The Boston University men’s hockey team (19-13-3, 13-9-3 Hockey East) closed out their season this evening in Hartford after falling 3-1 to the University of Connecticut Huskies (19-15-0, 15-10-0 HE) in the Hockey East single elimination quarterfinal game.
For the second season in a row, the Terriers have had a quick exit from the tournament, losing to UMass Lowell in the 2020-2021 quarterfinal as well. There’s an extra sting to this year’s loss though, considering the glimpse of greatness we all got to witness the last three months.
“It was a tight hockey game,” Head Coach Albie O’Connell said in the post game press conference. “A playoff hockey game –– you could call it football on ice for great stretches of the game, there was a lot of tackling both ways out there.”
BU’s play was almost unrecognizable tonight compared to recent performances –– the group lacked spunk, heart and a clear desire to win throughout the 60 minutes. UConn made up for what the Terriers couldn’t do in all aspects of their game.
The Huskies simply wanted it more. Skating after their first Hockey East playoff win and first trip to the semifinals, UConn was jumping right from puck drop in the first period. They had nine shots in the first five minutes, forcing sophomore netminder Drew Commesso to put his team on his back in the opening 20.
Shifting to a more defense-focussed style of play in the first period, BU created little opportunity for themselves in the offensive zone while the Huskies dominated on the other end. Freshman forward Chase Bradley and sophomore forward Nick Capone led with their physicality, setting the tone for their squad.
UConn, somewhat expectedly, got on the board first at 16:00 –– you could just feel it coming from the pressure they were putting on a disorganized BU lineup. Junior forward Vladislav Firstov parked himself netfront and tipped the puck in to give his team the 1-0 advantage.
The Terriers couldn’t find the equalizer and junior forward Sam Stevens got called for a faceoff violation with 16 seconds left in the opening frame, giving UConn 1:44 on the man-advantage to start the second period.
“They had a way better start than we did ––they got the lead and we kind of dug ourselves a hole,” O’Connell said. “On balance, it’s a frustrating way to go when you don’t get off to a good start.”
BU managed to kill off the penalty but had some holes in their zone entry and defensive coverage; a little sloppy with the offsides and icings. Junior defenseman Alex Vlasic, who was back in the lineup after missing the Maine series, got some momentum going for the Terriers with a few heavy shots from the point, testing a sturdy graduate student goaltender in Darion Hanson.
It was thrown right back at the Terriers at 10:26 when senior forward Jonny Evans collected the rebound of senior defenseman Ryan Wheeler’s shot on the doorstep and tucked it behind Commesso’s left pad for the 2-0 lead. Evans’ first goal in eight games was a big turning point for his squad.
Just over a minute later, Commesso got caught up high with a mid-zone slapshot from sophomore forward Hudson Schandor after an offsides call. The goalie was down on the ice for a couple minutes, but returned to the crease for the rest of the game, finishing the night with 33 stops.
“He was poised,” O’Connell said of Commesso. “He was really square to the puck for the most part, he dropped a couple, but he was pretty sticking through the night.”
Missing on the bench in the second period was sophomore forward Luke Tuch who usually skates with linemates Jay O’Brien and Ethan Phillips. It’s unclear what prompted his absence.
Freshman forward Brian Carrabes came close to getting BU on the scoresheet towards the end of the period, but Hanson was able to follow the puck back to the left side. By the end of 40 minutes, UConn was still showing more fight in their play.
The Terriers needed to come out with a desperate third period and they didn’t. Looking to light the lamp and a fire in their stomachs, BU still struggled to string together consecutive solid chances as the Huskies shut it down with a strong backcheck.
A 12:24 holding call on junior defenseman Roman Kinal gave the scarlet and white a prime opening to get back in the game. In the must-score man-advantage, junior defenseman Domenick Fensore stepped up to the task with an absolute blast from just below the point to bring BU within one, making it 2-1.
The Terriers didn’t have enough gas in the tank to completely close the gap after pulling Commesso with under two minutes on the clock. In the last ten seconds, Bradley notched an empty-netter to secure UConn’s trip to T.D. Garden for the semifinals.
The buzzer to end the third was paired with a terrible sinking feeling –– for the seniors, for the fans, for the fairytale story this season could’ve been. Following a 14-1-1 record, Beanpot championship and hope for a NCAA bid, the quarterfinal loss feels somewhat shocking for a team that looked beyond motivated to go all the way just a few weeks ago.
As the season comes to an end in early March, there’s a close to zero percent chance that the Terriers will get a bid to the NCAA tournament. Despite their second half of the season run, it may have been too slow of a start and too poor of a finish for any consideration. But there were some great moments in between.
The senior group, led by captain Logan Cockerill, flipped the narrative and brought true pride back to the lineup and fanbase. With the lows, there were high highs and it’s a shame we can’t see what else this team could’ve done.
We’ll continue to have full coverage while the offseason proceeds and BU works to come back as their most competitive selves. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog for further updates.