On college hockey’s best rivalry, and the NHL’s best team.

Beanpot Tournament

As a major college hockey fan, I’ve seen some pretty impressive rivalries – North Dakota-Minnesota and Denver-Colorado College – up close. The one rivalry people can’t stop talking about is the Beanpot rivalry in Boston.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Beanpot is a unique tournament held on consecutive Monday nights every February between the four college teams in Boston: Boston University, Boston College, Harvard, and Northeastern.

The winning team not only gets bragging rights over its rivals, it hoists the coveted Beanpot trophy in front of a sold-out crowd. BU and BC typically dominate, having won 46 of the 60 tournaments (BU, 29; BC, 17). Harvard has won the Beanpot 10 times, most recently in 1993, while perennial underdog Northeastern has won four – none since 1988.

For the first time in my life, I was able to actually watch the tournament on TV this month (thanks to my new DirecTV subscription). The championship would be played on my birthday. Needless to say, I was excited.

The first-round pairings this year were Harvard-BU and BC-Northeastern – some decent matchups, but for reasons I still don’t understand, the puck dropped in the first game at 4 p.m. EST. Who’s going to be home at 4 on a Monday to watch a hockey game?

The absurd start time didn’t kill the anticipation. I was pulling for a Harvard-Northeastern title game. Think of the storyline: Two teams trying desperately to end a long drought after upsetting two far superior programs. How cool would that be?

Unfortunately, the championship game ended in typical fashion with BU handling the Crimson, 3-1, while BC lit up the poor Huskies 7-1. After Northeastern got demolished, I honestly felt like Jack Parker and Jerry York just took a massive dump on my birthday celebration.

Nevertheless, I still tuned in on my special day because it’s hockey and I wanted to see how the tournament ended. Special teams were the story of the back-and-forth game, with both teams getting a goal advantage either on the power play or short-handed, then relinquishing it soon after.

Even though the two teams I didn’t want to be in the title game were playing, it still was fun to watch. The game eventually went to overtime where the Eagles’ Bill Arnold notched BC’s third straight victory with a snapshot past Terriers goaltender Kieran Millan with only 6.4 seconds left. The Eagles exploded off the bench and, as expected, raised the Beanpot high over their heads.

Having seen the tournament, I can understand its appeal. Both the players and fans get really involved in the games and the announcers on NESN do a great job hyping up the tournament. If you haven’t watched it, be sure to do so. It’s really a classic.

Speaking of classics, most hockey fans know that Michigan has been chosen to host next year’s Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game will not be taking place in Detroit, but rather at the Big House at the University of Michigan. The 100,000-plus seat stadium in Ann Arbor is likely to get more fans and to make the game even bigger than it already is.

Still, Detroit will get its share of hockey. Dubbed the Hockeytown Winter Festival, the Motor City will host the NHL Alumni Game as well as next year’s Great Lakes Invitational tournament which will be played between Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, and Western Michigan. A game between the Red Wings’ and Maple Leafs’ AHL teams (the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies) has also been scheduled along with some OHL, high school, and sled hockey games.

Detroit has always loved hockey (the city does call itself Hockeytown, after all) and this will give the city a great chance to showcase that love to the rest of the country. The Winter Classic will also be a great moneymaker for a community that has been struggling for decades – both economically and with public opinion – as Detroit has been the butt of many urban-blight jokes.

Until that happens next January, hockey fans in Detroit can enjoy the fact the Red Wings continue to defy the odds. The Wings have been on a marvelous run dating back to the mid-1990s that includes four Stanley Cups and nearly a fifth in 2009. However, their roster has been getting older. Some hockey analysts have wondered if the Wings’ glory days are finally up.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Detroit has set a new NHL record by winning 23 straight home games and currently has the most points in the league (84) and wins (41). The Wings are also second in the league in goals scored (tied with Vancouver) and goal differential (plus-51).

During this impressive run, Detroit has rattled off three winning streaks of at least six games, while averaging 8.8 penalty minutes per game, the third-lowest average in the NHL. The Wings still have stars such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, and Johan Franzen, but the largest is the ageless wonder Nick Lidstrom – still the best defenseman in the league at 41. The Red Wings were getting All-Star goaltending from Jimmy Howard (.924 save percentage, 2.03 GAA) when he broke his right index finger, and backup Joey MacDonald hasn’t missed a beat.

With all of these pieces in place, the Red Wings appear to be on track to contend for the Cup again. It appears that they aren’t going away anytime soon and will continue to inspire Detroit’s citizens. When you think about it, is that really such a bad thing?

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