Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Big Stage, big shoulders

Boston, snowing (but just a dusting) ...

If Monday night's Beanpot, the 58th rendition of this historic tournament, taught us anything, it's that hockey is a sport that requires big shoulders and big heart. Wimps need not apply! Here is my game sidebar, written for the Boston Globe.

Quite the experience for freshmen

The Beanpot Tournament is an undeniable draw for college hockey recruiters in Boston, and freshmen often talk about playing in early February at the Banknorth Garden in revered tones. For those fortunate enough to win the prized pot in their first try, it can be a glorious stage.

BC's John Muse has breathed that rarefied air as a freshman two years ago, edging Harvard 6-5 in overtime. Last night, Muse's teammate Chris Kreider got a taste as well, finishing a dazzling rush that gave his Eagles a commanding 3-1 lead on the way to BC's 4-3 title victory.

"The pressure is huge, especially for someone growing up near Boston, watching the Beanpot," said Muse. "But all of our freshmen dealt with it unbelievably. Kreider's goal was just unbelievable."

That's the dream, of course, to score in your Beanpot debut, and Kreider was still giddy afterward. "That's not something I'd normally do," said the Boxford native of his lightning quick shift across the slot, adding the last time he tried a similar move he suffered a concussion. "I usually go wide."

But the Beanpot's big stage can also be brutally unkind, as newcomers from both teams learned last night. In the first period, BC freshman defender Philip Samuelsson sent a lazy outlet pass from behind his net that Terrier captain Kevin Shattenkirk intercepted, rifling the puck over Muse's right shoulder for a 1-0 BU lead.

On Kreider's breathtaking rush, he turned BU freshman Max Nicastro inside out before slipping a nifty backhander past Terrier goaltender Keiran Millan, who won the trophy last year as a freshman. But the most gut-wrenching moments were reserved for BU's Sean Escobedo. The BU defenseman from Bayside, NY, was the last player to touch the puck on BC's first two goals, deflecting shots from Steve Whitney and Carl Sneep past Millan.

However, if hockey teaches anything, it's the ability to get back up once you've been knocked down. And BU's captain said he wasn't concerned that the two freshmen would bounce back.

"I think that could have easily happened to any one of us," said Shattenkirk. "When it happens to a freshmen, it's tough, because it can really shatter their confidence. I think they rebounded really well. Our older guys did a great job of going forward and just helping them forget about it and get ready for their next shift."

BU coach Jack Parker agreed, saying both Escobedo and Nicastro had proven their grit before the Beanpot, and he wasn’t about to worry about either of them moving forward. "They've both been great," said Parker. "Max Nicastro has had a fabulous freshman year, and he's going to be a star in this league."

BC coach Jerry York acknowledged that his young squad, featuring 14 freshmen and sophomores, was tense in the locker room beforehand, but was confident that they would find their stride. By building a three-goal lead with four unanswered tallies, and then withstanding a furious BU comeback bid, York said his young squad took another step to becoming a championship contender. "That was a real catalyst for our club," he said.

"The pressure is what we want to put on the other team," he said. "Once you feel the piano on your back, you can't play. We just wanted our players to get after it."

Which is exactly what the Eagles did, said Muse. "We may have played at "Fenway [on Jan. 8], but it's another thing altogether to play in the Beanpot. We may have been a little tentative in the beginning, but once we shook that off, we really started rolling."

In all likelihood, Nicastro and Escobedo will shake off last night's disappointment, as their coach predicted. But if nothing else, the 58th annual tournament proved that the road to Beanpot glory is not always a smooth one, especially for the uninitiated.