By Mark Fraenkel
With wins over the Cornell Big Red (21-11-2) and the Western Michigan Broncos (23-15-1), the No. 5 Boston University men’s hockey team advanced to the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Terriers will face the Minnesota Golden Gophers (28-9-1) on Thursday, April 6. Here are some major storylines following the NCAA regionals.
Defense Wins Championships?
BU’s defensive unit has been on fire down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason. Since the overtime loss to the Merrimack College Warriors (23-14-1) on February 18th, the Terriers have only allowed an opponent to score more than three goals once.
Cornell head coach Mike Schafer noticed the improvement in BU’s defense.
“I think they are better defensively,” Schafer said in regards to changes he saw in the Terriers since their last meeting on January 14 at Agganis Arena. “I would probably say that would be the biggest, biggest point.”
Western Michigan senior forward Jason Polin also commended BU’s defense.
“They played good defensively,” the Holt, Michigan native said. “We wanted to get more pucks and bodies to the net, we just didn’t, and they were able to defend us,” he added.
Anchoring the defensive excellence has been junior goaltender Drew Commesso, who made 13 saves in Saturday’s victory.
Schafer was impressed by the Chicago Blackhawks prospect.
“Their kid made some big saves,” the 28-year bench boss at Cornell said.
The entire defensive unit was also recognized for its excellence. Commesso would win the tournament’s most outstanding player while freshman defenseman Lane Hutson and senior defenseman Domenick Fensore would each make the all-tournament team.
Senior forward Ethan Philips had two great games in New Hampshire. With two goals and two assists, he led all players in points in the regional held at SNHU Arena.
In the first game, Phillips had a goal and two assists en route to the 5-1 win.
“Ethan Phillips was excellent tonight,” the first-year head coach said following the win over the Broncos. “I think that it was the best game he’s played all year.”
Lane Hutson also explained how Phillips was pivotal in allowing the Terriers to get on the board first on Thursday afternoon.
“[A] great forecheck by Ethan Phillips, created a turnover and got it right to OB,” the Hockey East Rookie of the Year said. “OB found me there drifting in, I just tried to get it on and off my stick pretty quick.”
After tapping in an empty-netter against Western Michigan, Philips also went on to score the game-winner with 13:33 left in the third period against Cornell to give BU a 2-0 lead.
After winning the regional, Phillips showed his appreciation for the Terrier faithful.
“I think we have the best fans in the country,” the senior said. “No matter where you’re playing, you have BU fans there and for them to show up today meant a lot to us as a team. Those are the people we want to play for.”
Phillips was also named to the all-tournament team with fellow senior forward Wilmer Skoog.
It’s Primary Season in the Granite State
Every four years, politicians head to New Hampshire for the first-in-the-nation primary, but this weekend, Lane Hutson made his case to the Hobey Baker voters.
In the first period on Thursday, the freshman phenom found the back of the net to give the Terriers the start they needed, and ended the WMU game with a +3 rating.
“We just wanted to eliminate time and space on their top players and get them to dump pucks in and chase it down and keep them to the outside,” Hutson said. “I thought we did a good job of that.”
For Lane, the whole experience of playing at an elite level has only been elevated by sharing the ice with his brother, Quinn, and having his parents in the crowd.
Quinn scored the game-winner in overtime of the Hockey East semifinals against the Providence College Friars (16-14-7) before Lane scored the walk-off winner against Merrimack and then scored a momentum-turning goal against WMU.
“Yeah it’s pretty special, my parents have been at the last three games, so it’s always good when they are in town watching the games,” Lane said. “I am really happy to see Quinn score big goals as he always does, and we’ll see if I can get the next one.”
Hutson is one of ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, now one of 17 total Terriers to have been named finalists in program history. Only one freshman who donned the scarlet and white has been named to the list of ten– current Las Vegas Golden Knights star Jack Eichel.
“Let’s Go To The Beach-Each Let’s Go Get A Wave”
With the win over Cornell, BU is headed to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2015. Since the first day Pandolfo took over on Commonwealth Avenue, making it to Tampa was the goal.
“One of our goals [ahead of the season] was to get to the Frozen Four and we accomplished that today,” Pandolfo said after the team punched the program’s 23rd trip to the national semifinal game. “So I am really proud of these guys.”
In less than two weeks, Pandolfo’s squad will face Bob Motzko’s Minnesota team. It’ll be a tough test. The Golden Gophers are the overall number-one seed and thoroughly defeated the Canisius Golden Griffins (20-19-3) and the St. Cloud State Huskies (25-13-3) in the Fargo, North Dakota regional. But the team is appreciative for the ability to keep on playing this late into the hockey calendar.
“Honestly just spending more time with the guys,” Commesso said of what he’s most excited to do in Tampa. “That’s the best part of this team. We’re so close and to get another two weeks to spend with them is so special. Obviously looking forward to the games and putting together our best effort, but just spending more time with the guys off the ice. They’re my best friends; I love spending every second with them,” he added.
The Terriers will have two-weeks off (well, “off”) before boarding a flight to Tampa in hopes of a national title. In the meantime, follow along on Twitter @Boshockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog for continued coverage of the Terriers.