Kayla Shiao/WRBB Sports 

BOSTON — The fans at TD Garden booed when the shootout was announced in the Beanpot Championship. But when senior captain Aidan McDonough scored and Devon Levi made the game-clinching save on Harvard star Alex Lafferiere, it was pandemonium nonetheless. 

After a heartbreaker of a loss in last year’s championship game against Boston University, Northeastern took down the Harvard Crimson 3-2 in the shootout for their eighth title in program history, and fourth in the past five tournaments. 

The Huskies played one of their best top-to-bottom games last week in the semifinal round against BU, and needed more of the same against Harvard. They were tasked with slowing down a top-10 offense that shredded them back on New Year’s Day and boasts three of the NCAA’s premier scoring threats in Laferriere, Sean Farrell, and Matthew Coronato.

Defensively, the Huskies needed to prevent those forwards from gaining time and space in transition, and to win puck battles along the boards to prevent any sustained offensive zone time.  

It wasn’t perfect, but Northeastern weathered the storm.

The Crimson had 12 shots on goal in the first period, and they were able to get established in the attacking zone early, where senior captain Henry Thrun was able to drive offensive creation from the blue line with little trouble. Levi made all 12 saves in the first, including a couple of sprawling stops on Coronato.

However, Northeastern found their way into key shooting lanes throughout the game, and ended up with 20 total blocks. That makes 41 total blocks throughout the entire tournament, showing a true commitment from the entire team to sell out in the defensive zone.

The Huskies weren’t without good looks in the first either, as junior forward Sam Colangelo rang the iron and sophomore center Justin Hryckowian was stonewalled right on the doorstep by Harvard netminder Mitchell Gibson. 

The majority of Northeastern’s chances in the first were off turnovers in the offensive zone; they were not able to get established and create sustained pressure. Harvard defenders did an excellent job of cutting Northeastern forwards off at the blue line, forcing them to chip the puck in deep, and winning the subsequent battles along the boards.

As the horn sounded at the end of a scoreless first, it was clear that both sides were trying to get a feel of the opposing defenses’ tendencies. It also gave Northeastern’s defense time to adjust to Harvard’s speed in transition. After ceding 12 shots in the first period, they only allowed six in the second.

While Northeastern struggled defensively at times, the entire offense clicked into gear in the final 40 minutes. All four of the forward lines generated grade-A scoring chances even after some line shuffling midway through the game. Sophomore Matt Choupani, who started the game on the fourth line, was flipped to the top line alongside Hryckowian and McDonough, while Cam Lund moved down to play with Liam Walsh and Jack Williams.

“We’ve got a lot of depth in our lineup right now, we don’t have a fourth line,” said Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe. “[Choupani] scored two huge goals at Providence. … He was going to get to the dirty areas tonight to try to open something up for [McDonough] or [Hryckowian] there.”

Just a minute and 25 seconds into the second period, junior forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine opened the scoring after poking in a rebound off a Colangelo shot through traffic. It was Fontaine’s first goal since Jan. 1, also against Harvard. 

It wasn’t smooth sailing from there however, as Harvard notched the next two.

The Crimson tied it up minutes later on a Coronato power-play goal after Northeastern senior defender Tyler Spott took a cross checking minor. Farrell got the primary assist on Coronato’s goal, and has assisted on 12 of his 18 goals this year. 

Coronato also put the Crimson up 2-1 later in the frame, roofing a loose puck on the doorstep past Levi for his second of the game and fourth overall in the tournament. 

Neither of Harvard’s goals came in transition or on the rush, but Northeastern had issues with both traffic in front of Levi and Harvard driving play from the blue line, two things the Crimson executed to a tee in their last matchup.

Fontaine played hero in the third period, tying the game up at two after collecting a beautiful feed from senior defender Jayden Struble on the doorstep and sliding it home. Fontaine had been relatively quiet in Northeastern’s 6-1-1 stretch, with just four assists, but played one of his best games of the season when the Huskies needed him most.

“We were saying in between the second and third period that we just needed one to get that tied up and it was going to be our game,” Fontaine said. “As soon as we got that one it shifted on our bench you could just tell that we were walking away with that game.”

The Crimson dominated the rest of the third period, sending 14 shots on goal and controlling pace of play and zone time. Levi was forced to make multiple 10-bell stops, including two in quick succession on Coronato late in the frame.

Regulation time ended with the game tied at two and 3-on-3 overtime began in earnest. Northeastern had the higher-quality looks in the frame, with two separate breakaway rushes from freshman defender Vinny Borgesi early on and Hryckowian with around a minute and a half to go. 

Gibson made five saves in overtime to keep his team in the game, and the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the extra period and take the game into a shootout.

The NCAA announced before last year’s Beanpot that the tournament would be switching to standard regular season overtime rules, with a five minute 3-on-3 period followed by a shootout replacing the postseason-esque format of continuous 5-on-5 overtime that was used for the tournament’s first 68 years. It was only a matter of time before a shootout determined the championship. 

“There’s no sense in even talking about it,” Keefe said of the format. “It’s the rules, so that’s all we can do.”

In the shootout, it was Northeastern’s stars who shone the brightest. Levi made three straight saves against Farrell, Coronato, and Laferriere, and McDonough scored. Who else could be the heroes but McDonough and Levi in the biggest moment of the season. 

When Levi stopped Laferriere’s bid, he ripped his helmet off, threw his gloves into the air and was mobbed by his teammates. In his first career Beanpot after missing last year while at the Olympics, Levi made 65 of 68 saves through both games, won the Eberly Award, and was named the tournament MVP.  

“Looking ahead before the first Beanpot game, I wanted Harvard to beat BC. I wanted to see them in the finals again,” Levi said. “They put on a clinic against me [in January], and I wanted revenge. The boys helped me get it tonight, and it felt really good.”

Much has been said about Levi being the best goaltender in college hockey, and he is, but he hasn’t had too many chances to showcase his mastery on the big stage. This was Levi’s tournament, Levi’s moment, and he was a brick wall.

“Everyone says how big the Beanpot is but I didn’t realize it until I was here,” he said. “It’s something you only get to do once in your life with a crowd like that.”

Northeastern had the toughest draw they could have possibly had in this tournament. They took down heavily favored BU by playing a tight-checking and fundamentally sound game in the semifinals, and knocked off Harvard by defending just well enough in transition and executing on their offensive opportunities.

When the Huskies lost 8-4 to Harvard Jan. 1, they were 1-6 in their last seven games and staring into the chasm of a lost season. This Beanpot Championship win against the Crimson is the culmination of an unprecedented turnaround that finds the Huskies now ranked No. 15 in the Pairwise. 

Regardless of what happens in the rest of the season, this much is for sure: the Huskies are the 2023 Beanpot champions, and that can never be taken away.  

Northeastern hockey will face off against Vermont on Saturday in their first game post Beanpot victory. WRBB will have written coverage of the matchup against the Catamounts, and will return to the airwaves with full coverage when the Huskies take on the UMass Minutemen Feb. 24.