All opinions are my own
Coming into the 2022-23 season, there were two clear narratives: an enormous senior class and an (almost) entirely new coaching staff. The seniors were only upside — a good mix of leaders with letters, ten people who know the system, and a group that is committed to the scarlet and white four years later. The new coach storyline had a bit more nuance — how long will it take everyone to get used to Pandolfo’s coaching? The younger classes were from the O’Connell, and maybe even Quinn, era. Luckily for us, the coaching arc has proven to be just like the seniors: all upside. Now, add in the third plot of an explosive, dynamic, and productive freshman class, and you’ve got a recipe for success that I’d say has exceeded expectations 16 games in.
With just one more game to play in 2022, I figured it was the right time to do a first-half review. Based on some overarching themes across the season thus far, I’d give this Terrier team at B+/A- to start the year: definitely not a bad grade, maybe even a little surprisingly high, but with some room for improvement. I have a lot to say — buckle up.
This team is really receptive. I think that when any new coach comes in, it’s normal to assume that it’ll take some time to get used to their style. Yes, Pandolfo was on the bench last year, but Pereira and Brandvold weren’t and it certainly wasn’t Pandolfo’s bench. Pandolfo said it in his first speech as head coach that BU Hockey is about attention to detail, commitment, and holding each other accountable. With high expectations, it’s clear that the team really has bought into the Pandolfo mindset, that everything matters.
From the player interviews we’ve done for Terrier Hockey Talk, we know that to be true. Domenick Fensore, Quinn Hutson and Matt Brown all commented on Pandolfo holding the team accountable but working hard right alongside them — on the bike at 5am. The coaching staff isn’t the only unit holding the team accountable though. After the UConn game earlier this month Pandolfo noted that the team takes ownership of their mistakes led by their leadership group. Jay O’Brien also nodded to this, talking about his video reviews and individual player meetings. While my main point here is that the team is receptive to feedback and grows from it night to night, that’s also one of this team’s drawbacks (but we’ll get to that later).
In addition to being receptive, some of the guys on this team are just so reliable. I think Jamie Armstrong has been an absolute rock for this team and while he’s not the flashiest or most skilled guy on the ice, he makes plays and always competes. I think that Armstrong is more of an unsung hero while Brown and Fensore are the guys in the spotlight who deserve every accolade they’ve received so far. The first and third in points, respectively, show up from the second the puck drops every night and you just can’t help but root for them. They’re grittier but still dynamic and fast, and the way they both push plays has made a huge difference for this team.
Another unsung hero, or a lightly sung hero, would be Cade Webber. He’s definitely showing more confidence with the puck than he has in previous years, but I still wish he was just a little more sure of himself. His first career goal in Michigan looked more like an accident than intentional, but a goal is a goal and still something to be excited about. The offensive defenseman like Fensore and Lane Hutson have both been that, offensive, but Webber has made some huge saves for both Drew Commesso and Vinny Duplessis, and he leads the team in blocked shots with 35.
Speaking of Commesso and Duplessis, BU has a 2.75 goals against average and a .903 save percentage between the two, and lets not forget two nine-goal games that have skewed those stats. Both goalies are poised and calm in net, and although Commesso is the obvious (and rightfully earned) starter, sometimes it seems like high-pressure games overwhelm him, which is ironic for a guy who played in the Olympics last February. I’m going to ignore the BC game because Pandolfo said he had been sick all week and maybe that was more of a coaching error than a Commesso error, but Michigan and last December’s BC game are two more that prove the same point. That aside however, Commesso really is your guy if you’re Pandolfo. He makes flashy sportscenter saves and when he’s healthy, he’s good.
Duplessis is probably the most cool, calm, collected player I’ve ever met. He’ll nonchalantly win the Beanpot, take down then No. 6 Michigan, and shutout UNH as soon as he’s called up to play. Pandolfo’s favorite description of Duplessis is always “he’s a gamer,” and while I don’t think he’ll be taking the net from Commesso, it’s nice to have a backup who’s as reliable and stress-free as Duplessis is for his group.
Last of the positives. This team is just straightup having fun and it translates onto the ice. You can tell in the videos the team posts online from the locker room, from the press conferences after a win, from the poses after they take down a cross-town rival, or even how they post for each other when Lane Hutson and Ryan Greene get called up to their development camps. The culture shift is just so apparent and makes rooting for this team that much easier.
What needs to change
Yes this team is receptive and that’s awesome, but wouldn’t not needing to change night in and night out be better? I told you we’d get back to this. The Terriers have played on seven Fridays this season but have only won on two of them. They’re actually undefeated in non-Friday games which I guess further proves the whole receptive thing, but will become increasingly problematic with more single-elimination tournaments coming their way. This feels different than it felt in past years because it’s not necessarily that the team needs to find their legs in some of these games, it just feels like they learn their opponent as they play, because they’re always ready to compete in game two. Maybe it’s a matter of better pre-scouting other teams, but the coaching staff and players need to figure something out soon, because Friday losses are going to get really costly.
While I applauded Armstrong, Webber, Fensore and Brown for being the most consistent guys on the ice, it does feel like there’s a bit of quit in this team (it is Caroline writing this, not Belle, even if the term “no quit” might make you think of a certain Metro NHL team). The 2008-09 BU team was one that embodied “no quit” and that team never let in more than six goals. Even in those six-goal games, the final scores were 6-5 or 6-3, nothing like 9-2. Hockey is a mentally tough game, but if those Terriers didn’t give up when the score was 3-1 with 60 seconds remaining in the national championship game, these Terriers need to learn how to push through and even the score when the scoreboard reads 4-0 with 40 minutes to play.
The first Northeastern and BC games were pretty opposite in terms of scoring, but when the team was frustrated and couldn’t seem to get themselves together, it looked like Brown and Fensore were the only two to stay in it. If this team wants to win and go far, they need to find a way to refocus and get going for the rest of the game, even if it doesn’t start how they want to.
Lastly, when the Terriers are winning in a dominant fashion, they sometimes get sloppy. This team has such a stacked defense but only one shutout to show for it. The loss against BC is a perfect example of careless defense and bad goaltending that tore the Terriers apart. UConn’s late goal on Dec. 11 shows the same thing too. This team needs to work on playing shut-down defense and keeping the puck in the offensive zone, even with a comfortable lead.
What’s to come
The Terriers have been really solid this season, holding onto their spot in the top 10 since Nov. 21 and hovering around eighth for most of the half. BU keeps pushing further in the ranking and the second half of the season is what counts most, especially in a really tight conference.
With that being said, this second half is a much weaker schedule for the Terriers. They’ll face Maine, Vermont, Cornell, and Providence for some (hopefully) easy points. That isn’t to say they won’t struggle, but having already beat UMass and Northeastern, the only teams that pose a new threat are Harvard and Merrimack. The Terriers will also have the chance to right some wrongs with a home-and-home against BC as both head coaches look to put that fluke 9-6 game behind them and really see who owns Comm Ave. This stretch of “easier” games are must-wins too, because a loss to anyone but Merrimack will hurt BU in the polls.
We’ll also see an uber-competitive Beanpot that could go any way. Hopefully the Terriers can repeat, but BU has beat Northeastern and lost to BC, BC has beat BU and tied Northeastern, and none have yet faced Harvard making this Friday’s game extra important as a benchmark for all teams. The Beanpot is anyone’s game, as is the Hockey East tournament and really any single-elimination tournament in this conference.
I’m also hopeful that we haven’t seen everything from this group. Colby Cohen talked about the confidence freshmen have after coming back from the break. They know the college game better, maybe they had some international play, and they’re just more comfortable at BU. With some more experience under their belt from the already solid freshman class, I think the BU faithful will continue to see impressive things from the first-years.
Alongside the freshmen, I think there is still more to come from people like Ty Gallagher, Wilmer Skoog, Luke Tuch, and Dylan Peterson. Gallagher has the best plus-minus on the team at +9 and is fifth on the team in shots, so I think his time is coming. Skoog has ten points so far but he hasn’t been producing like he did last year — hopefully his breakthrough is coming too. I’ve said this every week on the podcast: this team is fun because so many people are producing consistently. Now we’re just waiting for some of the leaders from last season to step it up too.
This team has exceeded expectations in its first year with a new head coach and it’s really exciting to watch. While they’re off to a hot start, the second half is what matters most and with a team that is this deep, the sky’s the limit. Exhale.