Northeastern’s Beanpot Dynasty

By Christian Skroce

“From 30 years, to three in a row, Northeastern is a Beanpot dynasty.”

That was our final call on air Monday night as the Northeastern Huskies raised the Beanpot trophy for the third time in as many years. It was a moment that Husky players, coaches, fans, and yes, even radio guys, will never forget, and it just might be the greatest moment in Northeastern hockey history.

Northeastern is not the first team to win three Beanpots in a row; that honor goes to the 1963–65 Boston College squads. Nor is the Huskies’ streak the longest; for that we look to Boston University’s six consecutive titles from 1995 to 2000. Northeastern’s three-peat is the ninth in Beanpot history and the first by a team not named BC or BU. But make no mistake, this hat trick is as historic as they come, and its countless moments remind us why we love sports and why we love calling games for this team.

Northeastern broke its 30-year Beanpot drought in 2018, pulling out victories against perennial powerhouses BC and BU. The Huskies were led by the best top line in the country, and possibly team history — Nolan Stevens, Dylan Sikura, and eventual Hobey Baker winner Adam Gaudette. The trio showed up in the biggest game of their lives, and a hat trick from Gaudette propelled the Huskies to a 5–2 win over their cross-town rivals and sent TD Garden into a frenzy.

The whole night was unforgettable, but perhaps the most popular image was of a fan in the crowd holding a sign — it turned out to be an XXXXL t-shirt — that simply read, “I can graduate in peace.” Flashes of Gaudette parading the Beanpot trophy around TD Garden danced through the minds of Husky fans for weeks to come after that first Beanpot win. None of them could fathom the run that was to come.

A year later, Northeastern flexed its muscles and asserted itself as one of the premier programs in college hockey. It began in the semifinal against BU, when, less than a minute into overtime, Tyler Madden arrived in dramatic fashion.

In the post-game press conference, I grabbed a mic and sheepishly asked the freshman forward, “How were you able to stay so calm with everything on the line?” At the podium, Madden simply nodded, leaned forward, and announced, “Well, there were bright lights out there tonight, and I shine in those.” Thus was born the legend of Mr. Bright Lights.

A week later, Northeastern retained their trophy with a win over BC. Despite leaping out to a 3–0 lead, Northeastern, ever content to give its fans a show, let Boston College storm back in the third period to make the score 3–2 late in regulation. But the Huskies had been here before. Struggling to maintain their narrow lead, the Huskies found another gear, and with a late push and an even later goal, hung on to become back-to-back Beanpot champions.

Northeastern goalie and future NHL player Cayden Primeau shone during the 2019 tournament, allowing just three goals in two games between the pipes and winning the Eberly Award and Tournament MVP. The team went on to secure the Hockey East title and break the Northeastern single-season win record.

But the Huskies weren’t done, as just a year later, they found themselves in the Beanpot Championship again after a 3–1 semifinal victory over Harvard. The final promised to be a heated affair, as Northeastern faced a BU team fresh off a thrilling 5–4 overtime upset victory over BC in the semifinal.

It was a nightmare start for the Huskies, as BU forwards Jake Wise and Trevor Zegras each scored in the first eight minutes to stun the Huskies right out of the gate. The score held for the next 12 minutes, and the Huskies headed to the locker room searching for answers.

They found them.

Northeastern came out buzzing in the second period, as sophomore forward Tyler Madden brought NU within one with a perfectly placed wrister from the slot. Talented freshman Aidan McDonough evened the game just three minutes later, but the Huskies weren’t done there.

With eight minutes gone, consecutive BU penalties gave Northeastern a five-on-three. After a remarkable passing display, junior forward Zach Solow scored to give Northeastern a 3–2 lead, all on the first power play, meaning NU would kept a man advantage after the goal.

And they took full advantage. One minute after Solow’s goal, senior forward Grant Jozefek notched Northeastern’s fourth straight goal after an incredible individual effort. 4–2 Northeastern.

Despite taking full control of the game, Northeastern didn’t let up in the second period and brought a whole new meaning to “close but no cigar.” One of the craziest plays of the game came just minutes after the Huskies’ fourth goal, as Zach Solow found himself with the puck and an open net just in front of him. While facing away from the net, Solow attempted a backhanded shot that ricocheted off the near post, somehow crossed the goal-line to hit the second post, and ricocheted out of the crease. Husky fans’ mouths dropped as the TD Garden replay showed the puck soaring perfectly over the goal-line while remaining nanometers away from counting as a goal.

A second near-miss came a few minutes later, as Northeastern again found themselves on a breakaway. A close-range shot from Madden was popped into the air, deflected twice, and seemed destined to float over BU goalie Sam Tucker for Northeastern’s fifth score of the period. But freshman forward Robert Mastrosimone came to the Terriers’ rescue and batted the midair puck out of the crease.

Eventually the hectic second period ended, and both teams headed to their locker rooms to prepare for a third period that no one could have anticipated.

Just two minutes into the third, BU began its comeback with David Farrance’s brilliantly placed shot from the left dot. With the lead shrunk to one, both teams desperately tried to grab the palpable momentum that pervaded the game, and in one of the most insane regulation finishes in Beanpot history, the hockey gods had one more trick up their sleeves.

With just a minute remaining in the third period, BU pulled its goalie to give them a man advantage. The Terriers used it well, peppering Northeastern netminder Craig Pantano with shot after shot. Despite the rapid opportunities, the NU defense remained strong, turning away chance after chance. That is, until Trevor Zegras struck again.

With just 1.2 seconds remaining, Zegras found the puck just to the right of Pantano and threw everything he had into a backhanded shot that wound up in the back of the net. With bated breath, Husky fans quickly turned their gaze from BU celebrating to the clock overhead that showed a few tenths left, and although many didn’t want to admit it, everyone in the stadium knew that the Beanpot final would be headed to overtime.

After the game, Northeastern players were asked about their thoughts when BU tied the game. Head coach Jim Madigan interjected, “Well, the coaches were saying WTF . . .”

The teams returned to the ice for an initial five-minute overtime period. The Terriers kept the momentum from Zegras’ goal, earning chance after chance, but Northeastern’s defense stayed strong enough to keep the game even and give both teams a much-needed break before the 20-minute second overtime.

“I looked around the locker room and saw no panicked faces,” senior defenseman and team captain Ryan Shea said. “Everyone was just focused on their game and was ready to go.”

The overtime was a defensive struggle, with both teams trading chances. That is, until Shea pulled off a remarkable hustle play to draw a holding penalty with just about six minutes remaining in the overtime frame to give the Huskies a two-minute power play. And that was all they needed.

With 5:27 to go and under 30 seconds remaining on the power play, sophomore defenseman Jordan Harris collected the puck near the blue line in the offensive zone. With his eyes fixed on the goal and the trophy, Harris coolly skated into the slot and let a shot fly. With Zach Solow planted in front of BU goalie Sam Tucker, the puck soared through the air, through the crowd, and into the back of the net.

Harris and his teammates flung their gloves and sticks into the air and sprinted down to the other end to mob Pantano. TD Garden erupted, and I mean erupted. Twelve full sections of Northeastern students and countless more in the arena screamed and cheered as the improbability of the Huskies’ accomplishment sank in.

“Coaches said that if we get the puck near the blue line to push it to the middle and get a shot on net,” Harris said. “Hopefully a lane opens up, which it did, and I took my opportunity, and luckily it paid off.”

The Eberly Award for best goaltender of the tournament went to Pantano, who recorded 40 saves in the championship game. Pantano grew up watching the Beanpot as a local Massachusetts kid, and continued to watch during his time just north of us at Merrimack College. This was his only opportunity to make his own mark on this historic tournament, and when it mattered most, he didn’t blink.

Zach Solow was crowned MVP for his two-goal performance. Though his stats speak for themselves, it’s Solow’s on-ice tenacity and off-ice leadership that have impressed Husky fans and coaches.

But perhaps his greatest trait is this: he doesn’t know what it means to lose a Beanpot game. None of Northeastern’s juniors do either. After three decades of heartbreaking losses, gutsy performances to no avail, and seeing another team lift that pot of beans, Northeastern has achieved all-time greatness in Boston’s most personal and meaningful sports tournament.

The heart-attack Huskies had the added benefit of pulling out their improbable win in front of 17,850 fans, the largest crowd in Beanpot history. BU fans made their mark, but it was the Northeastern faithful who truly took over TD Garden (as they have for years) and made it Northeastern’s home away from home. In the past three seasons, Northeastern is 8–1 there. The bright lights were out on Monday night, and the Huskies shine in those.

“It was a great Beanpot game; I’ve seen a lot of them over the years,” Madigan said. “Congratulations to our players . . . they’ve set the bar incredibly high for this program and they’ve represented the school well.”

“The winning culture that we’ve built — along with the guys before us — has been everything,” Shea noted. “I came to Northeastern to win a Beanpot, and now we’ve got three of them.”

There was a distinct theme throughout the postgame press conference: “Never forgot their roots.” Northeastern has 14 Massachusetts natives on its roster, all of whom grew up watching the Beanpot and dreamt of winning it someday. Milton, Massachusetts resident Jim Madigan praised two Huskies who also grew up there — Ryan Shea and Aidan McDonough, who had an impressive four-point performance in the Championship game.

“I had [McDonough] at my house during the Stanley Cup when he was nine,” said Madigan. “I’ve known him a long time and he’s grown into a great young man, and an even better hockey player . . . we’re a Mass team now.

“These young men have separated themselves from every other team in the 90-year history of this program,” Madigan said. When asked about a potential four-peat, Madigan smiled, shook his head, and said, “I think we’re just going to enjoy tonight.”

On a personal note, thank you to everyone involved with Northeastern hockey. This has been a truly incredible ride that thousands of people — alumni old and new, current freshmen, family — have loved being a part of.

And to my WRBB Sports family, thank you for everything. There are so many people who deserve to be a part of this run, and I like to believe that everyone at WRBB, past and present, was a crucial part of this broadcast. Like Jim Madigan said, I think I’m just going to enjoy this for a little while.

Hockey East Preview: Northeastern Huskies

Last Season: 27–11–1 (15–8–1 in HE, third place); Beanpot Champions; Hockey East Champions; lost to Cornell in NCAA Quarterfinals

Head Coach: Jim Madigan (ninth season)

Coaches’ Poll Projected Finish: Fourth

Losses

  • G Cayden Primeau
  • D Jeremy Davies
  • D Eric Williams
  • F Brandon Hawkins
  • F Lincoln Griffin
  • F Patrick Schule
  • F Liam Pecararo

Additions

  • G Connor Murphy
  • G Craig Pantano
  • D Jayden Struble
  • D Jeremie Bucheler
  • D Mike Kesselring
  • F Riley Hughes
  • F Aidan McDonough
  • F Brendan Van Riemsdyk

By Christian Skroce

“We’re the greatest team to wear the Husky logo, and that’s gonna be a feeling that’s going to last a lifetime.” Those were the final words junior forward Zach Solow spoke as he reflected on Northeastern’s 2018–19 season, and while they seemed bold at the time, it’s hard to argue them.

The Huskies finished the season with an overall record of 23–10–1, going 15–8–1 in Hockey East play to capture the third seed in the conference tournament. Along the way, Northeastern came up with massive wins, beating the number-one-ranked team in the country not once, but twice (St. Cloud State and UMass Amherst). The cherry atop the incredible regular season came during a little tournament in February, when the Huskies defeated Boston College 4–2 to capture their second consecutive Beanpot title, a feat the program hadn’t accomplished since 1985.

But the magic didn’t stop there for the Huskies. The team continued its momentum into the Hockey East tournament, rattling off three straight victories — including a 2–1 overtime win against Boston University — en route to another meeting with BC in the Hockey East Finals. Despite a strong showing from the Eagles, Northeastern came away with a 3–2 victory to win the program’s second conference title in four years. For the first time, Northeastern won the Beanpot and Hockey East Conference in the same season.

Coming off the high of winning their conference, the Huskies were awarded a second seed in the 2019 NCAA Hockey Tournament and a favorable matchup against third-seeded Cornell. Despite high hopes entering the matchup, the dream of reaching the program’s first Frozen Four came to a screeching halt as the Huskies suffered a 5–1 drubbing at the hands of Cornell’s massive skaters. Just like that, Northeastern’s historic season came to a depressing end, and while the success gave fans plenty to cheer for, the bad news continued into the offseason.

Shortly after the NCAA Tournament loss, sophomore netminder Cayden Primeau announced his intention to sign an entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadians, ending his career at Northeastern after just two seasons. Junior defenseman Jeremy Davies would follow his teammate to the NHL, signing an entry-level contract with the New Jersey Devils (Davies was traded to the Nashville Predators in a package for P.K. Subban). The Huskies also lost several key seniors to graduation: defensive captain Eric Williams and impressive forwards Lincoln Griffin, Patrick Schule, Liam Pecararo, and Brandon Hawkins.

While the losses were heavy, the Husky faithful should expect great things, especially on the defensive end. Despite losing Primeau and Davies, the Northeastern defense should improve upon last year’s impressive season. Newly appointed captain Ryan Shea leads a deep defensive unit filled with unrivaled intelligence and athleticism. Returning along with Shea are sophomores Jordan Harris and Julian Kislin, both of whom impressed during their freshman campaigns, often looking like seasoned veterans.

But the biggest storyline for this defense will be the incoming freshmen class, which adds much-needed size and skill to the team. Headlining the commits is Jayden Struble, a second-round pick from this year’s NHL Draft who finished first in almost every drill at the NHL Draft combine. Joining Struble on the blue line are freshmen Jeremie Bucheler and Mike Kesselring, two physical, 6’4” skaters.

The defensive unit’s depth should make the goalkeeper’s job much easier, which is good news for a team trying to replace Cayden Primeau. In the long term, Husky coaches are hoping incoming freshman Connor Murphy will be the answer between the pipes. To help Murphy’s transition, the Huskies also brought in fifth-year goalie Craig Pantano, whose 57 games of experience at Merrimack should prove valuable, especially early in the season.

Without question, the most volatile unit will be the offense. While the Huskies did not lose any elite talent up front, the team’s depth will come into question. Northeastern is returning several skaters hoping to take massive leaps this season, particularly junior forward Zach Solow and sophomore forward Tyler “Mr. Bright Lights” Madden, who impressed with 28 points last season.

To counteract the loss of depth, the Huskies are bringing in several freshmen skaters, most notably Riley Hughes and Aidan McDonough. As seventh- and sixth-round draft picks respectively, Hughes and McDonough will look to add skill and size to the second and third lines. In addition, Northeastern is bringing in graduate transfer Brendan Van Riemsdyk, a 6’3” forward from the University of New Hampshire, whose four years of Hockey East experience will be valuable for the young Husky forwards.

Bottom Line: While many might see this as a rebuilding year for the Huskies, revamping is the preferred word. With the team’s best recruiting class in years, Northeastern is continuing to build themselves into a contender. While the losses of Davies and Primeau will not be easy to overcome, they just mean that other players will have to step up, particularly guys like Matt Filipe and John Picking. If the senior forwards step up in a similar way to last year’s class, this team’s mix of young studs and veterans skaters should allow them to once again finish in the top three of Hockey East and make another run at the conference title.