The second season starts now.
The No. 5 Boston University men’s hockey team (24-10-0, 18-6-0 Hockey East) will take on the University of Vermont Catamounts (11-19-5, 5-16-3 HE) in the Hockey East quarterfinals in their last game at Agganis Arena this season. The Terriers have put themselves in a fantastic position as the top seed in a gritty league where it’s tough to win every night, on top of a locked position in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s that time of year, it’s an exciting time of year,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said during this afternoon’s media availability. “This is kind of what you play all year for… we’re looking forward to getting going.”
‘Fantastic’ is a term I’ll use lightly though; the extra confidence of clinching the Hockey East regular season title might be the kick that sends the team into another seven-game win streak. It could also see a top-5 nationally-ranked team overlook a competitor who just upset the No. 6 Hockey East team at Alfond Arena and broke through Mike Richter Award semifinalist in Victor Ostman and the University of Maine.
After a brief four-game skid through February, the Terriers got back to “playing the right way” with back-to-back weekend sweeps, including two shutouts. During their reignited four-game win streak, BU scored 16 goals, let in seven, and Drew Commesso posted 103 saves in 240 minutes of action. With a hold on their goal-scoring identity again and Commesso easing back into the style of play he demonstrated during January, the Terriers should feel confident, but still, never too confident.
For the Catamounts, this is a survive-and-advance game. It’s a must-win for them, while that isn’t necessarily the case for BU (on paper that is… if BU were to lose I think both their momentum, confidence, and NCAA berth would suffer. We don’t need to dive into that, though).
“I don’t think we’re gonna overlook anyone right now,” Pandolfo added in regards to the seeding and his group’s confidence. “I think that stretch of games where we really struggled we realized how important every game is.”
So what is BU working with? Against?
The Catamounts play a much tighter game than their record shows. BU does have the advantage of having seen them play so recently, but that advantage goes both ways and both the coaching staff and players know that.
Pandolfo commented on UVM’s size and ability to close time and space in all three zones because of their length. Not only that, but he alluded to the extra confidence they’ll carry with them as a result of their upset win in Maine, powered by three third-period goals, including one on the power play and one short-handed empty-netter.
The Catamounts are led by sophomore and junior right-wingers Isak Walther, Andrei Buyalsky, and Will Zapernick, who combine for 30% of their team’s points this season. The three also played a role in each of UVM’s four goals against Maine last night.
In net, UVM looks to junior Gabe Carriere who put up some massive stops against BU during their series in Burlington. Carriere has a 2.49 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, including a combined 59 saves against the Terriers. Carriere has saved on average 30 shots in his last five games, which bodes well to BU’s 35 shots per game average.
With all of that being said, BU has a lot of momentum to carry into this tournament. In addition to the regular season title, Commesso’s two shutouts should give him some much needed confidence, senior Sam Stevens won his first Hockey East player of the week award and both Ryan Greene and Lane Huston were named to the Hockey East all-rookie team. While only Greene and L. Hutson made the cut, the Hutson brothers, Greene, Jeremy Wilmer, and Devin Kaplan have a combined 141 points– that’s 37% of BU’s season total.
“They’ve all been productive. It’s not easy… this is a tough league and to come in in your freshman year and be as productive as all five of them have, it’s pretty impressive,” Pandolfo said of his freshman class. “So I give them a lot of credit. They’ve fit in very well, and they’re a big reason why we are where we’re at right now.”
Lane Hutson continued to impress the league with a four-point weekend, earning him his sixth Hockey East Rookie of the Week award (yes, sixth), the HE three stars award, and the Hockey East scoring champion award. He is the first defender in HE history to lead the league in conference scoring, and the first freshman to do it since Jack Eichel (where did he go again?).
The seniors had a great home win on senior night, Commesso is getting his confidence back, BU won some tough road matchups, and Pandolfo said everyone is healthy and available to play this weekend. Hockey East is the tightest league in college hockey, so to come out on top really is an impressive feat.
There’s a lot left to play for, but BU will first close their time at Agganis on Saturday with a 4:30pm puck drop. We’ll have full coverage available on Instagram @Boston.hockey.blog and Twitter @BOShockeyblog, so be sure to follow along.