The Terriers have wallowed, sat in their misery and regrouped after two disheartening defeats in the Beanpot for their first back-to-back losses of the season. With the tournament now behind them, the No. 5 Boston University men’s hockey team (20-8-0, 14-4-0 Hockey East) has the opportunity to get back on track in a home-and-home series with the Merrimack College Warriors (16-12-1, 11-8-0 HE).
After the uncharacteristic loss to Northeastern in the first round of the Beanpot, everyone said that the consolation game against Boston College would be a statement game, showing the Terriers’ mental toughness and resilience. Then, seven days later, we watched them lack energy and intensity in a game that was theirs to win.
“Clearly not our best the last two games [and we’re] coming out of a tough time of the year to not to be at your best,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said during his weekly media availability. “But you know, we’ve got to move past it.”
This series against the Warriors is defining for the rest of BU’s season. The Terriers are, based on some math I’ll never fully understand, locked in for the national tournament regardless of their performance through the next six games.While there is some comfort in that, the expectation and potential of this team is way too high to accept that.
BU will have to sweep all of their remaining series by extreme margins if it wants to be a one-seed, and hopefully rediscover the consistency and dominant play they had strung together through the seven-game win streak.
While the Terriers will be hungry to get back into the win column, the Warriors are coming off of a two-week break and have been riding a three-game losing streak of their own. Since falling to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine –– all of whom are in the lower half of Hockey East –– Merrimack will lean into its size and gritty style of play to push its way into the national conversation again.
“The most important thing is that we get back to playing our game with the right attitude, the right effort, and enthusiasm. I just thought that was missing the last two games,” Pandolfo added. “We got away from the stuff that has made us successful throughout the year, and we have to get back to that more than anything else.”
On paper, the Terriers have the Warriors beat both offensively and defensively. BU maintains its spot as a top goals-per-game producer with just over four per game and registers 35 shots on net everytime they take the ice.
Not much has changed in the past two weeks in terms of hard statistics because there have only been three goals scored, but the point leaders remain senior Matt Brown and freshman Lane Huston, at 38 and 36 points respectively. The two Terriers sit fourth and fifth in points per game nationally as well. Assistant captain Jay O’Brien has also moved up within BU’s point standings, recording 19 assists and five goals for a total of 24 points.
On the back end, the goaltender conversation has become a bit more nuanced now. Junior Drew Commesso has started in 22 games this season, posting a .909 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.67.
While Commesso has been Pandolfo’s go-to, he’s sometimes inconsistent and his wobbly starts have cost BU some wins. Junior Vinny Duplessis has made six starts this season but has relieved Commesso five times. Duplessis’ stats aren’t anything wildly impressive either with a GAA of 2.46 and a save percentage of .907, but either way, it might be wise to give Commesso a day off and a moment to reset.
When ‘Messo is locked in, he’s LOCKED in. The Terriers swept the BC series because of Drew Commesso. But his inconsistency can be concerning, especially as we move into sudden-death single elimination tournaments.
“Every goalie goes through some stretches where they’re not at their best. I think he’s actually been really good recently,” Pandolfo said of Commesso. “We can look at the last goal versus BC and yeah, does he want that one back? Of course he does. But overall, I think he’s playing really well as of late, and you have to trust your number one guy and we do. So he’ll be back on the net tomorrow night and we expect him to play well, and I’m sure he will.”
The Warriors are a huge team with plenty of talented players. Merrimack’s top three scorers are all upperclassmen, with junior Alex Jefferies leading the group at 34 points (12g, 22a), followed by Ben Brar (10-11–21) and Matt Copponi (10-11–21). Jefferies carries most of Merrimack’s offense too, with over 117 shots in 29 games, good for 40 more than the second highest Warrior.
The goalie situation could go either way for Merrimack as well, as head coach Scott Borek has a solid tandem in sophomore Hugo Ollas and junior Zachary Borgiel. The two have a combined GAA of 2.4 and a save percentage just over .905. Either option is solid in net..
The last thing worth noting is the Terriers’ power play that has gone 1/18 through their last five games. BU obviously has the offensive talent to win, but if that offensive talent was combined with a lethal power play, this team could really go far.
“There’s five good players on both units,” Pandolfo said of his special teams. “They just have to have the mindset that they’re going to be more direct. You out-number them, so sort of try to work them and see how that shakes out rather than trying to make the perfect play.”
Lawlor rink is one of the toughest places to play in Hockey East and BU needs to get a full six points out of this weekend to distance itself in league standings.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00pm in North Andover on Friday and 6:00pm on Saturday at Agganis. We’ll have full coverage on the blog, Instagram @boston.hockey.blog and Twitter @BOShockeyblog both nights.
The Beanpot is no reason to sound the alarms and the system that Jay Pandolfo has implemented in his first season is truly impressive. Now the team just needs to get back to their game because as they like to say, everything matters.