By Erica Whyte
What do Brian Gionta and Jack Eichel have in common? That’s easy.
What about Gionta, Eichel, former Amerks Evan Rodrigues, Sahir Gill, Colin Blackwell and current Amerks Kyle Criscuolo, Sean Malone, Danny O’Regan and Brandon Hickey?
As the winningest professional sports city since the turn of the century, Boston, Mass., knows a thing or two about producing successful sports teams. That also rings true for its college hockey programs.
Boston University, Boston College, Harvard University and Northeastern University are Boston’s four major college hockey schools, and the four participants in the annual Beanpot tournament. These schools are also the alma matters for Gionta (BC), Eichel (BU), Rodrigues (BU), Gill (BU), Blackwell (Harvard), Criscuolo (Harvard), Malone (Harvard), O’Regan (BU), and Hickey (BU).
All, apart from Gionta, played either with or against each other in some capacity, in the Beanpot between 2011 and 2017.
“Historically, those programs in Boston specifically have been very good at producing players,” said Malone, who played for the Crimson Red at Harvard from 2013-17. “BC, BU, Harvard and Northeastern are really good clubs, and they get a lot of top recruits, so it’s no surprise that a lot of guys that play pro hockey have played for those programs.”
"The thing that got me, and I think a lot of other guys, interested in any Boston program was playing the Beanpot,” said O’Regan, who was born in Germany where his dad, Tom O’Regan, played professionally, but relocated to just outside Boston when he was in grade school. "It was always really cool to watch the tournament when I was a kid, and that was always the dream, to play college hockey in Boston.”
The Beanpot, which is played over the first two weeks of February, pits the four universities against each other as they battle for the city's top spot and bragging rights over its cross-town rivals. The tournament, which has been held annually since 1952, is played in front of sold-out crowds at the TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins.
“The atmosphere is insane,” said Hickey, who last season captained the Terriers and is now roommates with O’Regan, a former BU teammate. "You’ve got the teams themselves, but you’ve also got their bands and everyone is competing with each other. Even the fans are competing for who can be loudest. And if you win the Beanpot, you have bragging rights for the entire year in Boston, so it’s definitely a special thing to be a part of and was my favorite thing about playing there."
The connections created through playing in the Boston college system have carried over to their time as Amerks, strengthening relationships both on and off the ice.
“(The Boston guys) still always joke around about it,” said Malone of the current Amerks who were either teammates or rivals in their college days. “We will have little side bets going on who will win what, which makes it all really fun. I played against Hickey when he was at BU and O’Regan and all those guys, so to have had a rivalry like that with them back then, then to come here is really fun to joke around about. And you feel like you have a connection with those guys because they were in the same city as you and you all came from the same place.”
"It adds an element of familiarity” continued Hickey of the Boston connection. "It’s great to come to Rochester and know who you’re playing with and played against. It also creates bonds off the ice, and that’s a big part of the game…being comfortable on and off the ice, and that helps with both aspects."
And although now they are all teammates competing together as Amerks, the bragging rights they each earned during their Beanpot days will last forever.
“We beat ‘Mugsy’ (Malone) in the semi-finals in my first year, make sure that gets put in the article,” said Hickey, with a smile on his face.
“Oh my god, shut up,” Malone responded, smiling back.