For some younger Eagles fans, tonight will be difficult to put into perspective. Boston College...in the what? The Beanpot Consolation game? Hmm...let me digest that.
For the past five seasons the Eagles have spent the near witching hour of the second Monday in February skating the Garden ice with Beanpot hoisted overhead. For ten of the past twelve years, the Eagles have reached the title game. The specter of playing a 4:30 game in front of a few hundred diehards and the band, and—God forbid—no television, is simply something most have no frame of reference to. However, that wasn't always the case.
No team in Beanpot history has more third place finishes (22) than Boston College. When Harvard and BC square off tonight, they will represent 39 of the 62 consolation winners, having faced each other eleven times in the dreaded late-afternoon puck drop, with the Eagles winning 9 of those 11, including the past 7, but there is one of those that stands above the others.
On Monday, February 8, 1987, Len Ceglarski took his Eagles to the old Boston Garden to face the Crimson. Now we can all have the long faces and think of "consolation" but this was far from a downtrodden BC team. The Eagles would finish that season 31-9, ultimately losing in a two-game total goal series in the NCAA Quarterfinals to Minnesota at, of all places, Walter Brown Arena at BU, while Conte Forum was being completed.
If you think the Eagle teams of recent vintage were talented, this collection was off the charts. Names like Craig Janney, Kevin Stevens, Doug Brown, Bob Sweeney and Brian Leetch. BC was loaded. On this night though, all the talk of was of Ceglarski.
Ceglarski was in the later stages of his 20 year tenure as Eagle head coach after returning to his alma mater from Clarkson in 1972. A 1951 graduate of the Heights where he played for and ultimately succeeded John "Snooks" Kelley, he captained what was, at the time, Snooks' and BC's only National Championship team in 1949. Remember, outside the two years Steve Cedorchuck (Ceglarski's assistant) ran the BC program, the Eagles have had just three head coaches in the last 77 years.
No, that is not a misprint.
A week earlier, Ceglarski had a chance to make college hockey history. Beat BU and capture win number 556, which would set the all time college hockey wins record, passing legendary Michigan Tech coach John MacInnes. As successful as he was, though, the big prize always seemed to elude Ceglarski, and so it was on that night, where the Terriers beat BC 6-3, forcing Lenny to wait another week for a chance at the record.
The next Monday was one of the most underwhelming atmospheres at a historic event ever seen. It wasn't as if Harvard was a pushover. The Crimson would finish their season in that year's Frozen Four (well before anyone called it the Frozen Four), finishing fourth with a record of 28-6...see, consolation games in the national tournament too!
Small crowd, no atmosphere, and—as can happen in consolation games—it went awry for one team right away...and that team was BC.
Harvard lead 2-0 late in the first, when Leetch got the Eagles on the board off a deflection with just 21 seconds left in the period to cut the lead to one, but as was the case in college hockey in those days, goals came in bunches and Harvard would answer just eight seconds later to take a 3-1 lead to the locker room,
BC came out flying in period two and had it tied at 3 within the first four minutes of that frame, with Steve Scheifele and then Janney providing the Eagle goals, before Lane MacDonald put the Crimson back up 4-3.
The third was more back and forth. Harvard jumped ahead 5-3, before Tim Sweeney and Ken Hodge (twice, one at 16:39 and the second at 17:17 of the period) gave BC a 6-5 lead. It wasn't going to be that easy for Ceglarski; it never was. And when Bill Cleary pulled the goaltender, Harvard responded, getting the tying goal with 1:07 left to send it to OT at 6-6.
That's when things got really crazy. Overtime in the consolation game was something that had happened very rarely. There were questions around whether an OT should be played. In the previous 34 Beanpots, only twice had overtime been needed and with TV scheduled to have the title game at 8 PM, there was doubt whether it should be played at all.
Oddly, it seems that it wasn't the officials who made that call, but current Beanpot Director, Steve Nazro. The two coaches were in agreement, but to a 10 minute OT only, per the rules of the NCAA at the time.
Back and forth the teams went, unable to break the deadlock. Then, with time winding down and no one exactly sure of what would happen if the OT period ended as it started, Ken Hodge let a 65 foot slap shot go with the Eagles on the power play that found its way past Harvard tender Dickie McEvoy with no time showing on the clock.
BC went wild, while Cleary, the Harvard team and Crimson captain Peter Chiarelli (yup..that would be the Bruins GM) protested wildly. No video replay in those days.The officials conferred and emerged from their huddle allowing the goal and providing Ceglarski the record. The consensus is that given replay, the goal would have been overturned and then who knows what would have happened.
Ceglarski, as always, downplayed the record and any personal achievement, instead just mentioning how the pursuit of the record was adding pressure to the team that now could be put aside.
Ceglarski would finish his career with 673 wins, still good for 8th place on the all time wins list.
That night, Ken Hodge talked about 'getting the monkey off Lenny's back,' but that would never really happen. Despite all that talent, the Eagles would not win a national championship in his tenure; that would have to wait until another Snooks protege, Jerry York, accomplished the task in 2001.
Maybe most interestingly, there has not been another OT consolation game in the Beanpot since!