In the first-ever meeting between Northeastern and Harvard in the Beanpot final, and the first Beanpot game to ever feature a shootout, Northeastern emerged victorious on the back of two goals from Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, an MVP performance from goaltender Devon Levi, and captain Aidan McDonough netting the lone shootout score.
In one of the best Beanpot finals in recent memory, Northeastern got back at the Crimson for their 8-4 defeat at the Bright-Landry Center on New Year’s Day, a sentiment that has been on Levi’s mind for a while, as he said postgame ““Looking ahead before the first Beanpot game, I wanted Harvard to beat BC, I wanted to see them in the finals again because they put on a clinic against me and I wanted revenge.” And boy did he ever get it. Levi saved 32 of 34 Crimson shots, many of which in the slot and Grade A opportunities, and turned away all three shots he saw in the shootout to seal the win. It was truly a vintage Levi performance, making multiple spectacular saves that brought an arena full of Northeastern faithful to their feet in adulation of their netminder.
In front of Levi, it was a game of runs, with Harvard controlling pace and possession for much of the game, but Northeastern was able to string together persistent pressure more than a handful of times to keep Crimson goaltender Mitchell Gibson busy. After a scoreless first period that saw opportunities at both ends, including Sam Colangelo hitting a post less than two minutes into the game, Northeastern broke the deadlock with an early flurry in the second ending with Gunnarwolfe Fontaine knocking in a loose rebound in the crease off a Colangelo shot.
Unfortunately after letting cross-checks, boarding, and tripping go in the first period, the referees remembered the people pay to see them, and called a soft cross checking penalty on Tyler Spott, after which Harvard capitalized on to tie the game on a Matt Coronato goal, and from there the Crimson started to command puck possession through the second frame, ultimately leading to a second Coronato goal off a rare rebound given up by Levi- the one time all night he looked mortal. Heading into the final frame, Harvard had the shot advantage 18-14, had stayed out of the penalty box, and had largely stifled Northeastern’s offensive and neutral zone flow.
That control was broken up early in the third period, as Northeastern would tie the game nearly five minutes on as Fontaine once again put himself in perfect position just at the edge of the blue paint to tap in the cross-crease from Jayden Struble, who for the second game in a row made an unbelievable power move to turn the corner and get around his man to pass the puck into the slot. Just before the pass, Fontaine deftly made a move to create some space to allow the puck to travel, and his stick blade was positioned perfectly to beat Gibson, tie the game, and send Husky Nation into renewed belief and jubilation.
The third period would see no more scoring, but both teams traded excellent chances, including Northeastern’s Colangelo and Spott hitting iron, and Harvard’s Coronato and Gaffney hitting iron of their own. Gibson did well to prevent rebounds and seal his net but Levi reminded everyone watching why he is the best goaltender in the nation, making multiple highlight reel saves including one while on his rear end, stuffing a Ryan Drkulec rebound attempt and covering the puck halfway through the frame. Dramatic though it was, the third period was only the start of the drama.
Overtime saw a full five minutes of high-octane play, with Northeastern getting five of the seven shots in the extra frame, and many of them right in close. Vinny Borgesi, Justin Hryckowian, and Sam Colangelo all had breakaways or chances in tight on Gibson, but to no avail, and Levi made possibly his biggest save of the season in the waning seconds of overtime as one final pass from the corner found Coronato in the slot all by himself, but Levi’s left pad shut the door down and forced the game to a shootout, drawing the ire and vocal displeasure from fans in person and on social media alike.
In the shootout, it was the captain, Monday Night McDonough, who rose to the occasion and scored the lone goal of the frame, beating Gibson blocker side with enough force that even though the goalie got a pad on the shot, the puck deflected up and past him into the net, sending Huskies fans wild. All eyes turned to Levi, who was able to get just enough of the Alex Laferriere shot to send it skyward into the boards, and pandemonium erupted as Northeastern claimed its throne atop the Boston college hockey mountain once again.
In a game that earned him the Eberly Award and the Beanpot MVP, Devon Levi rightly deserves all praise and accolades coming his way. But some of his teammates played arguably their best collegiate games Monday night, matching the scale of the game with performances of a lifetime. Not least of which was Fontaine, who snapped an eight-game scoreless drought with his goals, and was flying around the ice all night, ending with four shots on goal and injecting energy into the arena every shift. I also thought Jayden Struble had his best game in a Northeastern uniform, matching the physicality of the Crimson without taking a penalty, backchecking and stick checking well to break up transition plays all night, and obviously his power move to create the scoring opportunity to tie the game. In similar fashion, I thought Sam Colangelo, Matt Choupani, and Jackson Dorrington had strong games, with Choupani actually getting rewarded with a mid-game elevation to the top line alongside McDonough and Justin Hryckowian.
Speaking of McDonough, while the captain was held off the scoresheet and only registered two shots on goal outside the shootout, the senior was seen all over the ice and made his presence felt. Similar to Struble, he matched the physicality of Harvard’s defense, laying down one of the biggest checks we’ve seen in years from a Northeastern player in the third period. He also chipped in two blocks and honestly looked just as fast as we’ve ever seen him skate as he carried the puck through the neutral zone and offensive zone, which helped generate possession time and control of the puck. One of the signs of a great leader and a great player is the ability to adjust to what is happening around them, and McDonough’s transformation of his gameplay over the course of the 65 minutes, where he acclimated to the environment and helped his team in new or less familiar ways, is the sign of a player who truly will do whatever it takes to win. That’s a leader. That’s our captain.
Last but certainly not least- Devon Levi. At this point, nothing I write today will be news, but it all bears repeating. Levi is the best goaltender in the country, and there is a legitimate case to be made that Devon Levi is the greatest player to ever wear a Northeastern hockey jersey. A player born for the big stage, he elevates his game to the highest level when the pressure is at its most intense. His performance in the his first Beanpot, against two opponents with national championship aspirations, was possibly his magna opus, culminating in winning the Eberly Award for best save percentage, the fifth straight season a Northeastern goalie has won the award.
The two games brought highlight reel saves by the bunches, but ultimately what Levi brings is confidence in this team that they can beat anyone, and Levi knows he can beat anyone. Watching him night in, night out, has been nothing short of a privilege that Northeastern, college hockey, and NHL fans alike should not take for granted, as his next destination is surely the National Hockey League. Possibly the best thing about rooting for Levi is that he knows that the experience he’s living is special, saying postgame, “Everyone says how big the Beanpot is, but I didn’t realize it until I was here. Seeing all the fans go crazy in a packed NHL rink, it’s a really cool feeling and probably something you only get to do once in your life. College hockey is such an amazing experience, let alone the Beanpot and let alone winning it.”
After thirty years of heartbreak, the Huskies have turned the last half decade of the Beanpot into the Northeastern Invitational, winning four of the last five tournaments, beating all three city rivals to accomplish it, and routinely outclassing and out-performing the competition in terms of the volume of support they get with each passing year. And we mean volume both in terms of sheer numbers of students, fans, alumni, and locals that come to support the Huskies, as well as volume in terms of sound, as The DogHouse once again took TD Garden, turning it into Matthews Arena 2.0 with their vocal support of the team. This year, the balcony coverage stretched from 305 to 321, taking up over half the balcony’s seats. The institution has fully bought in on how important the tournament is both on and off the ice for years, and the school can proudly say they are the model institution when it comes to Beanpot support.
What may be just as impressive as the turnout is the turn-around that Northeastern hockey is experiencing this season. After sinking as low as 44th in the Pairwise, they finish the Beanpot sitting at 15th, going 6-1-2 since that 8-4 loss against Harvard, and putting themselves in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid if they can handle business the next 5+ games of the season. As they showed last week against BU and this game versus Harvard, they can go toe-to-toe with national powers and come out on top. And as they showed against Providence last Friday between games, they are not out until the final buzzer sounds. Head Coach Jerry Keefe said a few weeks ago that all the team’s goals are still in front of them- goal number one was the Beanpot, and that is now accomplished. Goals two and three will be the Hockey East Championship and the NCAA Tournament. They have the skill, the coaching, the ability, and now the momentum to get them all done.
Being there for the Beanpot never gets old. Seeing the Huskies walk away as champions and seeing the banner raised to the TD Garden rafters I hope never gets old. Writing these articles, seeing national and local media coverage, seeing the social media posts of jubilation, celebration, and sheer passion, will never get old. I love this program so damn much, and it’s amazing every year to see the community come out and support the school so passionately each year.
This game will go down in history for a couple reasons, some better than others. But no matter what your view of it, there is one constant: Northeastern University, 2023 Beanpot Champions.