The Battle of Comm Ave was reignited for the first time this season at Conte Forum as the Boston University Terriers (10-5-0, 7-4-0 Hockey East) faced the Boston College Eagles (6-5-4, 5-3-3 HE) in the matchup’s 288th rendition. BC came out of the action-packed 60 minutes with a 9-6 victory.
The 15 goal showing was the highest scoring BU vs. BC matchup since 1986 –– a game Eagles’ Head Coach Greg Brown played in himself.
“That’s certainly not the way we drew it up,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said post-game. “For whatever reason, we decided to have our worst defensive game of the year five-on-five.”
Tonight was the first time in 50 years that neither Jack Parker nor Jerry York were at the helm on the opposing benches. A new era of the rivalry began with Pandolfo and Brown holding the head coach position for their respective clubs.
Junior goaltender Drew Commesso returned to the crease after missing last weekend’s sweep against UNH due to sickness. The team’s usual sturdy starter –– with little support from BU’s defensive structure –– had one of his shakiest performances as a Terrier and was unable to make some staple stops, especially in the second period.
Senior forward Sam Stevens slotted in as center on the third line in the absence of freshman forward Ryan Greene who is at Canada’s National Junior Team selection from Dec. 9-12. Freshman Tristan Amonte made his way back into the lineup as the extra forward while junior Nick Zabaneh skated alongside Jamie Armstrong and Dylan Peterson on the fourth line.
The Terriers came out of the gates with some good zone time from the first line with both freshman forward Jeremy Wilmer and senior forward Wilmer Skoog getting promising looks on BC goaltender Mitch Benson. The Eagles evenly countered on the other end, finding their lanes in a tightly defended period.
A delay-of-game call on senior forward Jay O’Brien for covering the puck at the face-off circle gave BC the first power play of the night. Freshman left wing Lukas Gustafsson slapped home a pass from Bruins’ prospect freshman forward Oskar Jelvik on the right side with seven seconds left on the man-advantage to make it 1-0 at 15:13.
The Eagles doubled their lead less than a minute later when freshman Charlie Leddy rushed up the right side and released a questionably soft snapshot that made it past Commesso at 15:58. Despite the abrupt momentum shift, the Terriers stuck to their game and got on the power play at 16:28 as junior forward Trevor Kuntar headed to the box for interference.
A wrister from senior captain Domenick Fensore trickled past Benson, creeping towards the goal-line before team point-leader Matt Brown tapped the puck to the back of the net and brought life back to the BU bench. The senior forward’s eighth of the season put BU within one with just under three minutes remaining in the opening frame
Freshman forward Quinn Hutson closed the gap at 18:50 with a knock-in goal on the doorstep, dished to him by O’Brien on the left side. The Terriers showed real resiliency in enemy territory, and clawed their way back to an even scoresheet in the latter minutes of the period, sending them into intermission with a little more control of the game.
“I thought the first five minutes actually were pretty good and for whatever reason we got away from it,” Pandolfo said of the eventual meltdown. “Sometimes it happens and we picked a bad night for it.”
The second period had a combined eight goals, so prepare yourself for some hefty reading ahead.
The scarlet and white captured their first lead of the night 1:44 into the middle frame off a confident play from junior defenseman Cade Webber who drove to the net with the puck. Brown collected the rubber and got a shot off that Skoog then dumped in down-low to make it 3-2, marking three unanswered tallies for BU.
The Eagles didn’t sit back though –– senior forward Liam Izyk found the equalizer at 4:41 with a pretty passing play from BC’s fourth line for his third of the year. In a whiplash second period, it only took the Terriers 58 seconds to gain the 4-3 advantage thanks to a knock-in goal from Wilmer off a slick feed from Brown.
Freshman forward Cutter Gauthier –– who ended the night with four points –– netted the next two for BC, lifting the home team to a 5-4 lead at 11:29 with a shot near the left circle; one Commesso would probably like back. BU turned the jets on once again and it was Zabaneh this time to tie the game back up. A low-angled snapshot made it 5-5 with 6:53 remaining.
BC topped off the scoring bonanza with lamplighters from sophomore forward Connor Joyce and Kuntar to put the score at 7-5 heading into the break. Kuntar’s power play goal came with five seconds left in the period and bounced off Tristan Amonte and beat Commesso five-hole.
“We completely got away from the way we play,” Pandolfo said. “We were giving up chances in the slot all night, at times we weren’t skating, we were soft on pucks. It was just a lot of things that were not good.”
Exhale. Onto the third. Junior netminder Vinny Duplessis took over between the pipes, coming off of his shutout showing against UNH last Saturday and stood tall in the last 20 minutes of regulation. Nonetheless, junior forward Nikita Nesterenko got one past Duplessis on the power play, making it 8-5 Eagles at 10:04.
“Maybe I should’ve pulled him a little earlier, but decided not to,” Pandolfo said of Commesso. “Both goalies were giving up obviously a lot of goals and I just felt like sticking with him (…) I didn’t think we were playing very well in front of him either.”
While guys like Brown, Fensore and Armstrong continued to push the tempo, the Terrier team as a whole did not come out with the needed energy to complete a comeback in the closing period. Their game lost some of its structure with broken passes and neutral zone turnovers while BC skated with a heightened level of confidence.
Skoog garnered his second of the night with 1:30 left on the clock after BU called Duplessis to the bench, but graduate student forward Christian O’Neill soon responded with an empty-net goal to bring the game to its final 9-6 standing.
Usually in Hockey East, if you score six goals you’ve got the game, but that just wasn’t the case tonight. The Terriers had opportunities to shut it down when they had the lead, but struggled on the backend to find extended stability throughout the competition. A deflating end to a highly anticipated matchup.
The Terriers will now shift their focus to Sunday afternoon’s contest against UConn in Hartford.
“Play with more structure, play a little harder, don’t turn pucks over,” Pandolfo said of things to improve before taking on the Huskies. “We’ve got to get back and work on our D-zone structure.”
The Boston Hockey Blog will have full coverage of the rest of the weekend so be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.