BOSTON -- No matter who captured the 62nd Beanpot championship game, the No. 5 promised to be special to the team hoisting the trophy. In the end, after 60 grueling minutes of whirlwind hockey, the Boston College Eagles won their fifth straight Beanpot, 4-1, over a relentless Northeastern squad, denying the Huskies a chance to capture their fifth title overall.
"It's something we strive for," said BC coach Jerry York, who won his eighth Beanpot title as a coach, tying the school mark of the legendary John "Snooks" Kelley. "And when you accomplish something you strive for, it's a real proud moment."
But BC's fifth straight Beanpot, and 19th title overall, wouldn't have happened without No. 23, senior captain Patrick Brown, who scored the game winner on a highlight-reel deflection to snap a 1-1 stalemate with 5:30 to go, or No. 30, freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko, who shut down a determined Northeastern attack.
"We're not thinking about the streak," Brown said afterward, when asked how BC has managed to consistently win on the big stage. "It's not about winning five in a row. It's about winning one. We're trying to win that game."
Monday's Beanpot final before a boisterous sellout crowd of 17,565 at TD Garden was a worthy championship tilt, played at a breathtaking pace with plenty of jarring hits but remarkably devoid of infractions. Northeastern (16-10-3), playing its first penalty-free game in a dozen years, had the Eagles (22-4-3) in its crosshairs until Brown worked his late-game magic.
"I’m really proud of our guys," Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. "Our guys really worked hard, battled hard. We come in here, facing a team that's No. 1 in the country and defending Beanpot champions, who is playing really well -- they're undefeated in 14, 15 games -- and we gave everything we could. I'm not walking away happy with the loss, but I’m happy with the way the guys competed and battled.
"That’s the part that stings the most," he said. "You walk out of here with a little bit of hurt because you didn't get the job done."
BC dodged a bullet at 6:21 of the first, when an apparent goal by Northeastern was waved off after video review. During an odd-man rush, NU's Tanner Pond and BC's Michael Matheson got tangled up, and tumbled into Demko. The Huskies' Ryan Belonger, trailing the play, picked up the loose puck and popped it over a prone Demko. On-ice officials called it a goal, but video review showed Pond impeded Demko, and the strike was overruled.
Two minutes later, Northeastern goalie Clay Witt robbed BC's Johnny Gaudreau's wide-angle backhand bid with a nifty right toe save, but BC was able to quickly regain possession of the puck in the Husky zone. At 8:40, Gaudreau shoveled a slick pass through three Northeastern players to linemate Kevin Hayes in the slot. The senior, who would win the Beanpot MVP, snapped off a quick shot that went between the legs of Pond and Witt and into the net for a 1-0 BC lead.
The assist extended Gaudreau's point streak to 24 games. It was a critical first goal (BC came into the game with a 16-0-1 record when scoring first), but the TD Garden crowd already had witnessed one comeback victory on Monday, when Harvard turned the tables on Boston University after going down 1-0 to win 6-2 in the consolation game.
BC and Northeastern kept trading chances, with Witt bringing the NU faithful out of their seats with a lunging stick save on Ryan Fitzgerald's point-blank shot at the 16-minute mark. With 20 seconds left, Demko blunted a quality chance from NU's Mike Gunn, and then Witt robbed Hayes' breakaway bid to close out the period.
"I thought he played fabulous," Madigan said of his junior goaltender. "I thought both goalies played really well tonight, and Clay gave us a chance to win."
Fans barely had a chance to catch their breath after the first intermission when BC's Michael Sit bowled over Witt while driving hard to the goal, knocking the net off its pegs. Moments later, NU's Adam Reid returned the favor, colliding with Demko behind the BC net. The two warm-weather netminders -- Witt hails from Florida, while Demko is a native of San Diego -- continued to stymie the best two offenses in Hockey East with a flurry of top-shelf saves.
Despite being outshot 14-8 in the middle period, the Huskies got the equalizer at 18:36. Deep in the Eagles' zone, NU sophomore Kevin Roy, last year's Beanpot MVP, intercepted an errant pass from BC's Bill Arnold and drove to the net. Demko managed to blunt Roy's jam at the doorstep, but John Stevens swooped in on the rebound and scooped a backhander into the BC net past Demko's outstretched glove to knot the game, 1-1.
"After that, we just regrouped," said Demko, who won the Eberly Award for the highest save percentage in the tournament, at .966. "We weren't worried."
Just 45 seconds into the third period, BC's Scott Savage misjudged a carom off the center ice boards, and NU's Torin Snydeman jumped on the loose puck to break in on Demko. But the rangy freshman stood his ground, grabbing Snydeman's bid with his glove.
"We do what we can to keep the pucks from getting to the net, and Thatcher does a great job with the ones that do," Brown said.
Demko got steamrolled again at 2:55, when teammate Danny Linell took out Pond, sending the NU freshman into the BC goal and goalkeeper. However, BC was able to kill off the ensuing power play.
With eight minutes left, BC began to turn up the heat, but Witt and his defense continued to stand tall. At 14:30, though, Brown stood a little taller, even as he was falling down.
Stationed near the top of the Northeastern crease, battling Stevens, Brown managed to tip a point shot from Isaac MacLeod after getting knocked down, redirecting the puck past Witt for the game winner. It was the eighth goal of the season for Brown, but none have been bigger in his career.
"Isaac MacLeod works really hard at shooting for sticks. He's got a great shot pass," Brown said. "I was just trying to find a spot in the slot, where he could hit my stick. I was getting mauled a little bit and fell down, but was able to get my stick on it. He made a great tape-to-tape pass.
"You just have to focus and keep your eye on the puck," he said.
York, however, gave full marks to his captain. "That's a skill he works at in practice and it's something he's very good at," the BC coach said. "Still, late in the game, in the heat of the moment, to reach out and redirect the puck past the goaltender is pretty special. I'll remember that for a long time."
With less than two minutes to play and Witt pulled for the extra attacker, a Northeastern defensive miscue put the puck on the stick of the most dangerous player on the ice, Gaudreau, and the junior from New Jersey laced it from center ice into the empty net at 18:44 for the insurance marker, and his 25th of the year.
Just 26 seconds later, Brown sprung free down the right side and roofed a wrist shot over Witt's glove for his second of the game and a 4-1 lead.
"There’s a reason why they're No. 1 in the country," Madigan said. "I thought our guys battled. We had a chance to win, and when you're under five or six minutes left, those are the situations when, if we’re going to win as an underdog, that you want to be in -- a tie game with only four or five minutes left in the game."
But it was the Eagles who found a way to get it done. Which, of course, is what champions do. Brown said the wins are the result of a culture at BC, which is instilled from the moment the members of the freshman class step on campus.
"We hold ourselves accountable," he said. "We want everyone working hard in practice, no one taking days off, no one hiding. We've got talented guys, but they have to work hard, too. We've got guys with less talent, and they just have to work harder."
And on the second Monday of February, they all take turns lifting the Beanpot.