Since the Beanpot first debuted in December of 1952, the
four-team tournament for Boston's hockey bragging rights has
grown in stature and popularity. From the players to the coaches,
fans, media and beyond, anyone who has experienced the Beanpot
first-hand has a story to tell. In 2001, the Beanpot celebrated
its 50th edition. The following commemorative piece by current
Hockey East Commissioner and former Beanpot participant Joe
Bertagna illustrates the Beanpot's great story.
Dec. 27, 2001
The Beanpot At 50 — Still
Inspiring and Still Growing
By Joe Bertagna
Despite being confined to a Veterans
Administration hospital in the final years of his life, Bill
Hutchinson would clack out an annual request for Beanpot tickets
on an old manual typewriter each January. Bill was an old
friend, a former referee who later in life served the Eastern
College Athletic Conference (ECAC) as Supervisor of Officials.
I knew he couldn't use the tickets himself but I never asked
any questions. I just got him four for each night.
About a year before he died, the ticket
request came with an unsolicited explanation.
"You have probably been wondering all
these years what I do with these tickets," the note said.
"I get them each year for the doctors here at the V.A. Hospital.
And I swear to God that the only reason they keep me alive
is for these damn tickets."
The Beanpot may not be a life or death
matter for most of us. But it is a big deal and has been a
big deal for most of its half century of inspiring athletes
and entertaining fans. It is a half century that has seen
great changes in the world, in amateur athletics, and in college
hockey itself. But for all the changes, the competition for
the 'Pot has remained relatively unaffected by all that has
evolved around it.
It is difficult to remember, given
the success it has become, what the Beanpot's original intent
"It was designed as a filler," says
Northeastern's Jack Grinold, the unofficial historian of all
things Beanpot. "I mean, it was originally the first two nights
after Christmas of 1952. It was to help the Arena on off nights.
It's way, way beyond that now."
The early history is somewhat familiar
to most Beanpot fans. The games were played in the Boston
(now Matthews) Arena for one year (1952), before moving to
the Boston Garden. The games were played on consecutive nights
for the first three years and then within a few days for a
couple of years. The first games were played in December of
1952 and January of 1954, leaving Calendar Year 1953 without
It wasn't until the sixth year that
the current "first two Mondays in February" format was adopted
and it wasn't until the ninth year, 1961, that the magic number
of 13,909 provided the event's first sellout. It has been
the hottest of tickets ever since.
The White House has seen ten Presidents
since Beanpot I, and Fenway Park has been home to even more
Red Sox managers in that time. You couldn't check in the offensive
zone back then. No one wore facemasks. Not even the goalies.
The Garden is no longer with us. Gone
are those thundering crowds. And the bad ice. But not the
memories. The FleetCenter now houses the event and is in the
process of creating new memories. Where Harvard's Bill Cleary
might say, "Hey, it was a thrill to play where Milt Schmidt
played," and former B.U. star (now Bowdoin head coach) Terry
Meagher might say, "It was thrilling to play where Orr played,"
today's undergraduates are likely "thrilled" to play where
Ray Bourque played.
Boston College coach Jerry York remembers
taking public transportation to the Beanpot, as a freshman,
who along with all other freshmen, couldn't play in the Beanpot.
And he remembers taking that same public transportation, gear
in hand, for three years when he did play. "The schools didn't
take team buses in those days," he recalls.
Terry Meagher remembers being confused
by all the attention given the tournament. "I remember thinking,
'Hey, these are ECAC games. We need these for the league title
first.' But then I remember how the Beanpot made Boston feel
smaller, like a more sociable place to someone like me from
Canada. Everyone seemed interested in college hockey when
the Beanpot drew near."
The games were all "league games" when
there was just one league, the ECAC. Opening games, consolation
games, championship games ÷ they all counted in the ECAC standings,
in those days before common schedules and split allegiances
(ECAC vs. Hockey East).
Along with formats and buildings and
leagues, the hockey culture has changed. It has become, for
better and worse, professionalized. Kids leave their local
youth program for more competitive opportunities. They leave
their local high schools for private schools or prep schools
or both. They leave home for junior teams in the Midwest or
for an elite program run by USA Hockey. They have personal
trainers. They expect to play professional hockey. And some,
a handful, do.
What hasn't changed about the Beanpot
is when it is and what it is. And don't kid yourself: the
"when" is no small part of the phenomenon. Early February
brings cabin fever to New England and the region's sports
fans are excited by even the mention of pitchers and catchers
reporting to Florida. Where else can print and broadcast images
of a generic rental van loaded with baseball gear bring grown
men to tears? It is at this moment that the area needs a boost,
something special to get excited about. And the Beanpot provides
That the games are played on Monday
evenings, Jack Parker has observed, further elevates the Beanpot.
"There are relatively few events competing with the Beanpot,"
notes Parker. "So the media discover us each year and ask
us, 'Hey, why is this so big?' And I look at the guy and say,
'Because you're here.'"
College hockey devotees are used to
working a little harder to follow their sport. You want to
know who won the Duke-Maryland basketball game? Look anywhere.
Local paper. Televison. Radio. You'll find it. You're trying
to find out who won the Minnesota-St. Cloud game that will
determine who is #1 in college hockey this week? Saint who?
Ah, but then February. Sports editors,
who allowed us a pre-season preview in October and plan to
cover our tournaments in March, throw us a bone. They cover
the Beanpot. Hey, it sells out the FleetCenter, it's a good
story line, and, well, it's a Monday night in February. And
this leads to a question: does the spotlight aimed at the
Beanpot elevate the play or does the quality of the play provide
that greater spotlight? Perhaps it's a little of both.
Of course, to relegate this event to
a freak of scheduling is to miss the point. And so we come
to "what" it is.
"The fact that it's the same four schools
makes all the difference in the world," says BU's Parker.
Bill Cleary takes it a step further.
"It's not just that the same schools are there but that they
are so close to each other. The Great Lakes Invitational has
three of the same schools each year but how far apart are
Michigan and Michigan Tech and Michigan State? This is the
most unique tournament of its kind and it's what amateur athletics
is all about."
It hasn't hurt that those four schools
play the game pretty well. Three of them have won national
championships in the last 13 years, which means you are watching,
more often than not, some of the best college hockey in the
country. And that makes it a damn hard event to win.
"It has become an aside to the real
season," observes Parker. "Almost a preposterous aside. It
shouldn't mean as much as it does."
Parker's Terriers have enjoyed a preposterous
record of success in this tournament (appearances in 18 of
the last 20 finals, for example), one that has sometimes dulled
the pleasure of the Beanpot for non-Terriers. Playing with
talent and without the pressure of "needing" to win it, the
Terriers have won six of the last seven. How tough is it to
"In the 1980's, we went to the NCAA
Frozen Four four times, the final game three times, and won
it once," says Bill Cleary. "In that same period, we only
played in two Beanpot finals and, fortunately, won them both."
It has not been by accident that the
games have retained their appeal. The schools and the host
building, under the watchful eye of Steve Nazro, have protected
what is special about the Beanpot.
"We have always tried to keep the focus
on the players and the coaches," says Nazro. "We rotate who
plays whom, there are no "seeds", for example. And while the
tournament has been successful financially, we've never made
the bottom line our first priority."
In other words, Nazro, and the likes
of Cleary, Grinold, and the late Bill Flynn, for example,
have insured that we aren't attending the "Something.Com Beanpot"
tonight. The event's stewards have protected the Beanpot's
special traditions yet have spurred growth through television
coverage, a Beanpot Hall of Fame, and a series of special
projects surrounding this 50th birthday.
Television has allowed the average
fan to watch the action at home while the Beanpot ticket becomes
more difficult to find each year. As NU's Grinold observes,
"I get a kick out of its sustaining power. It's growing by
With the alumni base of the four schools
growing each year, and the cost of tickets to professional
games going through the roof, the Beanpot looks more attractive
by contrast. College hockey in general has enjoyed a growth
in recent years, judging from record crowds at conference
and NCAA championships.
Some, this writer included, have lamented
the growing number of "suits" in the building each year, "fans"
who attend but one (two?) college hockey games a year. Others
guarantee their Beanpot tickets by purchasing season tickets
at one of the four campus rinks, a strategy out of reach for
many families with youth hockey-aged children. And so NESN
becomes the link for future Beanpot stars.
Speaking of future stars, it is not
surprising that the Beanpot has become a major recruiting
tool for the four schools. Television enhances that capability.
And this makes it ironic that Bob Norton has become so familiar
as one of the Beanpot's voices.
"I never went to a Beanpot when I coached,"
said the former UNH assistant recently. "I couldn't afford
to be seen there. And when you talked to a recruit, you never
mentioned the Beanpot. It was as if it didn't exist." Norton,
a Watertown native who now serves as the principal of Woburn
High School, has since broadcast eight or nine Beanpots with
the enthusiasm of a true Bostonian.
Jerry York, another Watertown native,
recalls his days at Bowling Green, between his old Beanpot
playing days and current Beanpot coaching stint.
"My assistant was Buddy Powers, who
grew up in Hyde Park and played in the Beanpot for BU," recalls
York. "We used to find a bar that had the games on the satellite
and we'd watch the games and argue back and forth."
While the games are primarily for the
players and coaches, the alumni aren't far behind. That the
same local schools make up the field allows for stories like
York's to flow from former players to non-playing alumni alike.
Stories have long been part of the
Beanpot experience. We've all heard about Bill Cleary's famous
goal and Snooks Kelley's telling of it. Everyone has a Blizzard
of '78 story. On just about everyone's Top Ten List is Wayne
Turner's goal that gave Northeastern it's first Pot.
And from the stories, we discover what
the Beanpot is about then as well as now. It is about games
and memories and basic emotions. If you played in it and never
won it, it gnaws at you when you come back to watch. I know.
Others who have won it, when discussing a great player from
another era, might suddenly limit their assessment of the
individual with a terse, "But he never won a Beanpot."
Jack Parker, who proudly recalls being
27-1 against Beanpot schools during his three years as a Terrier,
remembers fondly his first Beanpot as a coach back in 1975.
"Harvard shellacked us pretty good
in December, 7-2, and we got another shot at them in the Beanpot,"
he recalls. "We beat them by the same score. And I knew we
were going to win that game. Both teams had only one or two
losses. But I knew we would win that game."
The record books show that Bill Cleary
holds the Beanpot records for goals in a period (4), game
(5), and tournament (7). There are teams that didn't score
five goals in two games. The record book doesn't show who
has taken part in the most Beanpots but few can match Cleary's
personal history. He played in two, officiated in six or seven
(he can't be sure), coached in 22, and was athletic director
for ten. His special memories have nothing to do with his
"I'll never forget the year I called
up a kid named Lyman Bullard (now an owner of the AHL's Portland
Pirates)," recalls Cleary. "He was a great athlete who played
varsity soccer and tennis but had only played JV hockey for
us. I don't even think he ever tried out for the varsity but
just came out for JVs after soccer.
"He roomed with Brian Petrovek (also
with Portland now) and I can still remember calling the room
and Lyman answering the phone. He's all excited, saying, 'We're
going to be in there rooting for you tomorrow night, Coach.'
And I just said, 'How'd you like to play?'
"Well, he is so excited and don't you
know he goes out and scores a goal and we win the thing. And
he never plays another varsity game."
Then Cleary recalls a moment to which
many of us can relate. As he was wont to do, Cleary invited
the little brother of one of his players to be on the bench
during the Beanpot as a stickboy. The nine-year old is visiting
from Ontario just for the tournament. He has seen the Boston
Garden on televsion during "Hockey Night In Canada" broadcasts.
And now he is there.
"We were getting hammered by Boston
University in the first period and finally it ends," says
Cleary. And we have to walk across the ice to our dressing
room, the little kid and my own son, who was also nine at
the time, leading the way.
"Then suddenly, as we get to the big
'B' at center ice, the little guy just drops down as if he
is taking a face-off. He's in the middle of 14,000 people,
we're getting killed by BU and he is completely oblivious
to it all. He saw that 'B' like he had so many times on television.
And now it was his turn to take the draw."
Tonight, somewhere in the suburbs,
or here in the FleetCenter, there is a little kid thinking
about taking the draw or scoring the winning goal or, allow
me, making the big save. In his dream, he is wearing the colors
of his favorite Beanpot team. And some day, in five years
or ten, you may very well be watching a young boy's dream
And that is one more thing about the
Beanpot that has not changed in 50 years.
Joe Bertagna played goal for Harvard
in the 1972 and 1973 Beanpot tournaments. A frequent contributor
to the Beanpot programs over the years, Bertagna serves college
hockey today as Executive Director of the American Hockey
Coaches Association and as Commissioner of Hockey East.