The Beanpot, an annual hockey showdown between Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern, is one of Boston's most storied sports traditions.
The midseason tournament — whose trophy resembles the old-timey ceramic vessel Bostonians used for slow-baking beans — dates back to 1952. At the start, mens' teams played at Boston Arena, now known as Matthews Arena. It quickly moved to the city’s most important hockey venue: Boston Garden, which was eventually replaced by TD Garden.
But the women’s Beanpot, which started in 1979, has always been relegated to playing its games on the campuses of member schools.
Those schools, to be clear, have some of the best hockey facilities in the country. But they’re no Garden.
“Yeah, it was always something that I think as players, we didn’t really understand why we weren’t able to play there,” said Kaleigh Fratkin, a defender for PWHL Boston and BU alum. “I think that was always a topic of conversation, it’s like, ‘Well, why couldn’t we play there on that type of stage?’”
This year, however, for the first time ever, both the men’s and women’s Beanpot finals and consolation games will take place at TD Garden, putting the games on equal footing.
It’s a historic step for one of college hockey’s most unique traditions. And it’s one that past participants of the tournament hope is a step toward a brighter future.
Tara Watchorn, who played at Boston University and is in her first season as a coach of the Terriers, cites the city's passion for the game as something that drew her to BU from her native Canada.
But even as exciting as it was to play college hockey in Boston, having the men’s Beanpot at TD Garden while the women played at smaller venues was not lost on Watchorn.
“I don’t think, back then, anyone fixated on it. I think we understood, obviously, the draw and selling tickets. But I think it’s something that we’ve always been aware of,” Watchorn said. “And I think we’re at a really cool part in our game in that, creating that experience is half of the battle. There’s a fan base out there. There’s excitement around our game, around women’s hockey. … And I will say, if you build it, they will come.”
Watchorn’s squad took down BC in a thrilling shootout last week to earn a spot in the final, where they’ll take on Northeastern, which beat Harvard 1-0 to secure a spot in the championship.
Alina Müller, who starred at Northeastern and is now one of the faces of PWHL Boston, describes the Beanpot as one of the most exciting times of the season.
But Müller said having the championship game at TD Garden will make what is already one of college hockey's biggest days even "more significant and special."
What changed this year?
Jim Madigan, the director of athletics at Northeastern, played and coached for the Huskies. He said discussions about moving the women’s Beanpot to Legends Way go back at least several years.
Previously, there had been a proposal to have a day where both men’s and women’s championship games would take place on the same night. But that model would have left two of the schools out from experiencing the arena. It was important, he said, that all four teams got to play there.
Madigan, who came on to the discussion after it was already underway, believes now is the right time for the women’s Beanpot to be at the Garden.
“Given the rise now of the Professional Women’s Hockey League and that we saw that coming and how they kicked off, the timing couldn’t be better to celebrate women’s ice hockey, right?” Madigan told GBH News on Monday. “And now we’re in [the TD] Garden and all eyes will be on the Garden tomorrow night and those four schools.”
Former players reflect
When the first women’s Beanpot took place in ‘79, the game looked much different. Diane DerBoghosian, who was a goalie for Northeastern and the MVP of the inaugural tournament, recalls that at the time, the Huskies program, which hadn’t even been granted varsity status yet, was on a shoestring budget. Attendance was poor. The club team didn’t even have a bus to drive them to games.
Back then, the thought of Northeastern players getting an opportunity like the one they’ll have Tuesday night didn’t even cross her mind.
“So, I mean to see how wealthy the program is now, in a lot of ways, financial and popularity, I never would have imagined this,” DerBoghosian said.
Decades of Beanpots have led up to this moment. And while Fratkin hopes the next step is for the entire tournament to be held at the rink above North Station, instead of merely the final two games, she knows how big this moment is.
“The questions [that would] usually come around Beanpot, I had for years was like, ‘Oh, do you guys even play a Beanpot as well?’” Fratkin recalls. “People would ask, and they would ask when it was because it was always a different time than the men’s. So, I think now, just getting that stage and visibility on it is huge. And it definitely has taken too long. But it’s awesome that it’s happening, finally.”