Feb. 2, 2009

BOSTON (AP) - Northeastern has an excellent chance to stop its two-decade streak of futility in the Beanpot hockey tournament.

The task of the resurgent Huskies is clear but challenging: beat defending NCAA champion Boston College in the first round Monday to prolong that chance. Boston University and Harvard play in the night's opening game.

"BC and BU, they know how to win," said Northeastern coach Greg Cronin, hoping to reach the title game the following Monday night. "That's what we're trying to get to."

Boston has won 28 of the 56 Beanpots, the annual four-team tournament. Boston College is second with 14 titles and Harvard is third with 10.

Northeastern? It's won just four, all from 1980-1988. The current 20-year drought could motivate the Huskies, although Cronin said he doesn't stress that to his players.

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But Huskies scoring leader Ryan Ginand hopes that streak will help.

"That gives some flames behind everyone on the team, especially the seniors, our last chance, our last go around," he said. "It's in the back of everyone's minds."

Northeastern's 17-6-2 record is its best start in 27 years, and it leads Hockey East with a 13-4-1 record. BU is 19-5-1 overall and second in Hockey East at 12-5-1, while BC is 11-8-4 and 7-7-4. Harvard, a member of the ECAC, is 5-11-4 overall but ended a 13-game winless streak by beating Union 3-1 on Friday night.

Last year, Harvard went out to a quick 3-0 lead over Northeastern and won its first-round Beanpot game 3-1.

"We blinked and they scored three goals," Ginand said. "We were really kind of negative after that."

The Huskies followed that with a season-ending 4-9 run but began this season at 7-1-2. The Beanpot is just one step on their quest for consistent success.

"This is a unique time because we're building a program up," Cronin said. "I think it's been done fairly meticulously in the sense that we've got players that we think play the style we want to play."

BC's first loss since it won the NCAA title came against Northeastern, and Eagles coach Jerry York knew the Huskies, who had an 11-game unbeaten streak last season, were no longer pushovers.

"Everybody says, 'Hey, how come all of a sudden they got so good?'" York said. "I thought they were good late last year."

The Eagles have been inconsistent. They tied Providence 2-2 Friday night and are 2-4-3 in their last nine games but 2-0-1 in their last three.

"We've had a little bit of ups and downs this year," said Brock Bradford, BC's leading scorer, "but we're on the right path."

BU has dominated the tournament. Besides their 28 championships, the Terriers have finished second 18 times, third seven times and fourth only three times. They reached the title game 13 straight years before finishing third last season.

"The reason why we are having a good year is because of our senior class," said Jack Parker, who got his 800th career win Friday night in his 36th year as BU's coach. "The first half of the season is nice to get recognized, but nothing matters, nothing counts" until the tournament begins the stretch drive.

His first-round opponent, Harvard, made it to the championship game last season, losing 6-5 in overtime to BC. Ted Donato's team is a longshot to make it back.

"It's been a struggle. There's no way around it," he said. "BU is one of the most talented, if not the most talented, in the country."

It could face Northeastern for the title for the fifth time in 14 years. The Terriers won the previous four meetings.

"Growing up, I thought it was a tournament BU was supposed to win every year," Northeastern senior forward Rob Rassey said.

Not anymore.

"The real men show up now," Cronin said. "We understand that."