NU attempts to end drought

No. 1 BC awaits in Beanpot final

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / February 14, 2011

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In recent years, some of the buzz surrounding the Beanpot has dissipated because two of the four schools have dominated. Boston College is the defending champion and has won 15 titles, and Boston University has captured 29 crowns, including 12 in the last 17 years.

Since 1993, when Harvard last took the title, either the Terriers or Eagles have brought it home during that stretch, with BC winning the five years that BU didn’t.

Tonight, Northeastern will attempt to wrestle the trophy away from No. 1-ranked BC in the championship game at TD Garden. It would be the first crown for the Huskies since 1988.

It has been a challenging season for NU. The team is young and there have been some growing pains. Through Dec. 3, the Huskies had just two victories in their first 14 games (2-8-4). Since then, they have gone 8-3-2. Last week’s 4-0 win over Harvard in the Beanpot semifinal lacked atmosphere because there was no crowd to speak of, but NU coach Greg Cronin is expecting a much different situation tonight.

“I tend to think that the first game is to jump into the pool,’’ said Cronin. “The second game is to swim into the deep end. I don’t care how good of a swimmer you are or how fearless of the water you are, that first plunge, because you’re not used to it, is difficult. I was nervous about that with the freshmen against Harvard, but I think it helped them because there was nobody in the building.’’

As soundly as they beat the Crimson, Cronin said his Huskies were far from perfect.

“I don’t think we played very well,’’ he said. “I thought we had a looseness. I wasn’t comfortable in the third period. I just felt we were loose.

“I get so frustrated. This year, we’ve got seven or eight freshmen playing. We’ve got five sophomores who are there every night. It’s now February, so nobody is a freshman or a sophomore anymore. Everyone is an upperclassman. You’ve got to play to a level the coaching staff has asked you to back in the fall.

“Clearly, it has some steps to it. But these are those steps it looks like BU is taking. They’ve gotten better. They looked good [against BC in the second Beanpot semifinal]. BC takes [off] every year, this is where they come on, this is where the flowers start to bloom for them. But we’ve got to step up here.’’

When Cronin was coaching in the pros, he used to wonder why the Huskies couldn’t win more Beanpot trophies. Now that he’s behind the NU bench, he understands.

“What bothers me the most about this tournament is that everybody says, ‘Well, [why] can’t Northeastern win it?’ ’’ he said. “ ‘Can’t they just get lightning in a bottle once? A blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while, how can it not happen?’ At that time, it was 10 or 12 years [since they won it]. But now I’m in it. I’m in the fabric of the tournament and BC and BU are good. They are good every year. They restock with great players.’’

Because of the Terriers’ and Eagles’ run of success, Cronin said the competition for talent is fierce.

“My analogy is, [BU and BC] restock their deck with kings and aces, every year,’’ he said. “The rest of us have to scrounge around to get a jack or a queen and keep them long enough that they can someday wrestle with the kings and the aces.

“If your guys are really good, like Jake Newton or Brad Thiessen, they leave. [Their players] leave, too, but we don’t just pluck them back out of the tree and put them back into our deck of cards. OK, we lost a king or an ace of goalies [Thiessen] and we’ll bring one in. [Chris] Rawlings appears to be pretty damn good and we’re very fortunate, but we’re not pulling them in as reliably as they do, so they don’t really take a step back.’’

Another issue for NU is injuries. The Huskies seem to get more than their fair share, particularly last year when they contributed to NU not making the playoffs.

“I still think last year, we would’ve been pretty good if we didn’t lose [Steve] Quailer and [Randy] Guzior and [Jim] Driscoll and [Drew] Muench,’’ he said. “We could’ve gotten 20 wins, I really believe that, but it just didn’t happen.

“Harvard is taking a beating, too, and I don’t know what’s going on over there but [Bruins coach] Claude Julien doesn’t have his job if he’s got a [bad] group of players. It’s not the same in college, where you have to recruit. You don’t draft. So the quality level of your players is going to be dictated by how hard your assistants work and how smart you can make decisions to get those quality players. [Assistant coaches] Albie O’Connell and Sebastien Laplante do a good job.’’

Cronin said he was listening to Charles Woodson, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers’ cornerback who broke his collarbone in the big game, and something Woodson said resonated with the coach.

“They asked him when he knew the team had a chance to be really good,’’ said Cronin. “They had a bunch of injuries. He said, ‘A team becomes a team when the need for the coach in the room becomes less and less.’ We had that a couple of years ago, but this group, I don’t think it is there.

“They’re close, because they flirt with it, but we’re not there yet and we’ve got a rough road ahead of us.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at