Hat Trick | Curing the Super Bowl hangover

Regardless of whether or not a true hangover is involved, there is a reason the Monday after the Super Bowl is referred to in that way. With the NFL postseason in the rear-view mirror and winter sports months away from postseason play, early February can be a bit of a drag on the sports calendar.

College hockey, in this case, provides the perfect solution for this. The day after the Super Bowl, barring catastrophic weather, is typically either the first or the second round of the Beanpot tournament, an early taste of playoff hockey with an intense rivalry behind it.

For three of the four schools, the Beanpot is by far the largest annual sporting event they can expect to be a part of in a given year. For all four, the tournament is a gateway to bigger trophies.

Every time one of the participant programs has won the national championship, they have won the Beanpot first. With three of the four teams ranked in the top ten in the latest USCHO polling, that fact looms large.

Overtime involves a full squad, sudden death, and no point at which the game goes into a three on three affair or a shootout. Rivalries and bragging rights are always on the line. The Beanpot provides a doubleheader of do-or-die action when you need it most, a way of staving off the February sports lull for just a little longer.

1: Big Flip in the Big Ten

After getting out to a rocket fast start, the Penn State Nittany Lions have fallen back to the pack, and lost their conference lead, falling to third in the Big Ten after being swept by Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers tallied 10 goals in the homestand against Penn State, five each night. They only trailed twice, both times on Saturday night, and the Penn State lead was entirely gone half way through the second period.

Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn saved 28 shots on Friday night and 38 on Saturday night to complete the sweep. Junior forward Leon Bristedt tallied a hat trick on Saturday night, including a shorthanded goal in the first period.

Friday night’s win, for Minnesota, was about preventing the usual onslaught of shots from Penn State. Saturday night’s win was about standing strong against it. When Penn State executes, they fire a lot of shots on net and control possession. While they outshot the Gophers on both nights, taking 29 shots on Friday night is a low total for the Nittany Lions, showing that clever defense and smart possession can take the air out of their sails.

Both teams go on the road next week for big matchups. Minnesota heads to Columbus to take on Ohio State, themselves coming off a split with Michigan, while Penn State goes to Madison to take on Big Ten co-leader Wisconsin.

2: Beavers Take WCHA Control

After finishing in last place at the North Star College Cup, the Bemidji State Beavers had a tremendous conference matchup to tend to. As conference leaders, they had a homestand with a Michigan Tech team that could have narrowed the Beavers’ conference lead to just two points.

Bemidji State can consider that homestand a success, having swept Michigan Tech over the weekend and widened their WCHA lead to ten points.

Down a goal entering the third period on Friday night, Bemidji State struck on a pair of opportunities early in the period to take the lead, capping off the win with an empty net tally in the final minute to win 4-2. Mike Soucier, sophomore forward, scored his second and third goals of the season in the win, and freshman defenseman Tommy Muck was involved in all three third period goals with an assist.

Goalie Michael Bitzer stopped all 27 shots he saw on Saturday night to give the Beavers the home sweep and the runaway conference lead. With just four games remaining, Bemidji State needs to win only one more game to seal up their regular season conference championship. They get the chance to do that on Friday night, visiting the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

Michigan Tech, on the other hand, now has their NCAA Tournament hopes riding on finding a way to beat Bemidji State in the WCHA playoffs. They went 1-3 against the Beavers this year, and now the Huskies have to take care of business in hope of getting a fifth chance. That quest continues at home this weekend against Ferris State.

3: Monday’s Big Event

The Beanpot starts out at 5 p.m. ET as Northeastern and Harvard ensure that their streak of never meeting in the tournament final continues another year. Harvard should be heavily favored, as they come in a top five team against the unranked Huskies, but Northeastern under Jim Madigan is 3-2 in the first round of this tournament, and NU comes in riding the longest active win streak in the TD Garden after winning last year’s Hockey East tournament.

The Crimson are led by seniors Sean Malone and Alexander Kerfoot, and Ted Donato’s squad looks like the class of the ECAC as well as a true title contender. Harvard plays disciplined hockey that gets points from all over the ice. They’ll be up against a frantic Northeastern team that can score (senior forward Zach Aston-Reese is tied for the national lead in goals, junior forward Dylan Sikura is second in the country in assists, and Adam Gaudette is seventh in the country in points) but struggles at times to keep opponents from scoring on netminder Ryan Ruck.

The nightcap features Boston University and Boston College, one of the nation’s premier rivalries and the only two programs to have won this tournament since 1993. Jerry York calls the Beanpot the beginning of “trophy season,” while Boston University has a complete stranglehold on all-time Beanpot titles. Both are aiming for this to be the start of a long run of wins in NHL arenas.

As has become tradition under Dave Quinn, Boston University heavily features a talented freshman, this time forward Clayton Keller, the highest scoring freshman in Hockey East (second in the nation among freshmen) and the team’s leading scorer. In fact, none of their top five scorers is older than a sophomore.

BU is looking to make it a third straight trip to the tournament final, and to do that they’ll need to get revenge on last year’s 1-0 overtime BC win in the championship round. The Eagles come into the tournament with senior Matthew Gaudreau, Johnny’s brother, leading the way in scoring with 26 points on the season. They’ll need a big performance from goalie Joseph Woll, a freshman facing his first action in the TD Garden.

Tim Williams is a freelance writer based in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @TimWritesSports.

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