Following a 5-1 victory over Air Force on Friday, the Boston University men’s hockey team (13-6-0, 8-4-0 Hockey East) faced the Michigan Tech University Huskies (14-6-3, 7-4-3 CCHA) in the Desert Hockey Classic title game where they fell 3-2.
A slow start and overall lackluster showing from the Terriers cost them their first trophy of the year as they’ll head back from Arizona empty handed.
“It was not the start we wanted,” Head Coach Jay Pandolfo said post-game. “We dug ourselves a hole getting down 3-0 in the first period. For whatever reason we weren’t ready to play.”
Senior forward Jamie Armstrong was out of the lineup tonight after suffering a lower body injury in the third period of yesterday’s game. Back in the Terrier lineup was senior forward Jay O’Brien after missing the Air Force game due to sickness. He skated on the third line with Luke Tuch and Sam Stevens. Freshman forward Tristan Amonte was the extra forward.
Despite a dominant effort the night before –– where senior forward Wilmer Skoog netted two to extend a five-game point streak –– the Terriers had one of their worst starts of the season against the Huskies. Michigan Tech did a solid job of containing BU’s speed and put forth a smothering forecheck.
The Huskies’ first two shots of the competition both found the back of the net, starting with senior forward Logan Pietila’s fifth of the year at 7:06. The snapshot from below the left faceoff circle went five-hole on junior goaltender Drew Commesso to make it 1-0.
Anaheim Ducks prospect, freshman forward Kyle Kukkonen, doubled his squad’s lead just over four minutes later after the Terriers were unable to clear the puck down low. L. Pietila scooped the rubber up from the corner and dumped it to Kukkonen in the slot for the 2-0 advantage.
Michigan Tech then ended the opening frame with a tally from Tristan Ashbrook at 15:57, claiming a 3-0 lead. The senior forward blew past senior defenseman Domenick Fensore on the rush, pulled the puck to his backhand and tucked it past Commesso on the left side.
“Give them credit, they came out hard,” Pandolfo said of Michigan Tech. “They forechecked us hard, they did a really good job and we weren’t ready for their pressure off the start so I’ll take some responsibility for that.”
Needless to say, BU looked nothing like themselves in the first –– an unexpected, and unacceptable, open to a championship matchup. The Terriers were pushed off pucks and lost their defensive structure while they also struggled to find offensive footing on the other end. BU appeared unprepared against a manageable opponent and let in three goals on seven shots by the end of the rocky period.
Senior forward and team point-leader Matt Brown got the scarlet and white on the board in the second period off a breakaway. The outlet pass from freshman forward Jeremy Wilmer –– who had a particularly good game –– sent Brown in all alone to secure his ninth tally of the season and make it 3-1 at 5:33.
“Once he scored it gave us a little life,” Pandolfo said. “And I think our guys, they believe in themselves, they felt we had a really good chance to come back. They knew if we started playing our game we were going to get our chances.”
Both groups soon got their chance on the power play, but neither were able to convert. Michigan Tech came into the weekend with their penalty kill ranked sixth in the nation, and it did a shut-down job against the Terriers’ special teams.
Freshmen Lane Hutson and Ryan Greene worked to build some momentum for BU and had some promising chances in the latter half of the period, but no luck. Hutson made his return to the Terrier lineup last night after competing with team USA in the World Juniors where he collected a bronze medal on Thursday.
The Terriers returned to the man-advantage with 1:55 remaining on the clock after the Huskies were called for too-many-men, giving them a glistening opportunity to get back in the game before the third. Credit to the Michigan Tech PK, BU was unable to hold possession for more than a couple of seconds it seemed and headed into the final 20 of regulation down 3-1.
Junior forward Dylan Peterson drew a hooking penalty on senior defenseman Chris Lipe to start the third period, but a shorthanded chance from Kukkonen ended up being the best look of the Terrier power play.
Nothing significant changed in BU’s game as they slugged through an overwhelmingly flat performance until Devin Kaplan brought some energy back into his squad at 10:50. The freshman forward tapped a cross-crease pass from Tuch towards the net which bounced through senior goaltender Blake Pietila to make it 3-2.
Now within one of tying the contest, the Terriers finally found the sense of urgency they’d been lacking all night. The last six minutes of the game were arguably BU’s best as they maintained offensive zone pressure and got some high-danger rubber on the Michigan Tech net. But ultimately, it was too little too late.
“I do think we found our game and we were pushing there towards the end,” Pandolfo said. “We just couldn’t find a way to get it tied up.”
The Terriers’ first period struggles put them behind the eight ball, stressing the need for this team to “start on time” like their head coach often preaches. Tonight was an uncharacteristic showing from a BU squad that’s been impressing the masses this season. They’ll have a chance to get back to their style of play on Wednesday against UMass Amherst at Agganis Arena.
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