While the NCAA Tournament is obviously the culmination and highlight of the college hockey season, another timeless tournament draws nearly as much attention each year. The annual Beanpot tournament sees each of Boston’s four historic college hockey programs square off and it is always a good battle. This year was no different. Coming off back-to-back Beanpot wins, No. 12 Northeastern took down No. 18 Harvard in the first game of the tourney on Monday, February 3rd. However, the second game, which featured arguably the best rivalry in college hockey, was an overtime thriller in which Boston University overcame two two-goal deficits to beat No. 7 Boston College. BU was right back into an extra time battle in the final this past Monday, February 10. Yet another 4-4 tie went to OT, but this time the Terriers did not come out on top. Jordan Harris’ (MTL) power play goal lifted the Huskies to their third straight Beanpot title, just the eighth three-peat in the storied history of the Beanpot and the first for Northeastern.
While Boston College did not emerge victorious from the Beanpot this year, they do remain the front runners in the Hockey East Conference this season. Yet, even that took a hit this past weekend, as they fell to No. 11 UMass Lowell, their closest competitor in the conference. Even a blowout win against Harvard in the Beanpot consolation game wasn’t enough to redeem BC’s recent stretch, as they have fallen out of the top-five in the nation.
While it’s really a top-four spot that matters most when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding, all the top seeds right now somewhat lack luster compared to the top team overall, No. 1 North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks received 48 of 50 first place votes in the most recent poll and are up to 21-3-3 on the year. They hold the top scoring offense in the NCAA as the only team averaging more than four goals per game, an effort fueled by Hobey Baker hopeful Jordan Kawaguchi, who is closing in on Jack Dugan of No. 14 Providence for the NCAA scoring title. Meanwhile, they are also a top-ten defensive team as well. With North Dakota rolling on all cylinders, they could be hard to beat this season.
Of the six non-wins suffered by North Dakota this year, they owe a third to No. 3 Minnesota State. The Mavericks bide their time quietly in the WCHA every season, but this year seem more likely to surprise come tournament time rather than disappoint. With a win and tie over the Fighting Hawks to their credit, Minnesota State is more battle-tested this season than in years past. Two-time reigning champs No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth have also taken points from North Dakota and have overcome some early bumps to again assert themselves as a contender, helped out by a 4-0 record over the past two weeks, including two wins over No. 6 Denver.
The ECAC’s standouts No. 2 Cornell and No. 5 Clarkson continue to motor along this season. Cornell has gone 3-1 in recent games, while Clarkson went 3-0. Cornell holds the head-to-head nod with one win earlier this season, but the two teams will square off in their regular season finale which could have a major impact on both the conference and national tournaments. Clarkson keeper Francis Marotte continues to be one of the top stories of the season, potentially even pushing Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay for the title of top goalie in the college ranks this season.
Although BC slipped in the rankings, No. 8 UMass remains a legitimate threat behind a stifling defense lead by NCAA plus/minus leader Jake McLaughlin and the goaltending duo of Filip Lindberg (MIN) and Matt Murray. UMass Lowell, Northeastern, and Providence College have all remained relatively steady and well within the national conversation, while No. 17 Maine made a major leap from unranked status following a recent winning streak.
No. 9 Penn State remains the top-seeded team out of the Big Ten in a down year for the conference. The Nittany Lions somehow stayed within the top ten despite a 1-1-2 record over the past two weekends. No. 13 Ohio State remains in the hunt, but there is a strong possibility that the Big Ten could only send one representative to the NCAA Tournament if Penn State were to win their conference tourney.
Kennette Commits To Sacred Heart
Sometimes it pays to be in a smaller conference. No. 20 Sacred Heart is having an excellent year, currently sitting with an 18-9-2 overall record and a 15-7-1 conference record. That conference? The Atlantic, generally accepted as the weakest in college hockey. However, like any conference, the Atlantic winner is guaranteed a berth in the NCAA Tournament. While Sacred Heart sits second to American International College in the conference standings, they have put up huge offensive numbers against a number of other weaker opponents to rise to No. 2 in the country in scoring. That visibility, as well as the strong chance of making the tournament despite being outside the top sixteen seeds, is an attractive opportunity.
In this case, that opportunity appealed to defenseman Brendan Kennette. Kennette proudly announced his commitment to Sacred Heart last week. Kennette, one of the top blue liners in the OJHL, was recently named to NHL Central Scouting’s list of top North American skaters and even at No. 182 he stands a decent chance of being selected in this year’s draft. It’s not every day that an Atlantic team can grab a legitimate NHL prospect, but this strong season for Sacred Heart came at the right time to land a rare gem. Kennette likely saw the chance to be one of the top players on a team that will have a real chance at an NCAA Tourney berth every year and didn’t want to pass up that opportunity. If a few other top prospects think that same way, Sacred Heart could have staying power atop the Atlantic and in the national conversation for years to come.
Stachowiak, Sato Make International Mark
It’s not often that an NCAA player turns pro mid-season and far less often that it happens in the midst of a poor season. A highly-regarded prospect may sign in the NHL or AHL after their season has ended or a struggling athlete may return to junior in-season, but rarely do those lines cross. Michigan State’s Wojciech Stachowiak decided to buck that trend. In an up-and-down season for the Spartans, it was all down for Stachowiak. The sophomore forward had just one point in only 13 games and was not playing the type of role for Michigan State that he might have expected as a former star at the junior level in Germany. And so, Stachowiak opted to return home, signing with ERC Ingolstadt of the German DEL on Tuesday. Still just 20 years old, it remains to be seen if Stachowiak will play a larger role for Ingolstadt than he did for Michigan State, but no one can blame him for accepting a pro contract when the college game was not working out for him.
New Hampshire forward Kohei Sato is overseas as well, but he will be coming back. The Japanese forward is currently in Slovenia representing his country in Olympic qualifying. Team Japan is playing in Group G with Slovenia, Lithuania and Croatia and trying to advance to the final Olympic Qualification Round this summer. While Japan has long odds of qualifying it would be quite the story ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China. Sato is quite the story already, as the first student-athlete from Japan to play Division I hockey, as well as a key contributor for the Wildcats. He has seven goals and 15 points in 26 games so far in his junior year and has improved with every campaign. Sato is only expected to miss a couple of games for UNH before he returns to action for a team pushing to qualify for the Hockey East tournament.