By Mitch Fink
MANCHESTER, NH — Boston University faced the pressure of elimination, the heat of an offensive juggernaut and the challenge of an unfamiliar arena on Thursday.
Somehow, someway, it culminated in the Terriers’ most complete effort of the season: a 5-1 romp over Western Michigan in the NCAA regional semifinal in Manchester, New Hampshire.
“Great overall effort by our team tonight, from the goaltender on out,” BU head coach Jay Pandolfo said postgame.
Western Michigan’s ever-threatening top line of Jason Polin (30 goals), Max Sasson (42 points) and Ryan McAllister (49 points) scored once, but never found its rhythm. Drew Commesso was locked in, BU’s offense clicked, and the Terriers’ backcheck was effective and consistent throughout.
BU’s defensive-oriented fourth line deserves much of the credit for slowing down the Broncos’ top line. Jamie Armstrong, Devin Kaplan and Sam Stevens put on a backchecking clinic. The trio was quick enough to stay in front of Polin, Sasson and McAllister, and strong enough to outmuscle the Broncos’ standout line.
“They’re a great defensive line,” Pandolfo said of BU’s fourth line. “They work back to the middle of the ice. That was the big thing, trying not to let them get to the middle of the ice on us.”
After a Western Michigan (23–15-1) goal was called back for goaltender interference, BU snatched the momentum, cashing in on Lane Hutson’s snipe from the slot.
The goal earned the Terriers their first lead since the Hockey East quarterfinals against Vermont, and sparked a renewed level of confidence and swagger for BU (28-10-0), which only grew as the game went on.
But the Terriers didn’t truly gain control of the game until a pivotal stretch in the second period.
First, Quinn Hutson ripped a wrister past Western Michigan goaltender Cam Rowe to extend BU’s lead to two at 11:08 of the second frame. Then, a minute and a half later, Matt Brown found an opening in the slot and hammered in a slapshot.
In what seemed like an instant, the Terriers grasped onto full control of the game. Western Michigan could hardly clear its own zone, let alone generate scoring chances. Even after Polin scored on an odd man rush to put the Broncos’ on the board, BU stayed aggressive, composed and in control.
BU responded to Polin’s tally with another offensive flurry, which eventually led to Wilmer Skoog’s snapshot from the left dot that gave BU a 4-1 advantage.
From there, BU played one of its best defensive periods of the season. Against one of the top attacking teams in the country, the Terriers hardly gave an inch. Western Michigan outshot BU, 10-6, in the final frame, but the Terriers still found ways to contain the Broncos and remain aggressive.
Western Michigan pulled its goaltender with just under five minutes to go in a last-ditch effort to get back into the game, but Ethan Phillips — one of BU’s best skaters Thursday — aptly scored an empty-netter with under three minutes to go in the game to seal the win.
“Ethan Phillips was excellent tonight. I think it was probably the best game he’s played all year,” Pandolfo said. “Give him a lot of credit. I was really happy for him to find a way to get the empty-netter at the end.”
Commesso finished with 24 saves.
BU will take on either Denver or Cornell with a chance to clinch a berth in the Frozen Four on Saturday afternoon in Manchester.
The puck will drop at 4:00 p.m. Saturday, and the Boston Hockey Blog will have full, on-the-ground coverage. Be sure to follow along on Instagram @boston.hockey.blog and Twitter @BosHockeyBlog.