By James Garrison
The Boston University Terriers’ (29-11-0) magical run came to an end in Tampa Thursday night, falling to the top-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (29-9-1) 6-2. BU said goodbye to 10 seniors, all of whom returned to play in this very game.
“It’s disappointing because these guys to the left of me (Fensore and O’Brien) and the rest of the senior class, they are a huge reason why we got back to this point,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said postgame.
Both Nick Zabaneh and Wilmer Skoog suited up despite dealing with injuries. Zabaneh skated a regular shift and looked close to his regular self. Skoog though, reportedly dealing with a broken finger, only took shifts on BU’s three power plays.
The Terriers got off on the wrong foot to open the contest. The scarlet and white were caught back on their heels with the Gophers buzzing early. Minnesota came all-too close multiple times in the opening minutes.
Drew Commesso came up enormous in the opening minute with a tip save and a desperation pad stop on Jaxon Nelson. A minute later, Jimmy Snuggerud beat Commesso, only for the dribbling shot to glance off the post.
“At the start of the game, we were on our heels,” Pandolfo said. “They came out hard, I give them credit –– they’re a heck of a hockey team. They were all over us in the first period.”
The Terriers eventually discovered their five-on-five game, getting on the board for the opening tally. An eager Sam Stevens got to the net first and cleaned up the rebound from Domenick Fensore’s point shot. No longer tasked with shutting down the Gopher’s top line, the fourth line contributed at the other end of the ice.
What killed the Terriers in the second half of the period was something they seemed to have grown out of: a lack of discipline. The Terriers took three minor penalties in the first period, with the most egregious one coming from a high hit from Jay O’Brien.
“Penalties cost us,” Pandolfo said. “You can’t give that team seven power plays. It’s just not winning hockey for us and we have to learn from it.”
As great teams do, Minnesota capitalized on the ensuing power play. Mike Koster’s wrister found its way past Commesso following a failed clearing attempt from Zabaneh.
After Koster’s tally, the penalties continued for the Terriers and the goals continued for the Gophers. Luke Tuch took his second penalty of the first period, giving Minnesota an opportunity to double up their total.
It didn’t take long. Minnesota’s second unit quickly brought them the lead. Aaron Huglen found Rhett Pitlick at the back door with a between-the-legs pass, with Commesso having no chance to make a save.
After surrendering two goals in 50 seconds, the Terriers were really just looking to get out of the period. The Gophers had rediscovered their downhill momentum thanks to BU’s parade to the penalty box.
That momentum resulted in another goal for the Gophers –– only for a moment though. Pandolfo wisely challenged the call, as a 3-1 deficit against the top team in the country is a much worse scenario than a mere lost timeout.
The Terriers, resilient as ever, were able to find the equalizer midway through the second with a man-advantage of their own. O’Brien tipped in Fensore’s point shot at 11:54 of the middle frame.
“In the second we adjusted a little bit,” Pandolfo said. “We started doing things that we know could be successful and we started controlling the game. I think they might have only had two shots in the first 10-15 minutes of that second period.”
Once again their own worst enemies, the Terriers’ back end headed to the penalty box, one man after another.
Lane Hutson, Ty Gallager and Cade Webber all took penalties in short order. BU was forced to kill off two separate five-on-three opportunities, with the second occuring in the opening minute of the final frame.
“We were flying in the second,” Fensore said. “Discipline kind of caught up to us there and you give a team that many power plays, they’re gonna score.”
The puck luck that found BU early on in the first period blessed them again late in the third. The Terriers were the benefactors of two late-period goal reviews. Ryan Johnson’s blast from the point rang the crossbar and Bryce Brodzinski’s rebound opportunity nearly –– and almost maybe –– gave the Gophers the go-ahead tally.
At this point, the thread that BU was hanging on by was microscopic.
“It’s really hard to win,” Pandolfo said. “I didn’t think we gave ourselves a great chance.”
Minnesota’s momentum carried over into the third period, and the thread quickly tore. Luke Mittelstadt fired a wrister from the near circle, beating the glove side of Commesso. The Gophers kept it going at even strength –– it was Mittelstadt once again. The freshman defenseman’s blast padded Minnesota’s lead –– one they would not relinquish.
Logan Cooley added a pair of empty netters to ice the contest.
For the Terriers’ infractions, it was a mix of undisciplined play and simply being overwhelmed by the speed of Minnesota. A large factor Thursday night was Minnesota’s ability to neutralize Hutson, with BU having little response to deal with the dominance of the Knies-Cooley-Snuggerud line.
It obviously wasn’t the result the Terriers wanted. It’s not a program built on moral victories or silver linings. Despite that, the program had slipped. It had slipped to a point where anything but change was a disservice to its legacy.
Along with a first-year head coach and a tremendous freshman class, the Terriers’ 10-man senior class played an irreplaceable role in the re-establishment of the programs’ high standard. Domenick Fensore and Jay O’Brien will not be remembered as national champions, but they will be the leaders that brought Boston University hockey back to where it belongs.
“I think all of them as a whole taught the younger guys what it takes and what we expect every day…I think our younger guys bought into it.” Pandolfo said. “For them to buy in the way they did, I think it’s propelled the program moving forward.”
Hello: I stayed away from writing on this blog this season because I wanted to keep things positive. A loss stings but I’m very proud of this team and what we accomplished. As our captain said back in October look out for those terriers well that’s what teams are going to think when they face is next year. Great job with the blog enjoy reading it . Can’t wait till next year go bu 🐾
Tough ending to a banner season for the Terriers. As you rightly pointed out the coaching staff and the leadership of the senior class has brought BU hockey back to being one of the finest college hockey programs in the country. Congratulations to them and thank you for a wonderful season.
The test against the best team in the nation all season long was always going to be a tough one. After a very shaky start the Terriers , showing the determination they have all season, were able to come back into the game and even take an early lead. However the old bugaboo, taking some foolish penalties , allowed Minnesota to gain momentum and take hold of the game in the first period. However in the second period it was BU who seemed to be taking control of the game especially after the power play goal that tied the game and at one point late in the period led Minn. 9-4 in shots for the period. With this development along with the aid of some good luck ( 3 post shots and a disallowed goal for the gophers) it seemed possible we might be able to steal this one. It was ironic that Lane Hudson , our hero all season, but under great pressure from the Minnesota forwards all night would finally lose the puck in his own end and then subsequently trip a player leading to another PP and then a two man adv. for Minn.. , which would ultimately do the Terriers in . Inevitably with 2 consecutive 2 man advantages for the gophers b/c of another foolish high stick right at the end of the second period by O’Brien, Minnesota got the go ahead goal in the Third period. BU could not recover from this and the fourth gopher goal really sealed it for them. I didn’t agree with Pando’s pulling of Commesso with still about 3 minutes left ( only if we had gotten a third goal then ok), because it just inflated the final result for Minnesota and a 6-2 final seems a bit harsh on the Terriers who really did put up a good fight.
the future is bright
Proud of the boys
We lost to a very good team, and very poor officiating.
Extremely grateful for the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices that this team, and its coaching staff, made. They did us more than proud, while re-establishing BU’s prominence.
Thanks to you all – see you next season. PSD
What a season! There’s no shame in losing to Minnesota. I have a ton of optimism about next season although ( assuming Commesso leaves), I do have some concerns about the goalie situation. TK out!