Game Recaps

Terriers’ offense continues to struggle as they drop third straight

By James Garrison
Photo by Hui-En (Benson) Lin

As the Boston University men’s hockey team (20-8-0, 14-4-0 Hockey East) re-entered conference play, they also looked to put two forgettable Beanpot performances behind them. Although the compete and drive was there for the Terriers Friday night, their offensive struggles continued in a 4-1 loss to the Merrimack Warriors (16-12-1, 11-8-0 HE).

Although the bar was set incredibly low after Monday night’s lackluster outing, BU came out with a noticeably different mindset – they looked like they wanted to be there. Many issues continued to linger though, especially the lack of offensive grit.

“It’s cliché, but you have to get to the net,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said following the loss. “We have to get bodies to the net; we have to work down low. We’re just not doing a good enough job. We’re not winning our battles down low. Until we start doing that, it’s going to be tougher to score.”

While the same could be said for the Warriors offensively, they managed to capitalize on an early defensive blemish from the Terriers. In an otherwise solid period for Drew Commesso and the Terrier defense, sophomore forward Matt Coppani was given just a moment too long in the slot.

“There wasn’t one goal that was on Drew Commesso tonight,” Pandolfo said. “Our players hung Drew Commesso out to dry tonight. The way we played in front of him, it’s not acceptable.”

The Terriers skated alongside Merrimack in the first period but came out with a sole objective in the second period: dominance. After adjusting to a tight rink and a hostile crowd, BU was able to establish a strong transition game in the middle frame.

The Terriers had built their game, they were doing all the right things – outshooting Merrimack 14-4 in the second period. It seemed as though the gradual build would lead to an inevitable equalizer. It did not.

The Terriers’ momentum was halted by a Jay O’Brien interference penalty and later crushed with Merrimack’s second tally. Even though Pandolfo had been emphasizing the need to stay out of the box this past week, the message seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“I think it hurt us a little bit,” Pandolfo said. “It might have hurt our rhythm.”

The Warriors got to work in the front of the net on their first insurance marker. Jordan Seyfert put home a bad angle rebound past Commesso and provided a major momentum shift for Merrimack.

Ironically enough, one of the Terriers’ best opportunities came from a shorthanded bid by Dylan Peterson. Despite his recent relegation to fourth line duty, Peterson thrived during shorthanded play, where he was almost rewarded.

After a back-and-forth second period, BU failed to come out with the vigor necessary to mount a third period comeback. Another successful penalty kill was quickly rendered moot by a third Merrimack strike.

Mick Messner finished off a two-on-one opportunity where the Terriers’ defense was nowhere to be seen. As solid a player as Luke Tuch is, it is not ideal to have him be the last line of defense on an odd man rush.

“I don’t know how many, 3-on-0’s, 2-on-0’s we have up tonight and then we don’t stop in front,” Pandolfo said.

The Terriers’ man-advantage was finally able to snap its recent one-for-twenty slide, but the moment for an uplifting power play goal had long passed. Just like they had all night, BU had very little to offer in terms of offensive firepower to follow up O’Brien’s shutout-breaker.

Mick Messner added another tally with an empty net dagger, and Merrimack handed the Terriers their third straight loss.

Throughout the course of a season in any sport, teams are forced to evolve. They are forced to adjust their game as the rest of the league begins to figure them out. It seems to have reached that point for the Terriers.

Northeastern and Merrimack have been able to effectively neutralize one of the most potent offenses in college hockey. A team that was scoring in bunches has officially hit a rut. With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, this highly praised coaching staff will be put to the test.

“Teams are definitely defending us harder,” Pandolfo said. “They are kind of just fronting our guys and making sure they don’t get beat. I think early in the year our D were creating a lot of offense from the blue line, now teams are starting to take that away. We have to start playing below the goal line a little bit more and attacking the net, having that mentality.”

The Terriers will look to adjust quickly, as Hockey East points and pairwise seeding remain at a premium. They will be welcomed back by the Agganis faithful for the first time in three weeks tomorrow, where it’s rare to not see them at their best. This group still has time to overcome their first major bout of adversity of the season, but the clock is starting to tick.  

“It’s on us to dig in and get to the net,” Pandolfo said. “Right now, it’s not there. That’s what we have to start doing.”

The puck will drop at 6:00pm tomorrow at Agganis Arena. The Boston Hockey Blog will have full coverage of the game so be sure to follow along on Instagram and Twitter @BOShockeyblog.


  1. There’s a strategy to beat us these past few weeks and, unfortunately, it’s the system NU and MC typically play.

    Frustrate us. Don’t allow us space. Don’t let us play up tempo. Keep things to the outside. Don’t allow rebounds. Clamp down on Fensore and Hutson.

    The way to beat it is to move the puck crisply and accurately. Get the puck down low to open up space and win the dirty 1x1s by out-toughing the other team.

    We prefer to play open and pretty hockey. So if we’re not going to bear down then 13 and 10 needed to finish their breakaways tonight. They didn’t.

    Are we a mentally resilient team willing to adapt when we’re uncomfortable? Or are we mentally soft and stubborn?

    We were mostly soft and stubborn tonight.

    Merrimack was 2-8-1 coming into this game. They had two weeks off and used it to get back to playing their style. We played into their hands by going behind early and then not capitalizing on our PPs and few big chances. It doesn’t mean that we suck all of a sudden but if we don’t buy in to playing a different way (a tougher/simpler way that’s opposite to how we like to play) against opponents like this then this is the system (if properly executed) that will knock us out of the HE playoffs and NCAAs.

    Not everyone can play the structured style of NU, Merrimack, typical Providence teams, etc. so we can still play our familiar game against most matchups but we need to prove we’re willing to adapt against those structured counter-attacking systems if we want to achieve anything this season.

    It would be a damn shame to throw away all of the good they’ve done for most of the year by being soft and stubborn down the stretch. It’s not a lack of effort or caring. But that’s not enough. Great teams dig deep when they’re struggling, hold themselves accountable, and do what needs to be done, even if it’s uncomfortable. Let’s hope they finally get it and start correcting it tomorrow.

    Go BU.

  2. Mike, Your observations and analysis mirrored Pandolfo’s post game comments. PSD

  3. One more note. The most frustrating thing is it’s all so obvious but not a single line made the adjustments despite the coaches imploring them to do so. That’s a big concern.

    • Mike, I draw some comfort from the fact that our coaching staff is fully aware of the problem, and has clearly articulated a strategically designed (though as yet not embraced) counter. Our staff is keenly astute, and God forbid that this season its directives are stubbornly ignored, I am sure that future editions will be practicing its Plan B movements, in addition to our very impressive Plan A high-flying offense, starting in September. We have more than enough talent to be multidimensional. PSD

  4. The wheels on the bus fall round and round

  5. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the wheels are falling off. It’s been a bad stretch these past few weeks but every top team aside from Quinnipiac has had one this season.

    If there’s a silver lining, we’ll face the same type of challenge tonight, at Vermont, and against Providence (so the rest of the regular season) giving us plenty of opportunity to commit to learning how to adapt to facing a setup designed to take away our strength and force us to win in a fashion we’re not as comfortable with.

    We play open and fast and fun and score a ton against teams that let us
    play our style but when we get punched in the face, we get a little dazed and can’t decide if we really want to get into a fight.

    We’re kind of like Manning’s Colts against Belichick and the Pats.

    The good news? The Colts figured it out in the 2007 playoffs against the Pats and it propelled them to a Super Bowl title.

    The question? Does this BU squad have it in them to accept that they need to adapt against certain teams and play with a toughness they’re not used to showing? The coaches are imploring them to do it but it’s ultimately up to the players.

    Time will tell.

    Go BU.


  6. fair enough assessment, Mike. stay tuned