CHESTNUT HILL — It’s been said countless times that the 44th annual Beanpot tournament was Northeastern’s to lose.
They had the top national ranking of the four competing schools, the highest scoring offense, a dynamic defense, and a goaltender who has been borderline unstoppable. All of that left the Huskies with high expectations put on them to come out on top in Boston’s famous college hockey tournament.
And on Tuesday, the Huskies did not disappoint as they captured the 18th Beanpot title in program history thanks to a 2-1 victory over Boston College.
While Northeastern’s head coach Dave Flint said the Huskies “weren’t playing the way we normally do,” his team spent a lot of time deep in the Eagles zone to open the game. Despite their shots ending up going wide more often than they went on target, the Huskies dominated possession of the puck.
Throughout the entire game, Northeastern did not allow their opponents any wiggle room. They blocked shots, forced BC to play on the perimeter, and perhaps most importantly, played their cleanest game of the season with zero penalties taken.
Their opponents, on the other hand, were not so lucky.
Junior defender Sidney Fess received the first penalty of the game after she wrestled Northeastern captain Alina Müller down to the ice behind the Eagles’ net. On the ensuing power play, the Huskies managed to get five shots off and stopped BC’s clearing attempts from getting no further than their own blue line.
After being forced out to center ice, Northeastern’s second unit went to work regaining the zone thanks to forward Skylar Irving who carried the puck into the far corner. The sophomore retained possession of the puck all the way behind graduate student netminder Abigail Levy’s net, and then found a wide open Megan Carter who was waiting at the faceoff circle.
The senior defender wasted no time putting the puck on goal, firing it past two Eagles skaters where it found the stick of Mia Brown. The graduate student forward deflected the puck up and over Levy’s shoulder for the 1-0 lead with 10:40 remaining in the period.
Headed into Tuesday’s matchup, the Northeastern power play had been lackluster at best, with zero goals in their previous three games on five opportunities. Though their first attempt on Tuesday was a different story, something the coach noted the team had worked on to try and get it going again in the last days of the regular season.
“The one thing I stress to them is that if the puck’s not going in – don’t press,” he said. “Don’t force stuff that isn’t there and just do what we talked about. It was important for us to get that power play goal today and hopefully give them a little boost as we’re heading into the last weekend.”
After conceding the first goal to Northeastern, the Eagles struggled to get their feet back underneath them. By the end of the first frame they had only managed to get six shots on goal. In the last five minutes of the period only one shot, off the stick of senior forward Hannah Bilka, required senior Gwyneth Philips to make a save.
The following period did not start off well for BC either, as Bilka received a penalty for slashing just 2:19 into play. Once again the Huskies were able to put a high volume of shots on Levy’s net, although with some help from her defenders the goaltender was able to stand strong until the penalty expired.
After returning to even strength BC cleared the puck out of their zone more often, even as the Huskies continued to break up the Eagles’ offense with strong work on the back check and a great awareness of where the puck was at all times. That awareness culminated in a brilliant shift from Northeastern’s top forward line and bottom defensive pairing, where they were able to gain the zone and start up the cycle that resulted in what was eventually the Beanpot-winning goal.
Defender Jules Constantinople passed the puck up from deep in her own zone, allowing the puck to slip past the blueline and onto the open stick of Fess. The Eagle retreated into her own zone before banking a pass off the boards in an attempt to connect with junior forward Olivia O’Brien.
With O’Brien just a step out too far past the puck, that allowed a racing Constantinople to enter on-side and start the cycle for the Huskies. The first few attempts either went wide or were turned away by bodies in front, however after Müller carried the puck from the goal line all the way to the top of the zone, she found Constantinople who was waiting up top. The freshman immediately rifled a shot on goal that was once again deflected off a graduate student forward’s stick — this time Maureen Murphy’s — in front and in for the 2-0 tally.
The goal was Murphy’s 18th on the season, and her third in two Beanpot games. Those goals and her overall play on the ice secured her Most Valuable Player of the Tournament honors, an award she believes could have been given to another husky.
“I think it could have gone to a couple of other people,” she said. “Obviously, I’m honored, but we don’t win this game without Gwyn and our leadership. Mia Brown stepped up huge today for us, and Gwyn is really the backbone of this team. I’m honored. Not that I don’t think I deserve it, but I think other people contributed more.”
For Murphy, this was her first Beanpot trophy win and it will also be her only, as she is set to graduate this spring. After a disappointing loss in last year’s semi-final, winning it all in her final go-around means that much more.
“I am really happy that we won,” she said. “It means a lot to me. This is my final year, but for the other people in my class too, they really deserve this. They do so much behind the scenes that not a lot of people see, so I’m just really happy for them.”
This also marks the last Beanpot for a host of BC seniors and graduate students, who were determined to put up a fight for the remainder of the game. After the second goal, the Eagles turned on the jets and started to chip away at the Northeastern momentum.
Helped in their quest to get back in this one, was how the Huskies started the final period. Murphy admitted her team came out slow, potentially due to nerves, but was also quick to highlight BC’s play as a reason for the poor start to the last frame.
“BC, as a testament to them, came out really fast and hard,” she said. “They played desperate, and without Gwyn and our D-core, it easily could have been a 2-2, 3-2 game.”
The Eagles held Northeastern to seven shots on goal through the last period of regulation, compared to the 29 they’d had combined through the first and second. Not a single one of those seven shots on goal came in the last five minutes, while the Eagles fired eight shot attempts in that same stretch.
Head coach Katie Crawley opted to pull her netminder with 2:38 left in favor of the extra attacker. That extra skater on the ice proved fruitful after graduate student Kelly Browne was able to win the faceoff and get the puck to senior defender Cayla Barnes, who then opted for a quick pass to her partner Alexie Guay. Guay fired a shot through traffic that originally went off a skate in front, spilling the rebound back into play. The chaos in front of the crease allowed Bilka to collect the puck and slip it into the open net for her 12th of the season with just 1:34 left on the clock.
After the face off, with Levy again pulled from her cage almost immediately, the Eagles mounted the pressure once more and tried to keep the puck in the zone. The Huskies in return kept BC on the perimeter, and with a key clearance and some keep-away in the dying 30 seconds, Northeastern maintained the final score of 2-1, securing the 2023 Beanpot crown.
Alongside Murphy’s MVP award, Philips received the Bertagna Award as the top goaltender of the tournament, after saving 53 of the 55 shots she faced. Her performance was nothing short of outstanding, something the netminder has provided all season for this Northeastern team.
Overall, winning this tournament is no easy feat, even if the Huskies have secured two of the last three trophies. The teams that play for the title are competitive, and the path to taking this trophy home is never clear, something Northeastern’s bench boss was sure to point out.
“We’ve had more success in the Hockey East tournament than the Beanpot,” Flint said. “It’s never easy. Even back in 2012-2013 when we won it, those years, all four teams were top 10. We were the underdog as the 10 seed, BC might’ve been third, BU was fourth, and Harvard was sixth. This tournament is always a grind.”
From here, Northeastern has just two regular season games remaining: a home-and-home set against the BU Terriers. After that it’s the Hockey East Tournament, and a potential run in the national championship tournament. So while this Beanpot win is sweet, as this team has said time and time again, they have their eyes on something more. The trophy is just another push in motivation as they look to capture a national title.
The Huskies will take on the Terriers in the first game of the home-and-home series on Friday at Walter Brown Arena. WRBB will be live with full coverage from Emma Sullivan, Khalin Kapoor, and Daisy Roberts when the puck drops at 7 p.m.