Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Beanpot Bonanza Weekend Part I

With all four Beanpot teams on Boston ice this weekend, finding entertainment for my Michigan billet visiting for 72 hours would be a snap. Three classic venues on consecutive days filled with unsung heroes, freshmen phenoms, veteran stars sharing good times and bad, and a healthy dose of Kubrickian ultra-violence at the Jesuit school to cap the weekend. What's not to like?

Act I: Yale at Harvard, Clash of the Ancient Eight
Rob O'Gara: Speak Softly and Carry a Long Stick

Jimmy V: Mr. Goal a Game

The compressed hockey weekend began Friday night with the 250th meeting of ancient rivals Harvard and Yale, a love-hate fest that began 115 years ago. Those numbers are simply too mind-boggling to digest in this space now. In terms of current relevance, this game was essentially a resumption of their riveting ECAC playoff quarterfinal from last March, only the venue had moved from New Haven to the Bright-Landry Hockey Center down by the River Charles. From our borrowed flat in Cambridge, my partner and I got to jog along the dirty water to this tilt and then braved the Anderson Bridge construction, crowded with the nation's best and brightest striding to this tasty early season showdown. College Hockey, Inc. billed this game as another chapter in the clash of senior All-Americans Jimmy Vesey (H) and Rob O'Gara (Y), the premier irresistible force and immovable object (respectively) of college hockey. But on this night of excellence, new names stole the spotlight. Scribes in the press balcony were heard uttering that this was a legitimate national championship preview. The secured press box included both Eastern hockey commissioners Joe Bertagna and Steve Hagwell, in addition to former Yale puckster John Kerry. Kerry's hockey affiliation trumped his Secretary of State status on this riveting night.

Harvard threatened to run Yale out of the building in the first period, shuttling the equivalent of three first lines of high octane offense at Yale, generating 18 shots and numerous grade-A chances. But Yale's All-American goaltender Alex Lyon stoned the Crimson like he did so frequently last season. Then a miniscule freshman in blue and white killed the local buzz with a goalmouth backhand off a turnover halfway through the game. Joe Snively potted his third goal in two games, a veritable plethora of offense for the defense-first Bulldogs. After stifling a Harvard power play early in the second period Yale had snatched the momentum, and began to apply its anaconda-like defensive suffocation on Harvard, starting to dominate this 1-1 game. That is until an ill-timed line shift created a numerical advantage for Harvard just inside their offensive blue line, allowing junior Luke Esposito room to crank up a full windup slapper from the top of the left circle. He blasted the puck past Lyon to ignite the sellout crowd, leaving the game tied after two periods.

Power Schmoozing at the Landry-Bright Center
Bill Cleary Stands alone among Harvard Greats
The wide concourses at Harvard are conducive to the art of the hockey schmooze, and there was no shortage of subjects this night. 80 year old Harvard hockey legend Bill Cleary was in classic form, regaling my billet with his full repertoire of nose flicks, sleight of hand shakes and deftness with his dentures. His face bore the same shade of crimson as the banner carrying his #4 hanging over the rink's west end zone. Cleary is the only sports figure to have a number retired in the history of Harvard. His heroics on the ice, including a season in which he averaged 4 points a game, and having coached Harvard to its only hockey national championship, makes his banner a no-brainer. Despite suffering the recent loss of younger brother Bob and enduring his own battle with skin cancer, Cleary remains a delightful life force on full throttle. After a polite exit we made the first turn around the concourse where we found former Olympic coach Ben Smith, currently in the role of personnel evaluator for USA Hockey's World Junior squad. Smith will be ubiquitous in New England NCAA rinks from now until mid-December as he stores information on all the World Junior candidates. He is the man who last year advocated for previously unknown prep schooler Miles Wood to make Team USA, and Wood is now playing a leading role for BC as a freshman. "He's the best player in college hockey," said Smith. "He could dress for the Bruins tomorrow." Nodding vigorously, we kept pushing along until we bumped into Nashville Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton, a Massachusetts native back in Boston to track prized draft pick Vesey. Despite Vesey's uncharacteristically quiet night offensively, Fenton continued to gush. "He'll be our trade deadline acquistion," said Fenton, counting on Vesey to honor his statement that he will join the Preds in March for their Stanley Cup push, as soon as he completes his final Harvard campaign. Fenton has spent so much time watching Harvard the past three years that he simply couldn't ignore the mad skills of Crimson junior Tyler Moy. He is a San Diego native that has cultivated his 21st century dangling magic from relentless practice and emulation of today's NHL greats via YouTube. Fenton's Preds snagged Moy last summer in the 6th round, an outright steal.

The Gripping Conclusion
Moy's spirited play with linemate Esposito earned them both first-line minutes in this gripping battle that was still tied with six minutes to play. Espo, the ferocious little nephew of Mark Messier, was outmanned in a scrum against the wall with Yalies O'Gara and Ryan Hitchcock in Harvard's attacking zone. He managed to wrest the puck from O'Gara and heard Moy calling for it as he sliced through a tight seam. Espo delivered the goods to Moy in stride, and the junior had the game on his stick, 10 feet from Lyon's net. Moy snapped his shot by the helpless kicker, igniting the crowd into a
Moy Wonder (Courtesy ECAC Hockey.com)
Crimson delirium, as Harvard took the lead with just over five minutes to play. "Espo can see the ice and moves the puck really well, we had a little give and go there on the goal," said Moy post game, his grin appropriate for a guy who delivered the go-ahead goal in front of a passion-struck standing room crowd. "Obviously it's one of the best feelings. A lot of people play the game because of that. Yeah, especially against a team like Yale."

But the Bulldogs simply wouldn't go away, pressing the issue with 14 shots in the final stanza. With :40 seconds remaining, junior power forward John Hayden took a rare draw, and followed the
Little Big Man Joe Snively
bouncing black bar of soap behind the Harvard net. He manhandled two defenders, corraling the puck before sliding it diagonally through the crease onto the tape of Snively, where he one-timed a tying goal that felt a lot like the game winner. Little Joe was the only player who managed a shot in the scoreless overtime, and the normally dour Yale coach Keith Allain was practically giddy listing the kid's skill sets. "He's smart, quick, skilled and cool in the big moments. I think he's going to be a nice player." The guy who did the heavy lifting on the goal, 6'3" 210 lb. Blackhawks prospect Hayden, loved getting the rookie involved in such an important situation. "It's pretty special to see a freshman come in and contribute right away. Obviously Snives is a great player, and it showed in the first three games." This is a season of redemption for Hayden, who suffered from the proverbial World Junior hangover last season." Last year was a grind when I didn't have a break over Christmas," said Hayden outside his locker room. "I think I burned out at the end. I've
Hayden: Comeback Kid?
started to respect the necessity of rest and recovery, it's helped me so far." Snively was entirely matter-of-fact when he faced the fawning press, yet he became much more animated in his description of Hayden's clutch play. "It was an amazing pass, Hayds came around the net and made a great play. I knew he was going to come around the net, I knew the puck would come out. He put it right on the tape, I couldn't ask for a better pass. I had the whole net to shoot at."

The two heroes for their respective teams, the ebullient Moy of Harvard and the deadpan Yale freshman Snively, both embody their hockey institution. Harvard, the offensive circus with three first lines, overflows with puck love; Yale, austere and defensive, has found an undersized yet elite scorer who celebrates in monotone. Both squads left the rink undefeated Friday night, soon to climb in the national rankings. They are the Athens and Sparta of the Ivy League City-States, guaranteed to meet once again in New Haven in mid winter. Perhaps they are destined for a second straight high-stakes clash in the post-season? That may depend on the prophesy of the Oracles.

Side Bar: Harvard and Yale Freshmen with Souls.
Mane Man Piotrowksi
Donato Digs Deep

The unseemly Jeremy Bracco affair may have tarnished the perception of selfish teens on the hockey fast track, but the stories of two remarkable freshmen from Friday's game, one from Harvard, one from Yale, might restore your faith in hockey millennials. Yale freshman forward JM Piotrowski has a bright orange mane emerging from his helmet that would make snowboarder Shaun White green with envy. JM is not seeking personal recognition on a veteran Yale club seeking another NCAA title. He is, however, bringing attention to a much worthier cause. Thanks to Yale SID Steve Conn, we have learned that Piotrowski is cultivating his foot-long braid for Locks of Love, the organization that provides wigs for those suffering from medical-related hair loss. Piotrowski has had three aunts who suffered from breast cancer, one who passed away. The Texas native estimates that he needs to grow his hair out another inch before hitting the required length, and then plans on cutting his neon locks at the end of the season....Unlike Piotrowski, the hockey world has long known about elite point-producer Ryan Donato, the son of Harvard coach Teddy. During Friday's first intermission in Cambridge, 70 year old David O'Connor was outside grabbing a smoke. Now aided by a cane and slowed by 50 extra pounds, O'Connor moves a lot slower than when he was a ticket taker for Harvard hockey games a generation ago. O'Connor happens to be a neighbor of the Donato clan down in Scituate, part of metro Boston's south shore. Between puffs, he shared this story unsolicited. "That big snow last year, the electricity went out and people were going to the school to stay warm. And I'm thinking 'How am I gonna get over there with all this snow?' I look out, and there's this kid, Donato, shoveling my driveway. I didn't even asked him." O'Connor crushed out his butt while balancing himself carefully with the aid of his cane. "He's the kind of kid that gets up and goes to church, even when his mom and dad don't go."

(Editor's note: Act II of the Weekend Trilogy, BU vs Northeastern, follows next on RinkRap)


  1. Here the lighting is a little brighter than lounge setting, and you can sit at one of their many tables, or grab a seat by the bar. With a large menu of beers, you might have trouble picking just one. The music at LA event venues is always upbeat with a mixture of rock and pop, and the food menu is large as well as their seating.