Of course it had to be this way.
Looking to end a 30 year drought that has brought so much heartbreak and pain, the Northeastern Huskies will face Boston University, winners of 30 previous Beanpot titles, in the championship game of the 66th annual Beanpot tournament. BU advanced by defeating Harvard in double overtime last Monday by a score of 3-2. Goaltender Jake Oettinger made 47 saves in his heroic defense of the Terrier net. Over the weekend both teams had disappointing games, with Northeastern dropping a home game to UConn 4-2, while BU blew a 3-1 lead against UMass and tied 3-3.
I’m not going to waste our time here discussing how important this game is for the Huskies and Terriers. Obviously, Northeastern wants to end the drought. Both teams are fighting for their lives in the PairWise, and the winner of this game will be in better position for an at-large bid than when it started. The Huskies enter the game as the higher-ranked team in both the USCHO poll and the PairWise rankings. Instead, I want to focus on BU and focus on how well they appear to match up statisically with the Huskies.
We like to look at Corsi% to get an indication of how well a team is possessing the puck. Higher Corsi is typically a byproduct of more shots generated and fewer shots given up. Interestingly, BU has a shot margin of +151 overall, while Northeastern’s differential is +133. BU has taken 90 more shots than Northeastern, but has allowed 71 more shots. These numbers translate to strikingly similar Corsi numbers, with BU entering at 51.8%, and Northeastern at 52.0%. BU performs slightly better than NU when the score is tied or within one (50.7% vs 49.3%), and BU also performs better when at even strength (52.3% vs 51.1%). All of these numbers point to a very even game, regardless of what records and message boards and individual statistics say.
Both teams also have excellent powerplays- Northeastern’s sits at 25.5%, while BU’s clicks at 22.9%. Their penalty kills both leave a lot to be desired- Northeastern’s has improved recently to sit at 80% successful, while BU’s is one of the worst nationally, sitting at 78.6% successful.
In goal, where the game will be most likely decided, BU goaltender Jake Oettinger has had a rather underwhelming season after his stellar freshman campaign. He has a .912 save percentage overall, but that jumps to .926 when at even strength (again, foiled by the subpar BU penalty kill), and .920 when the score is close. He is coming off a 47-save masterpiece against Harvard, and a 17/20 performance against UMass. He is sharp, he is skilled, and he will be the final boss for Northeastern to defeat in order to achieve Beanpot glory. For goalie comparison, Cayden Primeau sits at .925 save percentage overall, .929 at even strength, and .930 at close scores. This might be the best goaltending duel Hockey East sees all year.
Looking at individual scorers, BU is led by junior Bobo Carpenter’s 27 points, and he leads the team with 16 goals, 7 of which have come on the powerplay and 2 are shorthanded. He is also an elite faceoff man, winning 57.8% of his draws this year. He will be the straw that stirs the drink for BU, leading their offensive charge. BU’s stable of forwards will also be led by freshman Shane Bowers, with 15 goals and 9 assists this season, and Brady Tkachuk, he of 7 goals and 16 assists, most of which have come since Thanksgiving. On defense, BU has another stable of excellent offensive defensemen, led by Dante Fabbro (8-15-23) and Chad Krys (5-14-19). In short, BU still has a lot of talent, and they will be ready to play.
Two names that you’ll notice are absent from the paragraph above are Jordan Greenway and Patrick Harper. Greenway is currently in South Korea playing for the US Olympic Team, and will be the first African American player for Team USA in the Olympics. Without him, BU loses one of their most physical players, and someone who is also second on the team in scoring. Greenway has been playing some of his best hockey recently, and losing him is a gift for the Huskies. Harper, on the other hand, has been battling an illness for multiple weeks now. He remains the only player for BU averaging a point per game or better, and losing him takes another dynamic playmaker out of the BU lineup.
Final Thoughts: Beating BU is never easy. Beating any team three times in a season is never easy. Hell, winning two games two Mondays in a row in February has proven impossible for Northeastern for 30 years. But this year feels different. It’s not just the rock-solid play in goaltending. It’s not just the three All-American performers up front. Even in a season filled with bad losses, frustratingly poor performances, and missed opportunities, there still exists a certain confidence around this Huskies team. They just shut out Boston College. They have beaten this BU team, with Greenway and Harper, twice already. They have the talent to do it again. If the top line can get space and time, they will capitalize. If the middle six can capitalize on a chance or two, there is no doubt that the Huskies can end another drought dating back to 1988. No predictions. We all know what we want.
Bring it home. Let’s Go Huskies.