It’s the first Monday of February in Boston. It’s the biggest stage in college hockey for Massachusetts natives. It’s the biggest stage in college hockey for my parents who genuinely asked “hey, why’s everyone leaving?” after the third period of Red Hot Hockey. It’s the Beanpot.
The No. 3 Boston University Terriers skated onto the TD Garden ice to face a familiar foe – the No. 20 Northeastern Huskies – in a reprise of the 2022 Beanpot Championship. Different from last time though, was starting netminders Drew Commesso and Devon Levi, who both missed last year’s contest when they suited up for Team USA and Team Canada, respectively, in the Olympics.
It ultimately wasn’t the goaltending that made the difference however, as both Commesso and Levi shined for their groups. The Terriers absolutely collapsed under the pressure of the repeat, and based on my calculations, approximately seven Terriers were ready to play from puck drop: Lane Hutson, Wilmer Skoog, Dom Fensore, the fourth line of Nick Zabaneh, Sam Stevens, and Tristan Amonte, and Commesso.
“I thought it took us a while to get going. For whatever reason, we weren’t ready to play,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said after the loss. “Not a great effort on our part… we pushed it in the third period, but you know, it’s too late.”
For the first time since 2017, the Terriers came in with a target on their back as the top team in the competition. While the freshmen and the “kid-line” have been consistent all season, the high-stakes environment and intensity of the NHL arena loomed large. The clear nerves of the freshman class took an early toll on this Terrier team in the form of Husky senior captain Aidan McDonough.
While BU struggled to clear the puck, Northeastern had the momentum to set up a pretty passing play. Freshman forward Jack Williams kept the puck at the blue line, and despite his best efforts, Terrier senior Wilmer Skoog was unable to poke the rubber loose as it traveled towards first year Vinny Borgesi. Borgesi sent it to McDonough at the left circle, who shot it over Commesso’s stick for the 1-0 lead after 14 minutes of play.
The Terriers had some early chances, including a breakaway from sophomore Tristan Amonte, but the forward couldn’t break the puck through Levi. The Huskies’ aggressive style of play complicated the Terriers’ attempts. After 20, BU only registered eight shots on goal.
“We definitely had to do a better job of getting in front of them,” Pandolfo added. “Maybe early, trying to play a simpler game and putting pucks behind and getting to work. I didn’t think we had that mindset at all.”
While the Terriers seemed a little calmer after the first intermission, it was graduate student Jakov Novak who again quieted BU’s momentum. 1:49 into the middle frame, senior defenseman Jeremie Bucheler’s initial shot rebounded off of Commesso, who was stretched out stick-side. The rebound landed on Novak’s stick and the open net boosted the Huskies to a two goal lead.
My guess: the Terriers were told that the key to their success would be staying out of the box. When it came down to it however, the Terriers got pushed off pucks, let up some terrible turnovers, and were overall embarrassingly outplayed through the first half. This team has an identity and the puzzle pieces for a national run, but those elements were lacking through 55 minutes of play.
“It’s always a point of emphasis for us to try to stay out of the penalty box and be disciplined,” Pandolfo noted of the special teams. “I thought we did a really good job killing penalties tonight.”
While Commesso isn’t always the Terriers most consistent player, he’s been absolutely locked in since the series against Boston College. The Huskies had the chance to up their lead to three as a cross-checking penalty on Liam Walsh expired and a three-on-one developed, but Commesso blanked Riley Hughes’ effort, and Dylan Peterson scooped the puck as Commesso got back in position. Northeastern fans had already started to celebrate.
“I thought he was great,” Pandolfo said of his netminder’s Beanpot debut. “I thought Drew was excellent tonight.”
Sophomore Justin Hryckowian took the third penalty of the game on a holding call on Lane Hutson, who was arguably the best player on the ice for BU. With just two seconds left in the power play, Skoog took a penalty of his own for the same reason. Now, with some defensive energy, the Terriers seemed to come to life.
Entering the third period with 16 seconds remaining on Skoog’s holding penalty, BU continued to make this a battle of special teams. Borgesi was called for tripping, but the Terrier power play, yet again, failed to convert, going 0/4 on the power play throughout 60 minutes.
In regards to the power play, Pandolfo took responsibility. He cited a need for adjustments to the power play units and owned up to the Terriers’ inability to score, coupled with praise for Northeastern’s commitment to blocking shots (a total of 21 blocks) and playing tight.
Skoog had a chance at the top of the crease point-blank, but Levi, like the brick wall he had been all night, swallowed the puck. Northeastern was a well-oiled machine: they clogged up passing lanes and smothered BU forwards. BU played 55 minutes like a team who was a little too comfortable as No. 3, suddenly without the merit to be there.
Quinn Hutson took a high-sticking call with 5:30 to play– of all the Terrier freshmen, Q. Hutson appeared to be the one with the worst case of Beanpot jitters.
“I don’t really know what the reason was to be honest with you,” Pandolfo said in response to a question about the added pressure of going for the repeat. “I think we just needed to simplify our game.”
With 1:51 to play and an extra skater on the ice, the Terriers showed some life– senior forward Matt Brown sniped one past Levi to cut the deficit to one. The one goal from Brown was too little too late though, as freshman Hunter McDonald secured his group’s win with an empty-netter in the last 30 seconds.
The Terriers will, for the fourth time this season, face the Boston College Eagles in the 279th Beanpot game, but unfortunately, that game will be at 4:00 PM on February 13 for third place. In the 70 years of the Beanpot, Northeastern and Harvard have never met in the championship game. BU’s late start along with Harvard’s OT winner from Marek Hejduk have made history, but not in the way we hoped.
Credit where it’s due. Northeastern probably played their best team defensive game of the year.
But we were tight from the get-go and strangely unphysical – the BHB rightly speculated that it was due to the emphasis on staying out of the box.
What frustrates me a bit is that we have a ton of upperclassmen and still occasionally come out “tight” and get in our own heads. (And most of them won the damn Pot last season in a far more raucous environment.)
We know our issues (coming out tight in bigger games – even the wins, PK %, only having 5D, the random Commesso stinker) but if they come out with the mindset of the 1990s Pandolfo teams then they can make sure those issues don’t enter the scene – or at least don’t affect the result.
I do worry that they don’t have a killer mentality. They’re not mentally “weak” by any means but I’m concerned that they may now have a ceiling after spending most of this season thinking they could actually go all the way. Time will tell.
Still. Far better than what we experienced the prior handful of seasons. And it’s hard to just flip the switch and learn how to be an ultimate winner in the biggest games. I have no doubt Pandolfo will build that culture but it remains to be seen if it’s a little too early for this particular group. They came out flat and got stunned against MTU before gaining their footing in a game they really wanted/expected to win. And now tonight’s stinker.
Don’t get me wrong. They’re damn good. But if they don’t play “their game” and check all the checkmarks for 60 against good teams then they can be had.
The 2nd Michigan game, Harvard. Cornell, etc. were all awesome wins but the margins were razor thin.
They can’t win on talent alone against tourney teams.
They got past the early season Friday/Saturday lesson. They fought back after tough starts in other games. They bore down in the 2nd and 3rd BC games. They have it in them. Just need to make sure they learn from tonight and know what needs to be done the rest of the way.
Skill + energy + poise + fearlessness = championships.
They’ve shown a lot of the 1st three. Do they have the 4th in their locker? At least it will be fun finding out.
Hard to disagree with any of that. Although, strangely, I thought the first couple of shifts they looked great. Held possession, moved we’ll, just didn’t create any good chances. Then, NU asserted themselves and it was downhill.
bitter pill to swallow