The Boston University men’s hockey team (3-7-1, 2-4-1 Hockey East) returned to home ice tonight to take on the reigning National Champions, the UMass Amherst Minutemen (7-2, 5-0 HE) in the first of their two game series. Going down in the record books as a 2-2 tie, the Terriers played some of their best hockey of the season against a top team in Hockey East.
Returning to the roster for the Terriers was junior forward Jay O’Brien who last played in the Oct. 8th series against the University of Connecticut. O’Brien is an integral part of this team on the ice and in the locker room so to have him in the starting lineup was a big boost for the BU squad.
“I thought Jay was awesome tonight, I really did,” Head Coach Albie O’Connell said in the post game press conference. “Getting a guy like that back, of his caliber and character into the room––he really played the right way tonight, I was pretty proud of him.”
Sophomore goaltender Drew Commesso reclaimed the crease after sophomore Vinny Duplessis started in last Saturday’s game in Northern Michigan. Commesso has been the backbone of the team this season and bounced back from his break with a solid performance against the Minutemen with 23 saves.
As expected, UMass came out flying in the first but the Terriers countered with a raised compete level and resparked spirit that got the bench going. BU knew they would have to play their best hockey to stay on par with the Minutemen and had a good showing in the opening frame.
The away team made sure to make their presence known, rarely finishing a shift without throwing a hit––not to mention their very enthusiastic fan section at Agganis Arena. The Terriers were initially getting shoved around, but adjusted to add an edge to their game and held their own.
“I was really happy with the way we came out,” O’Connell said. “Five-on-five I was really pleased with our effort, our poise, how we managed the puck. And we played like men tonight, so it was really really positive.”
UMass took the first trip to the penalty box of the night at 8:13. Freshman forward Lucas Mercuri was dealt two minutes for a faceoff violation, and BU––although not scoring––put out a productive power play.
Sophomore forward Robert Mastrosimone had a promising chance off a laser pass from O’Brien on the man advantage while sophomore forwards Dylan Peterson and Nick Zabaneh dominated the zone with an elevated spunk to their play. The Terriers’ offensive rush continued after Mercuri’s penalty was over as they dumped a lot of rubber on net with around ten minutes left on the clock.
Leaning into the physicality of the game, freshman forward Tyler Boucher got into a scrum in front of the UMass net after the whistle and was ultimately sent to the sin bin for high sticking. The Minutemen seized the opportunity to get on the board first with a goal from junior forward Reed Lebster who stationed himself directly in front of Commesso for a point-blank shot at 14:44.
The deficit did not damper BU’s believability as they had a prompt response and progressively skated with more confidence throughout the period. Junior forward Case McCarthy knotted the game at one apiece after Peterson controlled and held onto the puck with impressive strength before dropping it to McCarthy in the slot. The 16:02 tally ignited the roster and was reward for their relentless effort.
UMass regained the lead minutes later to make it 2-1 as senior forward Garrett Wait dumped the puck into an empty net with Commesso drawn to the other side. With just over two minutes left in the period, the Minutemen would come out of the first with the lead, but it was clear the Terriers weren’t letting up any time soon.
BU went into intermission up 14-7 in SOG after putting together one of their best 20 minutes of play in the past couple weeks. It was somewhat of a breath of fresh air to see the guys in scarlet and white show up to compete in the opening frame instead of waiting to turn it on in the later periods.
The Terriers skated into the second determined to find the equalizer and did at 12:13 with a power play goal from Peterson––the forward was one of the best players on the ice for BU throughout the competition.
Junior forward Wilmer Skoog won the offensive zone faceoff to set up a shot from O’Brien at the point. Peterson collected the rebound through a flurry of Minutemen and snapped the puck past graduate student netminder Matt Murray. The Terriers tenaciously fought to keep themselves in the matchup, a grit that was missing in previous weekends.
“Petey’s a big strong kid and when he goes to the net he’s got a really good quick stick,” O’Connell said. “I’m happy for him getting the goal, but I’m really happy with the way he has played and that line.”
Senior forward Ty Amonte was given two for interference and a ten minute misconduct at 16:23, but BU’s penalty kill came up big against the Minutemen’s consistent cycle on the man-advantage. Protecting the tie, the Terriers headed into the third not trailing for the first time in four games and an exhilarating 40 minutes to build on.
The hockey gods were looking down on BU in the third period. UMass had two goals go under review, both of which were called back after a further look from the refs. It was determined the first didn’t cross the goal line, and there was incidental contact with the goaltender on the second.
Per usual, Commesso stood tall between the pipes making some key saves during the third while his group continued to battle in front of him. Neither team let up much in the closing frame, and 60 minutes proved not enough to determine a victor––this one needed overtime.
The Terriers dominated the five minutes of free hockey. Junior defenseman Domenick Fensore went coast-to-coast, getting within inches of sealing the victory for his squad. BU jumped on every loose puck and continuously shut down the Minutemen in the neutral zone, creating some prime chances to collect two points. The outstanding effort was not enough though, and the two teams entered a shootout––the game will go down in the standings as a tie.
The only goal from the shootout was from UMass’ Mercuri as Skoog, Mastrosimone, and Fensore couldn’t find the back of the net. Although a sour ending, it should not overshadow the fantastic performance the Terriers put on for their home crowd. The group should be proud of their response after a tough past two weekends––they played with pride and represented BU hockey with great heart.
“I thought all-in-all we had a really solid game. From the goalie out, we played hard,” O’Brien said in the post game press conference. “We played the right way tonight. I think if we continue to play like that we’ll win a lot of hockey games.
The Minutemen and Terriers will meet again tomorrow in Amherst for a 7:00p.m. start at Mullins Center where they’ll look to build off this turnaround showing.
“The biggest thing right now, when you play back-to-back, is recovery,” O’Connell said. “It’s going to be a dog fight again. They don’t give you a lot of ice, we’re going to have to play a smart game and out-compete them.”
We’ll have live updates on Twitter @BOShockeyblog throughout the competition and a recap up on the blog after the buzzer in the third.