Valentine's Day isn't an ideal situation for the Beanpot championship. Fewer things divide a city known best for unifying a people and being the birthplace of a nation. But that's just what Monday night was; a bitter, windy night on the banks of the Charles River that did more to divide than to unite.
For more than a few Boston College fans, watching Boston University drop a 5-4 decision in the Beanpot consolation game to a beleaguered Harvard squad would have been enough to warm their hearts. After all, the Eagles had already trumped the Terriers the previous week to relegate Jack Parker's squad to the consolation game for the first time in recent memory, and Northeastern wasn't about to pose a viable threat to their unanimous No. 1 nationally ranked team.
The hatred between BC and BU fans, after all, runs deep. Deeper, perhaps, than the hatred on Tobacco Road. Deeper, maybe, than the hatred between Ohio State and Michigan. It's bad enough that the two schools share a main thoroughfare, but they also share a subway line -- and no, it's not named for BU; it's named (for) Boston College. So for the BC Super-fans to watch their hated rivals lose to a Harvard team in the midst of one of its worst seasons ever, for those clad in maroon and gold who showed up early enough to momentarily join in unison with the Northeastern fans they'd be cheering against hours later, to give the verbal business to Terrier goaltender Kieran Millan, well, that was a special thing.
It turned out that the Huskies did pose a threat -- and a large one, as they led the game at 2-1, 3-2 and 5-4 before coming back from a 6-5 deficit to send the game to overtime, ultimately falling to a more experienced, more complete Boston College team.
It was the third game of the Beanpot's four matches that was decided by one goal -- Northeastern's 3-0 blanking of Harvard in the opening round the lone exception -- and only the second overtime game that Boston College had played all year, the first being last Monday's 3-2 OT win against BU in the Beanpot semifinal. And it remained a further statement to the tenacity of a Boston College program that has improved by leaps and bounds since an early-fall swoon that saw them lose four of seven games.
It's not lost on this writer that, as soon as BC started to turn things around, that other school that shares a subway line with them started to struggle. BU had gone unbeaten (6-0-4) in its first ten games of the season, rising to number one in the country -- a distinction which Parker vehemently opposed -- before being felled by UNH at the Whittemore Center on Nov. 19 -- the same day that BC blanked a then-potent Maine squad 4-0 en route to a weekend sweep of the Black Bears.
Heading into that weekend, Boston University was 6-0-4. Boston College was 6-4-0. Since then, the Terriers are 8-9-2, including an abysmal 1-3-1 record against non-conference competition (1-4-1 in non-Hockey East games, since the Beanpot doesn't count in the standings). Boston College is 15-2-0 in that same span, with 13 wins against Hockey East teams.
There's been talk that Jack Parker might be losing his grasp on his team, especially after assistant coach Mike Bavis held the reins during their blistering start while Parker finished recovering from open-heart surgery -- a procedure which was reported to be his first such ordeal, but those familiar with the coach admit that it wasn't his first cardiac surgery rodeo.
One way or the other, Parker knows where his team's at now, and made it very evident Monday night after his team gave up two one-goal leads, including one with less than seven minutes to play against a Harvard team that had only won four games on the season.
"I'm extremely disappointed in just about everybody on my club. That's a loss that's going to come back to haunt us, I'm sure," said a dejected Parker, more content to discuss the effects of the loss on his team's NCAA tournament hopes than to discuss the game itself.
Parker, whose contract is up after the 2011-12 season, could be facing a very serious decision. He is, whether he likes it or not, one of the school's big decision makers, the lone constant behind the school's flagship athletic team, one to whom trustees, deans and executive leadership look to to help make the big choices. He's also smart enough to know how to use that to his advantage.
B arring a serious deterioration in his health, it's not likely that he's going to want to leave, and mostly because he's still without shouting distance of Jerry York's total wins, a mark which is soon to be the standard-bearer for college hockey coaches everywhere. Parker, 65, is only four months' York's elder, and with York signing a five-year contract extension earlier this season to keep him on the BC bench until at least 2015, Parker's likely to look for the same thing.
Problem is, Parker's program doesn't look like York's.
In a region where hockey reigns supreme and in a conference where such programs are expected to generate more revenue than football or basketball teams do, Boston University and Boston College have long been the highest totems on the pole, occasionally battling UNH or Maine, but always retaining their reputation as Hockey East's greatest schools.
But the landscape is changing. With each win they pile up in the next six weeks, Merrimack is adding to their school record for wins in a season. While Maine has struggled this season and in seasons past, Northeastern has begun the slow process of turning around their program under the watchful eye of Greg Cronin. UNH has continued to quietly be a great team from October through February, only to falter come March.
With any breath of the word that Jack Parker may not return to the BU bench in two seasons, the Terriers will lose prize recruits to those other schools. If you stride briskly, Northeastern is a fifteen-minute walk from BU. If you operate vehicles in a similar fashion, Merrimack's a fifteen-minute drive.
York -- assuming he stays healthy -- will break Ron Mason's all-time wins record (924) during the 2012-13 season. Parker will continue to play catch-up. It's almost hard to believe that BU was the bee's knees two years ago, that they came back from a two-goal deficit to win the NCAA Championship in overtime, because they haven't won a thing since. Meanwhile, BC has racked up two Beanpots, a national title and a Hockey East championship in that same time.
There is a competition between York and Parker -- they may not admit to it, but it's there. Parker has won all of his 816 games at his alma mater; the 2012-13 season that he's not yet guaranteed would be his 40th at the helm of the Terriers. York, meanwhile, has won everywhere, but BC has been the feather in his cap.
He'd tell you -- if you were daring enough to ask -- that he doesn't like to win games like that Beanpot championship. He'd rather get an early lead and defend it. But he'll also tell you -- and he did -- that sometimes you'll have to win that way.
His team buys into it. His athletic department supports it. At any cost, just win. It's the fundamental difference between BC and BU at this point in their rivalry -- Parker still wants to win his way, York just wants to win.
And, like any good coach, he's got his team in position to do just that at just the right time of year.
Two miles inbound on Commonwealth Avenue, things aren't so rosy. The train still runs, shuffling BU students to class or their internship or a few blocks to their favorite watering hole, but for Terrier hockey fans, the yellow light announcing the vehicle's destination looms a painful reminder both of where they are and where they are not, what they had and what they don't have now.
"BOSTON COLLEGE," it reads.