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Fill the Garden focal point of historic Beanpot Tournament

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In a season that sees the launch of PWHL Boston and the Centennial of the Boston Bruins, equally notable is TD Garden serving as host venue for the Women’s Dunkin’ Beanpot. After the 2023 edition of the men’s tournament, won by Northeastern, was contested there, the return to the Garden, home of the Bruins, in 2024 sees an exciting chapter in sporting equality. With the men’s and women’s events both held at the venue this year, the feeling of relevance for the female game takes on an even grander meaning.

As Dunkin’ returns in its sponsorship role, it also marks the first time that the women’s Beanpot has enjoyed a title sponsor. In addition, the New England Sports Network (NESN) shall broadcast the women’s championship, to be held on January 23, 2024, bringing a greater prestige to bragging rights.

Considered the “social event of winter season” in Boston’s sporting calendar, a key objective for the 2024 Dunkin’ Women’s Beanpot is to “Fill the Garden”. Such an ambitious and highly admirable goal is certainly within reach.

On January 8, 2024, a very impressive 13,361 fans filled the seats at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, setting an attendance record for a women’s pro hockey match at PWHL Minnesota’s home opener. An encouraging sign that women’s ice hockey is a viable sport capable of attracting large numbers of spectators, the feeling of momentum also spreads to other unprecedented feats which recently occurred in college sports. 

Since the 2023-24 NCAA sporting season began, several exciting events established new attendance standards in collegiate female athletics. Led by Caitlin Clark, the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team participated in an outdoor exhibition game at Kinnick Stadium versus the DePaul Blue Demons. Dubbed the “Crossover at Kinnick”, an astounding 55,646 spectators were on-hand to see the Hawkeyes prevail by a 94-72 mark.

Among the nation’s highest ranked volleyball teams, the Nebraska Huskers closed out the month of August as an astounding 92,003 fans packed Memorial Stadium. Hosting the University of Omaha for an exhibition match, it not only marked the largest crowd in the United States to witness a women’s sporting event, it also set a new world record, surpassing the 91.648 fans in Barcelona, Spain to watch a UEFA Women’s Champions League match on April 22, 2022.

Certainly, the fact that the Beanpot shall be contested on NHL ice holds the potential to highlight another important chapter in a truly impactful year for female sports. Undeniably, the captains of all four teams shall be intertwined in a landmark moment for women’s ice hockey in Boston.

Beginning with captain Megan Carter of the defending champion Northeastern Huskies to Shannon Hollands and goaltender Alex Pellicci with Harvard, the promise of making history shall serve as unforgettable highlights in their careers. Additionally, Boston College features Massachusetts native Gaby Roy and Abby Newhook with the C on their sweaters, while Nadia Mattivi and Madison Cardaci represents the Terriers leadership, all part of a shared milestone etching their names in program lore.

Adding to the excitement of the event, the defending champion Northeastern Huskies return to the finals. Last season, the Huskies emerged victorious in a hard-fought 2-1 final versus Boston College, who last won the title in 2018.

Seeking their third title in four years, another point of interest involves Huskies forward, and leading scorer, Skylar Irving. Having once played at TD Garden during a high school state championship game, the opportunity to return represents a career highlight, sharing her enthusiasm with Northeastern Global News, “It’s special because you see your idols playing there – and now you’re playing on the same sheet they play on. It’s just awesome.”

With Harvard’s Bright Landry Center serving as the backdrop for the semifinals, the Terriers pulled off a dramatic shootout victory versus the No. 13 Boston College Eagles. With a 3-3 deadlock after overtime, sophomore Lilli Welcke scored one of the biggest goals of her career while goaltender Callie Shanahan was a stone wall, allowing the Terriers to upset the Eagles, perched atop the Hockey East standings. Coincidentally, Lillie’s sister Lucia Welcke also scored in regulation.

The feeling of milestone also proved prevalent for Terriers forward Catherine Foulem, as the Beanpot semifinal resulted in her 100th appearance with the Terriers. In an article for BU Today, Foulem was jubilant at the prospect of gracing NHL ice, “Playing at TD Garden is an honor and a moment of pride. Watching the boys play there every year and cheering them on, and now that being the case for us, it’s just really exciting and a proud moment for the women’s hockey world and BU.”

Punching their ticket to the Finals, the No. 15 ranked Huskies emerged victorious in a hard-fought 1-0 shutout win versus a valiant squad from Harvard. Goaltender Gwyneth Phillips rose to the occasion, gaining her 21st career shutout. After junior Taze Thompson scored in the first period, Phillips preserved the one goal advantage for the remainder of the contest. Coincidentally, Thompson spent her freshman season with the Crimson, earning a place on the ECAC All-Rookie Team. Harvard goaltender, and co-captain, Alex Pellicci, provided the most inspiring effort of the semifinals, accumulating 39 saves, while blueliner Mia Biotti blocked five shots, giving the Crimson an opportunity to compete against the defending champions.

Additionally, another unique subplot adds an element of interest to this year’s Beanpot. In a rare instance, two of the participating programs feature first year head coaches. For Harvard’s Laura Bellamy and BU bench boss Tara Watchorn, there is also a theme of full circle. Both played for their respective schools over a decade ago and enjoy the experience of having played in the Beanpot.

Before the semifinals took place, an emotional banner raising ceremony occurred at the TD Garden on January 15 prior to the Bruins hosting the New Jersey Devils. Affirming the importance of women’s ice hockey in Boston’s sporting conversation, the sense of celebration involved the presence of four Beanpot Hall of Famers.

Representing all four participating teams, Eagles alumnae Alison Quandt (Class of 2006) was joined on Garden ice by Terriers goaltender Lisa Whitcomb (Class of 1984), Harvard legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero (Class of 2005), along with Northeastern Huskies goaltending great Kelly Dyer (Class of 1990). Earlier this season, Dyer and her teammates from the undefeated 1987-88 Huskies also gained induction into the Northeastern Athletics Hall of Fame. With the Beanpot banner raising ceremonies, which saw Dyer bring out the celebrated trophy to Garden ice, this season has seen a newfound appreciation for the gregarious goaltender.

“It was a great honor to be part of this historic event. As the Women’s Beanpot banner was raised up into the rafters, I thought to myself, ‘Women’s sports are really on the rise.’

The growth of women’s ice hockey on all levels, from youth development, U18 IIHF Championships to the National Team, Olympics and PWHL. It is an amazing time with lots to be excited about.

Getting the Beanpot championship games to be on “the big stage” and in an NHL building has been a longtime in coming. It will be great to get it all kicked off on January 23.”

With the banner helping to set the tone for this year’s Dunkin’ Beanpot, the welcome of NCAA women’s ice hockey to the TD Garden marks a new era. Aiming to “Fill the Garden” would certainly stand as an exclamation point, accentuating the feeling of making history. Regardless of the final score, all four programs can feel a sense of accomplishment. While the players who grace the ice shall enjoy a lifetime of memories, the precedent established shall provide future generations an equal place, allowing their heroics to shine on a grander stage.

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

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