BOSTON -- Boston College's Ben Smith played youth hockey with Harvard's Doug Rogers and junior hockey with Northeastern's Jimmy Driscoll, and he grew up outside Hartford, Conn., just one town over from Boston University's Nick Bonino.
Rogers played with Boston College's Joe Whitney starting when both were in the fourth grade. Bonino played prep hockey with Boston College's Cam Atkinson. Quite a few players from the Boston area, including Driscoll, still compete in a regular game in Hingham, Mass., on Thursday nights in the summer.
Heck, Smith was driving down Newbury Street earlier this year and saw Northeastern's Tyler McNeely -- whose bright red hair admittedly is hard to miss -- walking the other way.
"There's a lot of Boston guys on every team," Rogers said during the annual pre-Beanpot luncheon at the TD Garden on Wednesday. "You all grow up playing together. In some instances, you play on the same team and you're friends -- and then you go to college and you all go your separate ways. Some of your buddies end up playing on BC or BU or Northeastern. Growing up, your competitive edge comes out with your friends."
"Hockey's kind of a small world, and you cross paths with guys pretty frequently," Bonino said.
With the four Beanpot schools in such close proximity, the tradition-laden logos on the front of each jersey are only part of the reason competition gets so fierce. Rivalries between individual players whose paths have crossed over and over make for competitive hockey when any trophy is on the line, and a Beanpot title is something one friend can hold over the head of another.
"It's the bragging rights," Smith said. "The guys from BU, Northeastern, Harvard, we see them all the time. We'll see them beyond college hockey, also. Just to know we were one-up on them -- especially senior year, too, when you're all leaders on your teams -- to be one-up on those guys, that's the experience you want to have."
"I know that years down the road we're going to be talking about these games," Bonino said. "We'll be talking about the Fenway game. We'll be talking about the BC games. It's definitely something you want to be able to say you won. It's good to have that over a friend of yours."
Boston College and Harvard will meet in the first of two Beanpot semifinals on Monday at 5 p.m. Boston University and Northeastern will follow at 8 p.m., and the championship game is set for the following week.
Beanpot games don't count in any conference standings -- Harvard doesn't even play in the same conference as the other three schools -- but bragging rights in Boston mean as much as two points in Hockey East or the ECAC.
Boston University already has won seven titles since 2000 and has a chance to add to a legacy that means a lot to Jack Parker's perennial power. Even the Terriers who won Beanpots themselves in the past keep tabs on the games to make sure their successors are upholding the tradition.
"Coach Parker definitely says, 'Guys who have played here, this means a lot to them. They watch the games, and they live and die by the games 20 years la0ter,'" said Bonino, who scored three goals in two Beanpot games a year ago. "We're playing for each other, and we're playing for guys that care that much. That's who we want to win it for, too."
Same goes for former players at the three teams that haven't enjoyed as much success as the Terriers have.
"You always hear from guys that say, 'Hey, I'm a team with a BU guy and we're going out to dinner -- and if BC wins, he's got to pay,' " Smith said. "It's that kind of stuff."
With so much talent on all four rosters -- NHL teams already hold the rights to about 35 of the players who will compete in the Beanpot -- players are likely to cross paths again in the future. Rogers' New York Islanders, for example, also drafted BU's Corey Trivino. Bonino's San Jose Sharks hold the rights to Northeastern's Drew Daniels and Justin Daniels, and already employ former Boston College forward Nick Petrecki, who scored an overtime goal to beat Harvard in the title game two years ago.
Players jostling in front of the net in the Beanpot on Monday might just end up sharing a bench in a professional organization in the not-too-distant future.
"A lot of these guys, we'll all go on, hopefully, and play somewhere after college," Smith said. "Your senior year, it's a big year. You want to be able to say, "Hey, that was our year. We won that one.' "
Brian MacPherson is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.