In 2016, goaltender Jake Oettinger joined the Terriers from the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP), the elite youth hockey program based in Plymouth, Michigan dedicated to finding and developing the best U-17 and U-18 players in America. Oettinger then starred at BU for three seasons, leaving large shoes to fill upon his departure in 2019.
This year, Drew Commesso, another former NTDP netminder, will be joining the Terriers. Commesso has spent the past two years with the NTDP, and like Oettinger, will be joining the Terriers as a highly-touted NHL draft prospect.
With the two goalies sharing such a similar path, Commesso looks up to Oettinger as a mentor. The two met three years ago through BU goaltender coach Brian Eklund, who works with goalies in the Boston area, including Norwell native Commesso.
“I was lucky enough to go see [Oettinger] skate, and we’ve been in touch ever since,” Commesso said, “he’s always offering great tips, and he’s been such a great kid and great role model for me.”
With the National U-18 team last season, Commesso posted an 18-7-1 record along with a 2.05 goals against average and .920 save percentage. Commesso will look to bring that high-level production to Commonwealth Avenue this season.
Commesso joins a long list of former NTDP players to join the Terriers, especially in recent years, and teammates Dylan Peterson and Luke Tuch will be joining him as the newest batch of former National Team players at BU.
“I think the NTDP is on such a great path, and with the coaching staff and all the materials, and all the resources and facilities they have there, it’s no shock that they produce the best players year in and year out,” Commesso said.
The highlight of Commesso’s NTDP tenure came at the 2019 U-18 Five Nations Tournament, where the U.S. ran the table against the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Finland and Sweden to claim victory.
Commesso started three of four games for the US, winning all three and allowing just three goals on 69 shots. He shut-out the Czech Republic 1-0 in the opening game, and held down the fort against Finland in a 3-2 shootout victory. His 29 saves in the 3-1 win over Sweden in the final game helped clinch the championship.
“We had worked so hard for two years, and after our first year and all summer and spring training, that was kind of the first thing we had on our minds: that international tournament… it was just such a cool feeling for us and all the guys,” Commesso said.
As a member of the NTDP, Commesso already has some, albeit minimal, college hockey experience. The U-18 team was able to face-off against the Terriers on Jan. 3.
Commesso made the start for the US and turned away 38 out of 41 shots against his future BU teammates in a 4-3 shootout loss. He viewed the game as a valuable learning experience as he prepares to enter the college hockey world.
“I think I realized just how fast the game was, and I focused a lot on my skating and puck handling, too. It’s something I pride myself in, just making the job easier for my defensemen, and easier for everybody else,” Commesso said.
Commesso’s journey to college hockey started at a young age, as he initially committed to the University of New Hampshire at just 13 years old. As he got older, and more options became available to him, he decided to reconsider.
After spending two years on the road with the NTDP, having the opportunity to play close to home became a priority for Commesso. He eventually decided to join BU, his childhood team.
“I’ve always grown up a BU fan. You can find pictures of me as a little kid wearing BU hats,” Commesso said, “there’s so many great colleges around [Boston]…if I had a chance to go to college near home, it was definitely something to consider.”
Under normal circumstances, Commesso would be gearing up for the 2020 NHL Draft Combine and preparing to hear his name called in late June. Instead, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing the league to postpone the draft, prospects like Commesso will be forced to adjust.
There remains a chance that the combine will not happen at all, which could impact certain players’ draft stock, but Commesso, who is ranked as the 75th-overall prospect by TSN and 78th by ESPN, remains positive about the situation, not worrying about the things he cannot control.
“For us players, I guess the most important thing is how we performed on the ice… For the most part all the scouts got to see all of our work on the ice during the season, and I know they have a pretty good gauge on how the players play,” Commesso said.
In the meantime, Commesso has been working out at home, video calling friends, playing golf, going fishing with his dad and doing just about any other activity he enjoys to try and stay busy.
One silver lining to the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic is that Commesso has the opportunity to spend extra time with his family after spending so much time on the road in recent years.
“I rarely got to see [my family] during the season these past two years, so that’s been pretty important to me,” Commesso said.
Commesso looks forward to getting to know his teammates and earning their trust, on and off the ice. For the goaltender position, he feels trust is one of the most important things.
“I think my calm demeanor helps the whole team really just gain trust in me, knowing that they have a goalie they can trust, whenever it is,” he said.
With the trust of his teammates, the support of his family, and a mentor in Oettinger, Commesso looks forward to making his mark on the college hockey world.
“Obviously, going into the program, so many great BU alums have gone [through] the NTDP as well, so I’m super excited to get [to BU] in the fall,” Commesso said.