Feb. 8, 2010
BOSTON - In the words of a 1986 pop song, it will be just another manic Monday this year for captain Kevin Shattenkirk and the Boston University Terriers.
Perhaps that's fitting, as the team has won the storied Boston tournament a remarkable 17 times in 24 years starting in 1986--the most impressive stretch by far for any of the four schools. Adding last Monday's result to that stretch, we also can now say that BU has played in the Beanpot championship game an astonishing 25 out of 27 years.
On Monday night, BU will attempt to bring home the weighty trophy for the 30th time in the 58-year history of the Beanpot. To add that much more luster to a game that will be played in front of over 17,000 fans at the TD Garden, the Terriers will be batting against archrival Boston College for the crown--and it will be the 250th meeting between the clubs. BU leads the series decisively with a 125-107-17 advantage.
After last week's opening win, Coach Jack Parker talked about how he wanted all of his players to have the experience of playing in the championship and winning it. But what is it like to go through the whole day as a player, knowing what an adrenalin rush awaits on the most unusual Monday of the whole season?
"The one thing that feels really different is you wake up on Monday and you realize you have a hockey game that night," Shattenkirk says. "It's just a great feeling in general. This Monday is that much more special playing BC in the Beanpot Final."
Of course, the whole day requires a bit of paradoxical thinking for the players as keen anticipation battles against resigned patience, and helpful visualizations are pitted against useful distractions.
Shattenkirk will rise around 9:00, eat breakfast, and then go an economics class at 10:00. The class is EC332, Market Structure and Economic Performance. The course catalogue reveals that one of the course's themes is the "theory of imperfect competition," which seems entirely appropriate given BU's dominance of the February classic.
After a calculus class at 1:00, Shattenkirk will join his teammates for a pregame meal before heading back to his room for a 45-minute nap. Following that, the junior will kill some time by playing videogames with teammate Nick Bonino
. Although a battle game called Halo is an old favorite, recently the players have been competing in a game called 3-on-3 NHL Arcade. It's a whimsical version of hockey to say the least. Not only are there no red lines or blues, you can actually shrink the size of your opponent's goalie or temporarily freeze your opponent into a block of ice.
No doubt that the BU players would like the option of scaling Boston College goalie John Muse down to the sizes of Mini-Me later in the day--or turning leading Eagles scorer Brian Gibbons into a pillar of ice--but real hockey doesn't allow such suspensions of the laws of physics.
Still, such distractions keep the hype at bay. "It's very tough," Shattenkirk says. "You're just sitting there twiddling your thumbs and hoping that time will fly by so you can get ready for warm-ups and the puck dropping. At the same time, it helps you take your mind off of it a little bit--focus somewhere else and not worry about the game too much or overthink."
No matter how the players pass the time, they can't go through the day without many reminders of what's to come. "On game days, you'll see students wearing their jerseys on the sidewalk," the defenseman says. "They'll walk past you and say `Good luck tonight.' It's just a great feeling to know that everyone else is geared up for the game just as much as you are."
Even when the team finally arrives at the Garden, there is still more time to pass while the consolation game is being played. At this point, the players vary as to what they do to get in a focused and prepared state of mind. "A couple of us kick a soccer ball around before," Shattenkirk said. "But for a bigger game like this, it's definitely a little more focused in the locker room--guys are just zoned in, it seems like."
The team was unusually quiet in the locker room before playing in front of the massive crowd at Fenway Park last month--to the point where the coaches wondered, in the sense of a old Western movie, if things were a little too quiet. However, it turned out to be a sign of a bit more intensity than usual. Shattenkirk expects the same on Monday night.
With BC holding a 15-8-2 record coming off of a 7-1 thrashing of Massachusetts on Friday night--not to mention the fact that BU has already won the season series against their archrival on top of earning Fenway Park bragging rights--the Beanpot final promises to pit some strong forces against each other. This year's edition of the Terriers knows that they can beat the Eagles on a big stage. Conversely, it's difficult to beat a strong team again and again over the course of a season, and BC will be itching for payback.
"With them, you're always waiting for them to explode," Shattenkirk says. "We seem to do a good job just attacking that right away in our big games. Whenever we play them, we always bring our best, and they do the same. So it's just a matter of who wants it more, as cliché as it may sound. They're obviously pissed off that we've taken the last two games, but this game is just as big to us as it is to them. We have a great win streak going right now, and everyone's feeling great about the team. We know how much this game can propel us into the final stretch of the season so it's pretty important to us as well."
Parker's assessment is similar. "This will be the fourth different venue we've played them in this year," Parker says, alluding to the fact that the teams have played in each other's rinks on top of Fenway already this season. "I think this is the biggest game of those. Even though the Fenway game was unique and we'll always remember that, the Beanpot game is something special. So they'll be geared up, and it's hard to beat good teams a lot in one year, and they're a good team. But I also like the way we match up against them. Over the years, they've brought out the best in us and we've brought out the best in them, and I'm sure we'll see a good game. I thought we played them even better up at BC then we even did at Fenway. So hopefully we'll continue that. And you're right: They'll have more of an incentive, and they're certainly playing as well as they've played lately with pucks jumping in the net."
Asked if Xs and Os get thrown out of the coaching equation given how familiar the teams are with each other, Parker readily agreed. "They've got a little tweak on their power-play rush that we've got to think about. Other than that, there's not much to talk about."
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Terriers is that defenseman Colby Cohen was described as "doubtful" for Monday night after practice on Saturday. Cohen, a junior, was named Hockey East Player of the Month for January after scoring six goals and four assists in just seven games to lead the resurging team to a 7-2 record to begin 2010. "We'll see what happens," Parker says. "He was really tight all week; he didn't skate again today. He tried to skate a day before Friday's game and had to leave the ice. Right now, he couldn't play--that's for sure."
If Cohen can't play, the Terriers will feel his absence--especially on the power play, where his one-time slap shot has looked like an NHL-ready weapon all season.
Regardless, the Terriers will be more than ready for a battle royale on yet another big stage Monday night. While the team had a tough fall semester, they looked great while rallying to a hard-fought tie against Cornell in front of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden in November. They topped that showing with the 3-2 win over BC before a crowd of 38,472 at Fenway Park. This is not a team that will be cowed by a large and raucous arena.
"Last year playing in the Beanpot championship against Northeastern was just a magnificent event," Shattenkirk recalls. "There was so much built up around that game. I remember vividly looking up seeing all their fans in the student section, and they had half of the bowl full. That's the greatest part about the Beanpot. You take a pro rink, and you turn it into a college setting. It just makes for a great atmosphere, and I expect to see that again on Monday night."
You certainly can see why no Terrier would say his favorite song is "I Don't Like Mondays."
Scott Weighart is a Senior Writer for US College Hockey Online and author of Burn The Boats: A Seven-Championship Season For Boston University Hockey. The book can be purchased at Agganis Arena, the BU Bookstore, and online at www.buhockeybook.com. A portion of each sale goes directly to the BU hockey program.