The countdown has officially begun. There are five days until the Boston University Terriers take the ice at TD Garden for the start of the 70th Men’s Beanpot Tournament. The fact that we are all expected to calmly go about our everyday lives until Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. is ridiculous. So here’s something to tide you over.
Monday, Jan. 30, was Beanpot media day at the Garden and it was exciting for many reasons, including the free lunch. The Boston hockey community was in full force as coaches and players from all four teams were in attendance, as well as hometown heroes like Jack Parker and 2023 Beanpot Hall of Fame inductee Matt Grzelcyk.
An infectious energy buzzed through the room in anticipation of –– in my biased opinion –– the best tournament in the college sport. The Beanpot trophy sat up front and watched as members from the four groups smiled, shook hands and created small talk, knowing very well a week from that day they’d be enemies on the ice.
BU was represented by head coach Jay Pandolfo, captain Domenick Fensore and seniors Jay O’Brien, Matt Brown, Wilmer Skoog and Case McCarthy. Coming off the sweep of Boston College and ranked No. 3 in this week’s polls, the Terriers entered the room no longer the under-dog, but the team to beat.
“We are all pretty excited,” Fensore said. “Every senior, I know, is really amped for this one. We’re taking it day-by-day, obviously we have a game Friday against Maine so once that’s over we can focus on the Beanpot. But yeah, we’re just really excited.”
BU’s leader has been sidelined with an upper-body injury since Jan. 21, but said he should be available for Monday’s matchup against Northeastern. Pandolfo doubled down on that and said if Fensore (and the doctors) say he’s ready, the defenseman will be in the lineup.
While Pandolfo has won two Beanpots of his own and was behind the bench for last year’s championship, the 2023 tournament is his first as head coach of the scarlet and white squad. He, expectedly, did not make a big deal of the prospect but the pride this program has to have him at the helm for an event like this is immeasurable.
I think every Terrier fan can appreciate the impact he’s had on the guys in that locker room; especially the upperclassmen.
“You know a lot of these guys came back for a reason –– they thought they had some unfinished business,” Pandolfo said of the senior class. “They want more so I’ve been really impressed with these guys and how they’ve brought the group together and held each other accountable.”
A core part of that veteran leadership group has been O’Brien. With six new freshmen on the team, the senior forward said it’s hard to fully prepare the young guys for what the Beanpot will be like –– they’ve got to just live it.
“The buzz is starting to come, the excitement is starting to come kind of around campus. Everybody knows it’s coming up so it’s in the back of everybody’s mind,” O’Brien said. “I think our job as leaders is just to keep everybody level-headed.”
The Terriers have not had much trouble meeting the moment this season, and their first-years have often been the difference makers on big stages. They held their own in a series against BC where the threat of overconfidence or overexcitement loomed, and proved they know how to go in and take care of business no matter the environment.
“I think the strength of our schedule really prepared us for an atmosphere like this –– we’ve had a lot of big games, the series in Michigan, a lot of in-conference rivalries,” Brown said. “Playing pretty much playoff hockey all year has really helped us come to this moment.”
BU has shown their depth against tough competition and been able to confidently roll four lines. The Brown, Skoog, Kaplan combo has been buzzing this semester and Dylan Peterson has slotted in perfectly on the second line with OB and Luke Tuch. The kid line of Jeremy Wilmer, Ryan Greene and Quinn Hutson is showing unreal chemistry and the gutty fourth line with Jamie Armstrong, Sam Stevens and Nick Zabaneh is consistent and reliable.
I could go through the entire roster, pointing out Lane Hutson’s heroics or Cade Webber’s blocked shots, Ty Gallagher’s growth and Fensore’s offensive IQ. But I won’t. The point is, this team has what it takes, and it’s up to them to make it a reality.
Monday’s rivalry matchup will be goaltender Drew Commesso’s first Beanpot appearance after Vinny Duplessis held it down in 2022 while Commesso was in the Olympics. The junior put up 64 saves this weekend against the Eagles in arguably his best performances in the BU jersey. He’s a guy you want on your side, to state the obvious.
“All the confidence in the world,” Brown said of Commesso’s play. “I mean, in my opinion, he’s got to be top three if not the best goalie in college hockey. I think that that BC weekend was just a small flash of what he’s capable of and I think he’s got bigger things coming his way.”
While we all have Beanpot brain right now, the Terriers have to focus on their next task at hand which is heading up to Maine to take on the Black Bears on Friday night. After that, though, the battle for Boston’s bragging rights will be in full swing –– it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
The Boston Hockey Blog will have full, on-the-ground coverage of the tournament next week so be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.