Anyone who thinks the No. 1 Boston College Eagles (19-6-0, 15-5-0 Hockey East) are coasting into Monday's opening-round Beanpot game against nemesis Boston University simply doesn't understand the intensity of this rivalry.
First, the Eagles are facing off against the No. 14 Terriers, a team that holds a 27-12 record against BC in this storied tournament for local college hockey supremacy. Second, BU just about owns this tournament, having won exactly half (29) of the previous 58 Beanpots.
"The Beanpot is history," BC coach Jerry York said. "It's woven into all our players' hearts and minds. They've grown up with it, they've watched it, they've gone to it since they were 5, 6 years old. Even our players who come from a distance, with the advent of ESPN and NESN, they've been watching highlights for a number of years."
The Eagles have already swept the Hockey East regular-season series with the Terriers 3-0, but that means little. York has always maintained that it's difficult to beat any Hockey East opponent four straight, and those odds get even smaller when the opponent is Boston University. How tough is it? The Eagles have put together a 4-0 single-season record against the Terriers only twice.
In the 1986-87 season, the Eagles took four straight league games against their rivals. But in the fifth game that season, in the Beanpot, the Terriers throttled BC 6-3. In 2003-04, the Eagles swept four straight from the Terriers, including a 1-0 overtime win in the Beanpot final, but then lost a three-game quarterfinal series to BU in the Hockey East playoffs.
The point? When these teams get together, especially in the Beanpot, records are irrelevant. "The game means the same as it always has," BU coach Jack Parker said. "It's a BC-BU game, which is huge. You could play it on the Charles River or you could play it at the Boston Skating Club, it's just as important. When you put it in the Garden, in the Beanpot, with that crowd and that media coverage, it just amplifies how important it is.
"It doesn't matter that BC is the No. 1 team in the nation, it doesn't matter that they've beaten us three times, it doesn't matter that they're the defending national champions. It matters that BU is playing BC."
York sounds a similar note, agreeing that the fact that the teams are meeting in the first round doesn't enter the equation.
"It doesn't matter to us whether it's first round, second round, a Monday night in October or in March. This is our archrival," York said. "We're very much focused on this particular game."
The marquee first-round tilt (Northeastern and Harvard meet at 5 p.m. ET in the Monday opener) is a rematch of the 2010 final, won by the Eagles 4-3. But even that game, said York, is forgotten.
"We start 0-0 on Monday night, and we're going to have to play at the top of our game to give ourselves a chance to play for the Beanpot championship the next week," he said. "So if we don't stick with our formula, we're not going to advance."
That formula, he said, relies on rolling four lines, playing six defensemen and getting airtight goaltending from senior John Muse.
"Our success so far is based on team speed, creativity and hunker-down defense, and a feeling that no one person is bigger than our club," York said. "We've got a lot of players who can play in a lot of situations, so we're never concerned about minutes played. We're concerned about scoreboards."
And if York needed any more ammunition to keep his troops alert, he's got the ace in college hockey's PairWise rankings, the primary arbiter in deciding who plays where in the NCAA championships.
"Certainly we're excited about being No. 1. It's a rating that's given by coaches and sportswriters, and certainly something we're very proud of," York said. "But we also understand that, in the big scheme of things, the national tournament is based on the PairWise [rankings]. We're not a No. 1 seed yet. So we can't be fooled by being No. 1 in the polls. We're fifth in the PairWise, and we need to win a number of games, starting with this Beanpot tournament."
Make no mistake: York wants the No. 1 seed in the Northeast Regional, which is being played this year at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H. The East regional in Bridgeport, Conn., wouldn't be a bad choice either. "We're on a good roll. We're playing very, very well," York said of his team, which has won 11 of its past 12 games. "We're full speed ahead. But there's still lot of season to play. This juncture -- February, March, April -- determines how good a year you'll have. So we're looking forward to the challenge.
The fact that Parker's Terriers are on a nice little roll of their own (unbeaten in their past four) will only boost BC's PairWise rankings if the Eagles take another win from their crosstown rivals on Monday.
Which brings up another fun fact: The past three Beanpot winners -- BC in 2008, BU in 2009 and BC in 2010 -- have gone on to win the national championship.
A look at the rest of the field:
One hour. A full 60 minutes of consistent effort. That, in Parker's estimation, is what it's going to take for his Terriers (13-7-7, 10-5-5 Hockey East) to knock off BC.
"I don't think we've played a real good game against them this year," Parker said. "They've played extremely well every game they've played against us, and they've probably played extremely well in 90 percent of their games. There's a reason they're the No. 1 team in the nation.
"I don't think we have to get the first goal [Monday night]," he said. "We just have to play a 60-minute hockey game against them. We have yet to do that. We want to make sure we're playing well and can get the job done over the 60-minute haul."
Although the Eagles have tripped up BU three straight this season, Parker was encouraged by his Terriers the last time the squads met, a 3-2 BC victory on Jan. 21.
"There were things in that game that I liked about my team," he said. "I liked that we weren't jumpy. As the game progressed, we started to play hockey."
Asked if he saw any weaknesses in BC's game, Parker chuckled.
"There were things I saw in that game that constantly worry you about BC's team," he said. "Just look within our league. They're the No. 1 team, they've got the best power play, they've got the best penalty kill, they're the highest-scoring team, they're the stingiest team defensively -- so where is the chink in the armor? What can you exploit?
"You just have to hope that your team plays a terrific game and is capable of rising to the level of their play, and I think we are capable of that. Hopefully, we will Monday night."
The Terriers are making strides of late. After taking care of business at home Friday with a 3-1 win over UMass-Lowell, BU is riding a four-game unbeaten streak that includes wins over No. 6 New Hampshire and No. 15 Maine.
"To win on the road against both Maine and UNH makes us feel pretty good about ourselves," he said. "I think we're on the right track. Those games were important to us in terms of what's going to happen to us at the end of the year."
The Beanpot, however, is "a completely different thing," Parker said. "It has nothing to do with the regular season. It has nothing to do with Hockey East. The BC-BU game on Monday night is huge just because it's bragging rights, but also because they've beaten us three times."
To put an end to that skein, and keep their hopes for a 30th Beanpot crown alive, the Terriers will need to be 60-minute men.
It's been a long, almost tortuous dry spell for the Huskies (8-11-6, 7-8-5 Hockey East) on Causeway in early February. In 58 previous Beanpots, Northeastern has taken the trophy only four times, the last coming in 1988, behind the MVP play of goaltender Bruce Racine (who also won Eberly Award honors in 1985, when Northeastern downed BU for its third crown).
Not even All-American goaltender Brad Thiessen could bring the Beanpot to Huntington Avenue, losing in the finals to BU in 2009. However, the Huskies have another goaltender capable of stealing a Beanpot championship.
Sophomore Chris Rawlings (2.22 GAA, .930 save percentage), NU's 6-foot-7 netminder, is a Hobey Baker candidate and a stalwart for the Huntington Hounds. The British Columbia native has four shutouts on the season, which doesn't bode well for a Harvard team that is having trouble scoring.
Conversely, the Huskies, though not prolific, have scored 62 goals in 25 games. Coming into Friday's tilt against Merrimack (a tough 4-3 overtime defeat), the Huskies were riding a five-game unbeaten streak.
Plus, the Huskies have shown a recent propensity to play with a little more snarl after a loss, and the smart money says coach Greg Cronin will have his charges fired up. That could make for a long night for the Crimson and give the Huskies a shot at their fifth Beanpot title come Valentine's Day.
The hard-luck Crimson (4-17, 1-13 ECAC Hockey) desperately need something -- anything -- to salvage their season of discontent, and a Beanpot trophy might be just the salve.
Coach Ted Donato's squad has been knocking on the door, losing a number of close games against highly ranked opponents. In fact, 13 of the team's 17 losses have been by two goals or less. The latest dagger came Friday night, when the Crimson dropped a 1-0 decision to second-ranked Yale in New Haven.
Another tough loss was a Beanpot dress rehearsal on Jan. 19, when Northeastern shut down the Crimson 3-0 at Matthews Arena (the site of the first Beanpot); the Crimson skated stride-for-stride with the Huskies (shots were 37-34 NU) but ran into a stone wall named Rawlings.
Still, the Beanpot is a tournament that is ripe for the underdog. Harvard players only have to look as far back as 2008, when the Crimson took eventual national champ BC into overtime before dropping a 6-5 decision.
But Harvard's offense has been nothing short of anemic (39 goals in 21 games), putting pressure on the defense and goaltenders Kyle Richter and Ryan Carroll.