After losing to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals, marking just their 15th game of the season, the No. 10 Boston University men’s ice hockey team (10-4-1) was left to wait over a week before finding out whether or not their season would continue in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite a strong overall record, the Terriers’ rocky end to the conference schedule left their fate uncertain. Ultimately, senior captain Logan Cockerill didn’t have any doubts.
“We had a pretty good idea that we were going to be in, just based off looking at other teams and looking at our record and what we put together this year,” Cockerill said.
Indeed, the Terriers earned the third seed in the Northeast Region playing in Albany on Mar. 27 and 28. They will face the second seed St. Cloud State Huskies (17-10-0) in the opening round.
This Saturday will mark just the second meeting between the two programs, the first taking place on Mar. 25, 2000. The 5-3 win for the Terriers came in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and also took place in Albany.
“We’re gonna have to watch some video,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said about facing an unfamiliar opponent like St. Cloud State, “I think the biggest thing is, when you get to this point you have to make sure you’re playing well and you’re playing on your toes.”
The Huskies enter the tournament following a contentious 5-3 loss in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Championship against North Dakota, the top-ranked team in this year’s field. The fifth goal was an empty netter for North Dakota, which overcame a 2-1 deficit through two periods to score three straight and clinch the conference championship in the third period.
St. Cloud State, ranked No. 7 in the nation in the most recent USCHO poll, boasts four 20-point scorers. Leading the way is freshman forward Veeti Miettinen with 23 points (10g, 13a), which is tied for sixth-most in the NCHC. Sophomore forwards Zach Okabe (6g, 14a) and Jami Kranilla (10g, 10a) and junior defenseman Nick Perbix (6g, 14a) all posted 20 points apiece.
The Huskies have five other skaters that reached double-digit points this season, exemplifying the type of depth that the Terriers could hang their hat on earlier this year. In fact, Miettinen, Okabe and Kranilla make up St. Cloud State’s third line.
The Terriers have seen their performance dip in recent weeks, culminating with their early exit in the Hockey East tournament. St. Cloud State, meanwhile, won five of their last six games prior to the NCHC Championship loss. Still, O’Connell remains confident that the Terriers will kick it into the next gear.
“We feel like our best hockey is still ahead of us. Normally 15 games into a season, you’re still trying to find your way, but we’re just really excited for the opportunity,” O’Connell said.
Even with the strong output from St. Cloud State’s third line, first line center Nolan Walker is not to be overlooked. Walker (8-10-18) scored eight goals on just 24 shots this season for a lethal 33.3 shooting percentage. His three power play goals are third-most on the team.
In the crease, the Huskies rolled out three goaltenders this season, but senior David Hrenak got the majority of playing time. Among netminders who played more than 10 games, Hrenak had the fourth-best goals against average (2.60) and the fifth-best save percentage (.906) in the NCHC. The Los Angeles Kings prospect went 14-9-0 in his 23 starts.
A major battle to watch between these two teams will be at the faceoff dot. BU has struggled to control the puck off the draw, winning just 45.5 percent of faceoffs this season. St. Cloud State, meanwhile, ranks ninth in the nation with a team winning percentage of 52.7.
This weekend will be the first time all season that the Terriers will have fans to play in front of, as the Times Union Center in Albany will be open at 10 percent capacity. O’Connell said it will be strange to get back in that environment, but hopes most of the people in attendance will be rooting for the Scarlet & White.
“It would be amazing, especially our supporters, as many as we could get there. That will be really great for our team,” O’Connell said.
This will be the Terriers’ 37th NCAA tournament appearance all-time and the first since 2018. Cockerill, who scored a goal against Cornell in the first round that year, is one of just four Terriers on the current roster with national tournament experience. With no Beanpot or Hockey East championship victory this season, Cockerill said the team is laser focused on earning some hardware, but stressed the importance of not looking too far ahead.
“At the end of the day, it’s just another hockey game, you know, you’re gonna be playing a really good team. The stakes are higher, but you know, we’ve got a lot of good players on our team, and guys have played in big games before,” Cockerill said.
It may be just another game, but the Terriers will have to reach their peak and overcome a formidable opponent if they want to play another game. The puck drops this Saturday at 6:30 pm. The game will air on ESPNews, but make sure to follow our coverage here and on Twitter @BOShockeyblog.