The Boston University men’s hockey team (8-4-0, 5-3-0 Hockey East) is set for a home-and-home series against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats (3-11-1, 0-9-1 HE) this weekend, and the expectation –– for a team of the Terriers’ caliber –– is a sweep.
“We’re looking forward to getting back into the Hockey East schedule,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said in today’s media availability. “It’s another big weekend, I know UNH has been struggling a little bit but they’re always good at home and we need to make sure we’re ready to play.”
That’s no disrespect to UNH or overconfidence for BU, but with the standards the scarlet and white have set for themselves this year and the skill they’ve been skating with, there’s no excuse not to dominate a Wildcat team that has yet to win a conference matchup.
Mike Souza’s squad has dropped their last eight Hockey East games after tying Providence –– and eventually losing in a shootout –– on Oct. 28, marking more than a month without a tally in the win column. UNH hasn’t scored more than two goals in each of those losses and most recently fell by one in a 3-2 overtime contest at Holy Cross last Saturday.
“They’re going to be a desperate team,” Pandolfo said. “They’re competing really hard. They haven’t got the results they’ve wanted but they’re in every game so we just have to make sure we’re ready to play and compete starting tomorrow.”
Sophomore defenseman Colton Huard leads his group with nine points (1g, 8a) while freshman forward Cy LeClerc tops the stats with five goals. Comparatively, BU’s top three point scorers –– Matt Brown, Lane Hutson and Ryan Greene –– have collected close to double that of those two Wildcats.
With eight freshmen and nine sophomores, UNH is working with a young team this season and hasn’t been able to fall back on a strong veteran group to push them through early adversity. Senior netminder David Fessenden has gotten the most starts, but hasn’t won a game since Oct. 21. He has put up at .905 save percentage and 2.82 goals-against-average.
While freshman Tyler Muszelik was between the pipes on Saturday, it’s likely UNH will give Fessenden the crease against a lineup with the offensive depth of BU. There’s no doubt everyone in that Wildcat locker room is frustrated right now and will be hunting for a victory this weekend. The Terriers cannot afford to play down to the competition and must bring their full-effort despite their opponent’s struggles.
BU has won five of their last six competitions and really found their identity these past couple of weeks. The Terriers are leaning on their speed, skill, and gritty game to earn league points. They skate with an edge, bringing physicality night in and night out, and have worked on their discipline in staying out of the box. BU’s most recent 5-2 win over Notre Dame showed great cohesivity and confidence that they’ll need to carry into this series.
In his senior campaign, Brown has garnered 17 points (7g, 10a) and has eight points in his last six games as he continues to be an offensive leader for the Terriers. Freshman defenseman Lane Hutson is right behind him with 14 points (6g, 8a) and –– needless to say –– has been a total star in his first year on Comm Ave. BU is getting contributions from all ages, lines and positions on the scoreboard and it’s been one of their greatest strengths thus far.
Junior goaltender Drew Commesso has been consistent and highly competitive, a surprise to absolutely no one. He has been supported by gutty blocked shots from D-men like junior Cade Webber and sophomore Ty Gallagher in front, but is steady on his own as well, coming up with big stops when his team needs it.
“I usually take it just a game at a time,” Pandolfo said about goaltending decisions. “Drew has been fighting a little bit of sickness this week so we’ll see how that plays out tomorrow before we make a decision.”
Commesso is the go-to starter for any game, but perhaps Pandolfo will give junior netminder Vinny Duplessis some time in net against a UNH squad that has only produced 1.7 goals-per-game. The team is clicking up and down the bench right now, and can evidently compete in front of both goalies, so it shouldn’t be a big adjustment if made.
This weekend is winnable and a big opportunity for six points in the Hockey East standings. If BU sticks to their game and “plays the right way,” there’s nothing stopping them from that success. The Boston Hockey Blog will have full coverage of the series so be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.