It’s not often that a college hockey team has time to savor a victory. Usually, it’s back to work right away, getting ready for the next game.
In the case of Northeastern’s win over Boston University in the semifinals of Monday’s 61st Beanpot at TD Garden, coach Jim Madigan said he wanted his players to enjoy the accomplishment before setting their sights on the next opponent: UMass, on the road, Friday.
“It’s nice when you have that early game because you can enjoy the moment for a while,’’ said Madigan. “When you play that late game, you’re just rushing to get back to campus by midnight. Today with a day off, it allows them to relax and enjoy the moment for a short period of time.’’
After the UMass game, the Huskies will get another shot at Boston College, their opponent in Monday’s championship game. They ended the Eagles’ win streak at 19 in the first game of the season. BC (16-7-2) has beaten NU (8-1-3-3) twice since then, but Madigan said his team knows it can play with the Eagles.
“We played them earlier this year and we beat them,’’ said Madigan. “When we went over there, we got ourselves in some penalty trouble. It was a close game [a 3-0 loss Oct. 20]. The game they blew us out [9-3 Jan. 19 at Matthews Arena], they deserved to win. We didn’t play that smart. But the kids have confidence because we’ve played and beaten some pretty good teams.’’
One of the highlights of the season was Jan. 25 against UMass-Lowell, when a 4-4 tie ended the River Hawks’ winning streak at nine games.
“There is a confidence, regardless of our record,’’ said Madigan, whose team is in last place in Hockey East but only 2 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. “We’re not going [to UMass] with an underdog mind-set. When we go in Monday night against BC, we’re not going in with an underdog mind-set. We’re going in with the [idea] that we have a chance to win the game if we execute our systems.’’
Though Northeastern hasn’t won a Beanpot title since 1988, Madigan said he has counseled his team to cast history aside.
“It makes me feel old that these kids weren’t born when I was an assistant coach [on the 1988 team],’’ he said. “I was an adult 25 years ago. The local kids do have an understanding of the drought that we’ve been in. Most of our kids will have an understanding because they hear it through social media or on campus. They are aware of it.
“We try to refocus and say, ‘Don’t worry about what happened in the past, just focus on what we can control. And what we can control is to break that record.’ ”
Madigan said it is similar to the laments of Red Sox fans during their long wait for a title. Yankees fans would chant, “1918,’’ until the team won in 2004. At the Garden Monday night, BU fans were chanting “1988.’’
“It takes a special group and it’s almost like it’s an eclectic group of different personalities in that locker room,’’ said Madigan. “It certainly was that way with the Red Sox and that’s the way it is in our locker room. We have a different group of personalities, all good kids but eclectic.’’
That doesn’t mean it won’t be a tall order to beat the Eagles, who are used to winning trophies. BC’s seniors are 7-0 in Beanpot games and want to keep their career record perfect. In 2011, the last time the teams met in the title game, it was a wild affair with BC winning in overtime, 7-6.
“Boston College has won it three years in a row and they’re a great team,’’ said Madigan. “We’re going to go in as the underdog, as we should, but you know what, we’re going to go in there looking to win the game.’’
At the same time, the big picture revolves around making it to the postseason.
“We are fighting for a playoff spot,’’ said Madigan. “We need to get 2 points and every game, we need to look at it that way.’’
So for the next three days, Madigan and his staff need to keep the team focused on playing the Minutemen.
“There’s no doubt there’s a big challenge there,’’ said Madigan. “We’ll have that conversation about our mind-set and our mentality and attitude. I think it’s an easy shift to refocus because of where we are in the standings.
“With UMass, we’ve played them twice, we’ve split with them, but they’re playing better than what they were in November. They’re a fast team, they pressure you, they use the whole rink. For us, it’s going to be a difficult game and we’ve got to make sure we’re prepared.’’
If Northeastern is unaccustomed to regular visits to the Beanpot championship game, BC is making it an annual event.
The win over Harvard in the semifinals was BC’s second in a row after dropping four of five games, and it was a significant step in the right direction. The bigger the stage, the better the Eagles seem to play.
“I think all the players enjoy playing in the tournament,’’ said BC coach Jerry York. “It’s a great atmosphere. There is no magic formula we have. We have a lot of good players.
“Hopefully we’ll continue to play well, not just on Monday nights but on Fridays and Saturdays, too. We feel excited about advancing in the Beanpot and getting a chance to play for the trophy next Monday.’’