BOSTON -- To erase 26 years of Beanpot misery, the Northeastern Huskies first had to make it to the championship game Feb. 10. Jim Madigan's men took that step Monday night, knocking off the Harvard Crimson 6-0 in the opening game of the 62nd edition of this annual mid-winter battle for city supremacy at TD Garden.
The No. 11 Huskies (16-8-3; 8-5-1 Hockey East) will be appearing in their second straight championship game, and third in the past four years. However, Northeastern hasn't won the coveted Beanpot since 1988, despite playing in seven championship games since that last shining moment.
It was a night of near misses for the Crimson (6-12-3; 3-9-3 ECAC Hockey), who hit at least two posts, but more often than not hit NU junior goalkeeper Clay Witt, who turned in a stellar performance with 27 saves. The Huskies, meanwhile, employed a swarming forecheck and opportunistic shooting to send Ted Donato's Crimson to their sixth straight consolation game, extending Harvard's Beanpot drought to 11 years.
"They outplayed us all over the ice, and outcoached us," said Donato.
Northeastern freshman Dalen Hedges got things rolling for the Huskies when he went top shelf over Raphael Girard's left shoulder from the right face-off dot at 5:57 of the first period. NU's Kevin Roy, the MVP of the 2013 Beanpot, doubled the lead at 12:08 when he put a one-timer in the opposite corner, over Girard's blocker for a 5-on-3 power-player marker and his 15th goal of the season (and his sixth goal in three Beanpot games).
"I thought our guys were ready to go from that opening faceoff," said Madigan. "Those first two goals gave us some extra jump."
The Huskies didn't even flinch when captain Josh Manson was ejected for a hit to the head at 14:12 of the opening period.
"That was our chance to get a goal and get back in the game," said Donato. "We were not very good on the power play."
A pair of goals in the first five minutes of the second period put the game on ice for the Huskies. Just 31 seconds into the middle stanza, NU's Torin Snydeman crashed the net to stuff a Mike Szmatula feed past Girard (21 saves) for a 3-0 lead. Szmatula then helped push the margin to 4-0 with a sweet backhand pass that set up Braden Pimm for a tap-in goal at 4:22.
Any hopes of a third-period Crimson comeback were snuffed out when the Huskies struck for their second power-play goal only 16 seconds into the final frame. With Harvard's Alexander Kerfoot serving two minutes for holding, NU's Colton Saucerman flicked a shot from the blue line that went through a Pimm screen and beat Girard low locker side. The shot was the last Girard would see, as Donato switched to junior Steve Michalek.
At 6:20, Witt flashed the left pad to stone Harvard's Jimmy Vesey on a point-blank bid in a play that was a microcosm of the Crimson's evening. Witt topped that with an acrobatic sprawling save on Sean Malone at 11:30, thoroughly demoralizing the Harvard attack.
Szmatula completed his three-point night when he buried a loose puck to the right of Michalek for the Huskies' third power-play goal at 16:47, pushing Northeastern's lead to 6-0 and ensuring a spot in the championship game next week.
But the job, as every Northeastern player, coach, and fan will tell you, isn't done. The Huskies will need to punch the clock next Monday with the same tenacity, and the same airtight goaltending.
"We haven't won anything yet," said Madigan.