In the Beanpot Hockey Tournament's 64 years, no one has ever done what Minnesota Wild prospect Alex Tuch did on Monday.
It’s the latest accomplishment for a college player who continues to impress the team that drafted him 18th overall in 2014.
Tuch and Boston College defeated Botson University 1-0 in overtime in the tournament final, the first time in the history of the Beanpot the final was decided in a 1-0 overtime game.
And it was Tuch who scored the game-winner, 117 seconds into sudden-death, when his turnaround shot from the slot hit off the right post, and beat Sean Maguire on the Eagles' 42 shot of the game.
Three days later, Tuch was still beaming if not giddy about the goal.
"It was probably one of the best experiences of my life," Tuch said on Thursday. " It's almost indescribable once you've done it."
The game-winner continued what's been a productive sophomore season for Tuch. Scoring it crunch time of a signature hockey event wasn't lost on Minnesota.
"Absolutely it is, because it is a really important tournament, especially for out in Boston, and especially for those schools, so it means a lot," said Brad Bombardir, the Wild's Director of Player Development. "It means a lot to those institutions, and it means a lot to those players, and the coaching staffs as well."
A Summer of Work
Bombardir said it was clear when Tuch arrived at the Wild's 2015 Development Camp that he had been hard at work training in the offseason.
"He was in phenomenal shape, and he was really focused on that," Bombardir said. "I know we were really in touch quite often throughout the summer, and he had a great trainer back in Syracuse there, and they worked on some of the things we wanted him to get a little better at."
Tuch got hooked up with Mark Powell, the strength and conditioning coach for the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, and the head athletic trainer at East Syracuse Minoa High School.
"I pushed myself hard and Mark pushed me really hard as well," Tuch said. "My body weight dropped down, it was heavier than I ever lifted in my life."
Tuch worked out with a group of players that included Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Anthony Angelo, Colgate University forward Joe Wilson, and the University of Maine's Rob Michel, among others. Next summer, Tuch's younger brother Luke will join the group.
"My body fat was as low as it could be," Tuch said. "Bench, deadlift, squat was higher than ever, I was putting up good numbers."
His only setback came during World Junior training camp when Tuch sprained his MCL.
"That was four weeks I wasn't able to run as much, and wasn't able to lift as heavy as I usually do," Tuch said. "That was kind of a bummer right before the season started, coming into BC not hurt, but just coming back from injury."
A Slow Start
Tuch had recovered from his injury, but was just rounding into shape when he showed up at Chestnut Hill for the start of his sophomore season.
Between that, and a less aggressive approach, Tuch recorded four assists in his first eight games of the season.
"I was sitting back and watching a little bit too much earlier in the season," Tuch said. "I decided to be a little more physical the second half, hold onto the puck, skate a little bit faster, and then my chemistry with my linemates also increased."
Bombardir said it's not uncommon for that to happen for a sophomore, especially coming off the kind of freshman season Tuch had, in which he led the Eagles in scoring.
"When they come in with these high expectations," Bombardir said. "'I'm going to have a better year than I did last year,' which is a great expectation to have, and it probably started off a little slow for him, and then it gets frustrating."
Then Tuch found himself in a film session comparing clips with BC Associate Head Coach Greg Brown, and something clicked.
"It really just opened my eyes," Tuch said. "I knew that I needed to bear down in certain situations, and talks with Brad Bombardir, and (Boston College Head Coach Jerry) York, and (Boston College Assistant Coach Mike) Eyers, and everyone said, 'this is what you need to do,' and I've been able to do it after Christmastime."
Tuch has played a faster, more aggressive style, forcing the issue and using his 6-foot-4 frame to be a difference-maker.
"I've taken a step toward becoming a better hockey player, and more of a pro-style game the second half of the season," Tuch said.
For Bombardir, that's a great sign.
"He'd be a power forward in the National Hockey League, and they're really coveted in this league," he said. "If he's willing to continue to work, and make his game better, then he has the chance to get to be recognized as a really good, solid power forward in this league."
When the college hockey schedule goes on hiatus around late December, many student-athletes go home, but a select few represent their respective countries at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Tuch had been selected for the 2015 team, and has strong ties to United States Hockey having played two years for its National Development Team in Ann Arbor.
But Tuch was left off the 2016 roster in his final year of eligibility for the tournament.
"I was disappointed in them not choosing me to play for the team being a returning player," Tuch said. " It does give me a little chip on my shoulder, and I want to prove to people that I should have been there, but that's what every player does.
"They might get pushed down, but I've wanted to take it in the most positive way possible where I have room for improvement, and it's going to help me in the long run."
Bombardir said what's stood out about Tuch is his work ethic, which is what he said Tuch could do constructively after being left off the roster.
"He's come and worked, and he just wants to prove that he's a good player," Bombardir said. "And he is a good player, and he'll continue to get better. There's a lot there to this guy that, at the next level, could even grow, and be better.
"He could become a very good NHL player if he's willing to become a very good NHL player."
For All The Beans
Every year, on the first Monday of February, the Beanpot hosts its semifinal matchups at TD Garden in Boston.
Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern alternate games against by year. The winners play on the second Monday. Boston College has won the tournament 20 times.
This year, the Eagles entered the Beanpot ranked third in the country, with archrival BU ranked seventh, and Harvard ranked ninth. Northeastern was 6-0-0 with a tie from Christmas through the semifinal.
"It's four really good hockey schools," Tuch said. " We knew it was going to be a battle."
BC lost in the semifinal round last year to Northeastern. It was the first time it failed to reach the final since 2011, and the second time in the past decade.
"Being a freshman last year and not winning it, it was a letdown, and I didn’t know how a big of a deal it was until this year," Tuch said.
In its opening game on Feb. 1, the Eagles defeated Harvard, 3-2. Tuch had an assist on the game-tying goal in the second period.
Then, for the 22nd time in the tournament's history, the Commonwealth Avenue rivals, separated by under four miles, would meet in the championship game.
"It is the pride of Boston," Tuch said. "The Beanpot is talked about. I heard about it before I came up to school through my uncle who lived in Georgia. He even knew about it because he had friends who went to BU, or BC.
"It's just an unbelievable experience, and being a part of it means a lot to me."
Tuch's moment was born in a heartbeat. New Jersey Devils prospects Steve Santini fed the puck up to Washington Capitals prospect Zach Sanford. Sanford rushed up the ice with speed, creating space for Tuch.
"Coaches were telling us, 'throw the puck on net, throw the puck on net, throw the puck on net,' so I tried to buy some time for (Sanford), and I threw it back on the shortside, kind of low," Tuch said. "I wanted kind of a rebound shot."
Instead, he created history.
"And it went through two bodies, went post and in, and I was shocked at first," he said. "When I realized it went in, I actually tried to find (Thatcher) Demko, and I ended up finding, I think it was Santini, and (Ryan) Fitzgerald, and then the entire bench came off.
"It was a lot of fun. I didn't celebrate or anything; I just embraced my teammates. That was pretty cool."