it every night," Whitney said. "When he scored two goals, it brought even more energy. It was awesome to see."
BC coach Jerry York agreed, saying Quinn was "a good, hard-nosed, checking-type player for us. Anytime he scores goals like tonight, it's an added bonus for us."
"You need some real grinders," York said. "He accepts that role, and he's very good at it. Every game, he gives you an all-out effort. When he scores like tonight, that's a real plus."
Translation? BC is deep, with a capital D. Though Harvard coach Ted Donato was talking about his team's 4-1 loss, he sounded a note of caution for Northeastern, suggesting the Huskies will want to avoid a reprise of the 2011 overtime shootout.
"There aren't many teams that are going to win trading chances with that Boston College team," Donato said. "They have some real firepower."
The statistics back up Donato's claim. The Eagles have nine players with 10 or more points, led by Johnny Gaudreau (13-20-33), Mullane (12-19-31) and Whitney (17-12-29). Whitney leads the nation in third-period goals with 12. To keep that firepower under wraps, Northeastern will need another big game from senior goaltender Chris Rawlings and its young defensive corps (three sophomores and three freshmen).
"Throughout the whole year, obviously we've kind of struggled a little bit, just because we have a young D corps," Rawlings said. "But this week, we really worked on our D zone, protecting the fourth zone, as we call it, and the guys did an awesome job. They did whatever they could to help the team win. They were blocking shots, clearing any second chances, so hats off to them."
Northeastern came into the Beanpot as the only team to play, and beat, the other three squads. However, the Huskies also had to shake off a 9-3 loss to BC on Jan. 19, which came on the heels of a scintillating 6-5 win over BU.
"Anytime we can beat a team like BU, especially before the Beanpot, it's a big confidence-booster," Rawlings said. "But when you think about it, really, it's not what you did before or what you're going to do. It's about now. Any team can win on any given night. That's what coach Madigan talked about. With this tournament, it doesn't matter about wins and losses in Hockey East. It's just whoever wants it most on Monday night, and then the second Monday night."
For Rawlings, the memories of the 2011 overtime loss to BC linger, but he insisted they don't define this year's team.
"Obviously, to get a second chance at BC is awesome," the senior netminder said. "Obviously, I think we're going to give them a better run for their money. As far as preparation, I think it's just like any other game. It might sound boring, but it doesn't matter if it's the first game of the season or the Beanpot final. It doesn't matter. We're going to prepare the same way we prepare for every game."
Madigan did pull one trick from his sleeve this past weekend, bringing former Beanpot MVP Wayne Turner back to Northeastern to encourage his players. However, the Huskies' bench boss insisted he's not going to dwell on the past in the week leading up to the Beanpot final.
"You can go back to the history books, and I know it makes a good story, but I've got to be honest with you: We're just focusing on straight ahead with this team at this time," Madigan said. "The stuff before this isn't good. We don't have a great history. I was fortunate enough to play and coach and have some good teammates in the '80s when we won four, and I was a part of three. I want our players and our team to have that experience moving forward.
"It has nothing to do with the teams in the past," he said. "It's what we're going to do moving forward. We control our own destiny."
The Eagles, no doubt, believe the same.
Brion O'Connor covers college hockey for ESPNBoston.com.