“Your Fighting Irish are ready for the weekend sweep,” the PA system boomed at the Compton Family Ice Arena Saturday night as Notre Dame took the ice following its 4-1 win on Friday.
The Boston University men’s hockey team had other plans, though.
Within ten minutes of the first period, the Terriers hung five goals on their opponents and showed glimpses of what this roster is capable of, building their team game through three periods in the eventual 8-2 victory.
“I think why we had success tonight is we got to our game. I think we played a direct game, thought that was a big part of it,” BU head coach Jay Pandolfo said postgame. “Thought we played fast and we moved the puck quick up ice and got on the attack, we were good on the forecheck, good getting to the net.”
A heads-up defensive play by Luke Tuch picked the pocket of the Irish and sent him flying up ice where he snapped it past Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel from the left side at 7:36 of the opening frame for the 4-1 lead.
That’s when everyone exhaled. BU was revived, alive and ready to compete. It wasn’t just the three-goal lead that washed relief over the Terrier faithful – and likely the team itself – it was the way the goals were being scored.
Defense creating offense and converting on the scoreboard.
Tuch, who played one of his best two-way games as a Terrier, tallied three points in the first period, assisting on Quinn Hutson and Macklin Celebrini’s goals that gave BU an early 2-0 advantage.
The senior assistant captain also matched Ty Gallagher’s four blocked shots with four of his own, and for one of the first times this season, you could truly see the team playing for each other.
“I think the past two weekends we’ve really been struggling with kind of like our identity as a team and who we are and kind of playing as individuals. I think we just have to come together as a team,” Tuch said Wednesday ahead of BU’s trip to South Bend.
Saturday moved the team closer to solidifying the 2023-24 Terrier identity.
Pandolfo called on his veterans to step up this weekend, which they did, and it trickled down the lineup sparking a full-group effort with two of the squad’s top defensemen – Lane Hutson and Cade Webber – out with day-to-day injuries.
“We did really well obviously missing two big parts of our team, those guys are key guys and it sucks not having them in the lineup,” M. Celebrini said postgame. “But I feel like we as a group, we needed that, especially missing those guys. Just to rally as a team and put that one forward.”
It was a rocky first three weeks of the season for the Terriers, but it finally all began to click in their 8-2 Saturday victory, and it wasn’t because they added to their game. Instead, BU simplified its play, paid attention to the small details and got some much needed swagger back.
Hockey was fun again, and beyond the win, that’s important for the locker room. Shane Lachance and Aiden Celebrini netted their first collegiate goals, Q. Hutson got rewarded for a strong series showing, Devin Kaplan highlighted his playmaking abilities on the first line and Gallagher gutted it out on the second d-pair with captain Case McCarthy playing on his off-side.
“I think we were just all pulling the same direction on the rope. You could see everyone was selling out to block shots for each other, everyone was playing the right way,” Lachance said.
Between the pipes, Mathieu Caron strung together arguably his best period as a Terrier in the third – which BU entered up 8-1 – without the pressure of the next opponent goal shifting the tide of the game. His comfortability and puck management grew tremendously, especially on the penalty kill, which went 4-for-4 on the night. What’s more, Caron finally had real support in front of him.
One good game doesn’t completely change the narrative for what the beginning of the 2023-24 season has been, but it was just a matter of time before we saw this level of productivity from BU, and if the team can keep it up, the preimposed expectations could very well be met.
A win as dominant as Saturday’s injects believability into the roster and gives the Terriers a tangible example of how they want to play moving forward. BU gave itself a whole lot of learning material against Bentley and New Hampshire, but now it has some positive tape to roll.
“I hope it gives our group confidence. The way we started, I think we were all probably second-guessing ourselves a little bit, I think that’s human nature,” Pandolfo said. “For us to respond the way we did tonight and see how we’re capable of playing, hopefully we build off of it.”