By James Garrison
The Terriers are officially dancing.
It didn’t take too much time early on this season for that to be a foregone conclusion, but a Hockey East Championship last Saturday confirmed it. Under 24 hours later, the Terriers’ matchup was made official during Sunday night’s NCAA selection show.
“We’re excited to be here. Up to this point, we’ve had a pretty good year,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said in today’s media availability. “A big thing for us we’ve focussed on throughout the course of the year is playing our game. You obviously have to make adjustments to what certain teams do, but we feel we’re at our best when we’re playing the style we want to play.”
The Boston University men’s hockey team (27-10-0, 18-6-0 Hockey East) is set to take on the Western Michigan Broncos (23-14-1, 15-8-1 NCHC) Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH. It will be the Terriers’ first action in the NCAA Tournament since a first-round loss in 2021, where BU fell to St. Cloud State, 6-2. A disappointing 2021-22 campaign made BU a spectator of last year’s 16-team gauntlet.
Although many juniors and seniors have stuck around after a disappointing two years, the Terriers can attribute a great degree of their success last weekend to their freshman class. Devin Kaplan, along with Lane and Quinn Hutson, scored enormous goals in back-to-back overtime thrillers at TD Garden.
On the topic of players BU would not have won Hockey East without, there’s Drew Commesso. Even though the junior goaltender may have hoped for more consistency in the regular season, he has already started to silence all doubters after an All-Tournament performance. With .950 save-percentage last weekend, Commesso is getting hot at just the right time.
Sandwiched in between a hamstring injury and a period of illness was a very strong November stretch for Commesso, the netminder tallied a 4-1-0 record and a .930 save percentage. Hopefully for the Terriers, last weekend was the start of another three-weekend run for the junior whose days may be numbered in scarlet and white.
Off the backs of Commesso and the Hutsons, the Terriers were forced to adjust their lineup as they battled multiple injuries last weekend. Case McCarthy’s frightening collision resulted in a reported broken collarbone, along with a likely concussion. Nick Zabaneh also sustained what appeared to be a knee injury in the second period of Saturday’s championship game.
Not as severely injured as Zabaneh or McCarthy, captain Dom Fensore was able to grit out a seemingly painful six-plus periods of hockey last weekend. Going off the eye-test, it was clear that Fensore was not 100 percent. The senior defenseman seemed to physically improve as the weekend went on, though.
What the Broncos possess is not exactly something that is foreign to the Terriers –– scoring goals. Sitting just two spots below the Terriers (ranked third nationally) are the Broncos, who average 3.87 goals per game.
“They obviously have some great offensive players upfront so it’s going to be our job to stay in their face and take away time and space for them,” Fensore said in today’s media availability. “Just kind of close quick on them in the d-zone as well and transition to offense quickly.”
Friend of the BHB John Buccigross was accurate to dub this a “take the over matchup.”
The only two draft picks on Western Michigan transferred into the program. In that same vein, there is one 19-year-old on the team. What the Terriers have on their hands are a bunch of farm-raised midwestern boys that love to put the biscuit in the basket.
“They’re a very aggressive team, they like to press on the forecheck and that’s something that we’ve been preparing for,” senior forward Matt Brown said of Western Michigan. “We haven’t really faced that in the last couple of weeks –– we’ve played teams that have sat back a little more.”
Freshman Ryan McAllister and senior Jason Polin lead their squad in points with 48 and 46, respectively. Polin has potted 29 goals this season –– for most in the country –– and is a driving force on the Broncos’ first line. McAllister is tied for most assists in the nation with 35. Pandolfo said his team has to focus on taking away these players’ time and space.
Between the pipes for Western Michigan will most likely be junior Cameron Rowe. He has posted a .907 save percentage and 2.45 goals-against-average this year.
This is a doable task for BU –– they are the higher seed; they are the favorite. This could very well be the last weekend of the season for BU. It could very well be the last collegiate game of 11 seniors’ careers.
It will be up to this leadership group to extend their season into April. If my friends and I at the BHB have said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: these seniors could have left for pro hockey, but they stayed to play in these exact games.
“This is what you play for. To have these moments where you’re playing in big games,” Pandolfo said. “We know at this point in the NCAA tournament it’s one and done. You’ve got to make sure you’re ready, but we want our guys to have fun with it.”
Manchester did the Terriers just fine in ’09 and ’15, we’ll see how it treats them this time around.
The puck will drop at 2:00pm tomorrow afternoon in Manchester. The Boston Hockey Blog will have full, on the ground coverage so be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.