Boston University men’s hockey is back.
Led by head coach Jay Pandolfo, the Terriers are looking to turn their 2023 Frozen Four fallout into motivation for a deeper run in the 2023-24 season. BU returned to the national stage last year, reinstilled a winning culture within the program and skated under one team identity.
Now, it’s time to build.
While the sting from April’s 6-2 national semifinal loss to the University of Minnesota still remains, the Terriers came away with an understanding of what it takes to not only be great, but the best in college hockey.
“After reflecting on the season, I was very proud of our guys. Proud of the program, proud of the way our guys handled themselves last season. You’re just disappointed that you didn’t finish the job,” Pandolfo said.
“Taking nothing away from Minnesota, they’re an excellent team, but I didn’t think we gave them our best. So that was probably the most disappointing part of it.”
The Terriers now start their journey from scratch with a new-look roster brimming with young talent. As goes with the realities of college hockey, BU lost 13 players at the end of last season through NHL signings, graduation and transfer portal swaps.
However, the squad’s nine-person freshman class –– along with three transfer goaltenders and Jack Hughes who made the hop over from Northeastern –– has the means to match and potentially exceed the Hockey East power house BU turned into in 2022-23.
Headlined by the projected No. 1 pick of the 2024 NHL Entry Draft, forward Macklin Celebrini, the first-years will look to have an immediate impact. While Celebrini is the biggest name of the class, guys like Tom Willander, Jack Harvey, Shane Lachance and Gavin McCarthy are newbies to look out for as well.
In the first month of full-team practice, Pandolfo has preached the Terrier motto to new players and returners alike: do things the ‘right way.’
“Everyday, we want to do things the right way. It can’t just be Monday and then have a different attitude Tuesday; it’s about doing things the right way everyday,” Pandolfo said. “That’s what our guys bought into last year and that’s what, up to this point, the guys have bought into this year.”
Pandolfo is entering his second season as head coach after joining the program as an associate head coach under Albie O’Connell in 2021-22 and getting the bench boss promotion the following year.
The former Terrier captain, who was an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins prior to returning to college hockey, came in, completely changed the culture and raised the standard for what it means to throw a BU jersey on. What’s more, Pandolfo has gotten to do it right in front of his family.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came back to college hockey was to be able to spend more time with my family. My kids are here all the time; they’re at all the games,” Pandolfo said. “They get to come in on some practice days and off days and they can skate, they can hang out in Agganis Arena which is fun for them. That’s a really nice part of it.”
The young Pandolfo’s are in for a treat this season, getting to watch sophomore defenseman Lane Hutson during a potential Hobey Baker Award-winning season. Hutson, who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, opted to return for a second year of NCAA hockey and is now wearing an ‘A’ as part of the Terriers’ leadership group.
“Lane just leads by example. If you come to one of our practices and watch him work throughout practice, it’s pretty impressive,” Pandolfo said. “He sets the pace a lot for us in practice just by his work ethic and how hard he competes. Never quits on anything, wants to win everything. It just goes a long way for our group how he’s wired that way.”
Graduate defenseman Case McCarthy is the squad’s captain, back for a fifth-year after missing the end of last season due to injury. Hutson is an assistant captain alongside senior forward Luke Tuch, graduate forward Sam Stevens and graduate defenseman Cade Webber.
Webber led the Terriers with 95 blocked shots in 2022-23; 24 more than the second place McCarthy who garnered 71. The 6-foot-7 blueliner blossomed into his role as a shutdown defenseman his junior –– technically senior, Webber completed undergrad in three years and is now getting his masters –– year.
“Cade Webber has grown a lot in the two years that I’ve been here,” Pandolfo said. “He’s gained more minutes playing so I think that’s given him confidence. He’s relied on heavily for us in certain situations and he takes pride in that.”
The buzz around the BU program ahead of the 2023-24 season is palpable. The Terriers were voted first place in the USCHO preseason rankings for the first time in the poll’s history, and while the team doesn’t discuss the outside noise, it sets an expectation league wide and beyond that BU is the team to beat.
“I think the our group, the guys we have here, they understand that the poll really at this point means nothing; we haven’t even played a game,” Pandolfo said. “But, in saying that, when you’re ranked preseason No. 1, you are going to have a target on your back and we have to embrace that. We have to know that we are going to get every team’s best every night so we have to be prepared for that.”
I’m just going to say it: the Terriers have the makings of a national championship team. It’s up to them to make it come to fruition.
This article is part of the 2023-2024 printed “Hockey Issue” that will be available on campus Oct. 27 and at opening night at Agganis Arena.