The Battle of Comm Ave is back for seconds this weekend as the No. 4 Boston University men’s hockey team (17-6-0, 11-4-0 Hockey East) rematches the Boston College Eagles (9-7-5, 5-5-5 HE) in the rivalry series. BU is looking for redemption following the uncharacteristic 9-6 loss at Conte Forum on Dec. 9.
“Now leading into the BC weekend, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said in today’s media availability. “We certainly didn’t get the type of game or outcome we wanted the last time we played them so hopefully we are ready and a little bit more prepared.”
The Eagles most recently hosted the University of Vermont and only managed to collect one of the six points up for grabs that weekend. A shootout and regulation loss to a Catamount group that sits two tallies above last place in the conference revealed the growing pains BC has been dealing with this season.
Consistency has been a main area of concern for Greg Brown’s squad, but –– evidently –– when they do click, it’s dangerous for their opponents. Despite the Terriers’ hot streak right now, everyone in that BU room knows that this isn’t a series to walk into overconfident.
“That’s a lot of it, executing better,” Pandolfo said. “We left the middle of the ice way too wide open against them last time. They have some difference makers on their team and we gave them way too much time and space.”
Freshman forward Cutter Gauthier continues to lead the Eagles in points with 20 thus far, including his two goals and two assists in the teams’ first meeting of the year. The Philadelphia Flyers draft pick skated in the USA jersey alongside Lane Hutson in the World Juniors earlier this month where he garnered the sixth most points of all tournament players.
Right behind Gauthier are junior forwards Nikita Nesterenko and Trevor Kuntar who have 18 and 17 points, respectively. They both got one past junior goaltender Drew Commesso last game and have been a core part of BC’s veteran leadership on the ice.
In terms of special teams, the Eagles have netted one shorthanded and four power play goals in their past four matchups. Discipline has been a constant topic of conversation with the Terriers –– who have improved in the second-half –– but it will be important for BU to avoid the box nonetheless.
“The big thing is you don’t want our guys being too excited,” Pandolfo said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re disciplined and staying out of the penalty box.”
Mitch Benson will most likely be between the pipes for BC. The graduate goaltender has a 2.64 goals-against-average and .905 save-percentage and has started all 21 games this season. BU’s 4.2 goals-per-game average –– best for second in the nation –– will be a test for Benson.
The Terriers are coming into this series with a lot of believability on the bench. Since dropping the Desert Hockey Classic title to Michigan Tech on Jan. 7, they’ve strung together a four game win-streak including a thriller against Cornell and a sweep of Maine –– some guys have really turned it up this second semester.
Freshman forward Devin Kaplan has totaled five points in his last four games while skating alongside Wilmer Skoog and Matt Brown on the first line. There’s a new confidence in Kaplan’s play and the productivity of that trio is beyond impressive.
Brown has not taken his foot off the pedal whatsoever. Now with 34 points (11g, 23a), the senior forward is the first Terrier to hit the ten goal, 20 assist, and 30 point mark this season. The young guys have continued to chip in too –– the kid-line of Quinn Hutson, Jeremy Wilmer and Ryan Greene combined for eight points on Saturday night.
In the crease, Commesso is BU’s go-to. However, consistency has fallen off a bit for the all-star goaltender this past month or so. He was pulled on Saturday after giving up five to Maine, and it was a similar scene at Conte on Dec. 9 when Vinny Duplessis relieved him in the third period. Michigan Tech’s three goals on seven first period shots back in Arizona also wasn’t promising.
“I think it was the right move to get him out of that game –– he didn’t seem like himself, didn’t seem like he was tracking the puck well so that was the decision there,” Pandolfo said of Commesso in the Maine game. “We plan on starting Drew tomorrow night for the first game.”
That being said, when Commesso is dialed in, he’s nearly unbeatable. The junior has proven himself to be one of the foundational pieces of this Terrier team, and BC weekend is a prime opportunity for him to get back to his game and the little details that make his best so good.
BU will continue to skate without senior forward Ethan Phillips who is week-to-week with a lower body injury. Pandolfo said Domenick Fensore and Jamie Armstrong practiced today but are day-to-day and will be game-time decisions tomorrow. No doubt the Terriers are hoping to have their captain lead them out tomorrow on home ice.
The puck will drop Friday at 7:00pm at Agganis Arena and the same time Saturday at Conte Forum. The Boston Hockey Blog will have full coverage of the weekend so be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.