For the first time since 2017, the Boston University men’s hockey team is facing the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. Bernie Corbett, the voice of BU hockey for the past 40 seasons, has had a front row seat to the blue-blood rivalry’s development over the years, and now, he’s ready for a new rendition.
“Coach Parker would say, ‘Bernie, brand-name college hockey’s coming to town this weekend.’ That’s exactly what we’ve got,” Corbett said.
Third-ranked North Dakota will hit Agganis Arena ice on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 to take on a BU team that has begun to play to their defensively sound, high-flying offensive identity in its last two weekends. While the players on the current teams have never met, the non-conference series is rooted in history – one that Corbett remembers well.
When Hockey East split from the ECAC in 1984, it began to play an interlocking schedule with the WCHA – North Dakota’s league at the time. The Fighting Hawks won nine of the first ten games against BU, but the 1990 NCAA first-round, three-game series to advance to the tournament’s quarterfinals changed the complexion of the rivalry.
Corbett was at Walter Brown Arena calling the games, and said things got chippy before the puck even dropped. In the series’ first matchup, the two teams got into a warm up brawl – territorial of their side of the red line – and racked up a total 100 minutes of penalty time that night; 54 for BU, 46 for UND. The Terriers ultimately dropped the game 8-5, but came back the next night with a 5-3 win and forced Game 3.
“Walter Brown Arena, absolutely as packed and as lively and raucous and crazy as I could ever remember it that night,” Corbett said. “It was just a great crowd, two great teams.”
BU stormed back with a dominant 5-0 victory in the final game, and Tony Amonte – father of current Terrier Tristan Amonte – scored his second shorthanded goal of the series to boost his team in the first period before sending North Dakota packing at the final buzzer.
“I remember doing the postgame show at Walter Brown Arena, and the crowd was just like a concert. Nobody would leave. It was unbelievable,” Corbett said.
“They were still on their feet well after the game ended, and next thing you know, [the team] had to come back and do an encore. Joe Sacco led the team back onto the ice and they did the curtain call salute to the crowd. It was just great.”
The Terriers have gone 10-3-2 against North Dakota following that 1990 NCAA first-round.
While there have been many meetings between the two teams since – including Jack Eichel’s three-point performance in the 2015 national semifinal win – the 2017 NCAA first-round regional game in Fargo, North Dakota stands out for Corbett.
The BU team, then coached by David Quinn, was dealt North Dakota for its first regional matchup – and on the Fighting Hawks’ home turf nonetheless. It was going to be a sold out Scheels Arena, packed with UND fans cheering on their defending national champions. However, the Terriers leaned into the underdog narrative.
“‘Quinny’ was great as far as motivation,” Corbett said. “I think he really instilled that in the team to say ‘Hey, let’s go on the road, let’s go out there and let’s do something that nobody thinks we can do. Let’s beat North Dakota in their backyard in the regionals.’”
And that’s exactly what they did. At 11:48 in the game’s second overtime, Clayton Keller put on a show by the left circle before dishing it down to Charlie McAvoy on the right doorstep who knocked the puck in and sealed the 4-3 victory.
“That was one of the craziest games that I have ever broadcast. You talk about surreal,” Corbett said.
A roster filled with now NHL stalwarts, the Terriers had Jake Oettinger between the pipes who made a whopping 56 saves. What’s more, BU as a team had 51 blocked shots with Brandon Hickey logging 17 of his own.
This weekend, though, is a new chapter in the BU-UND history book, and the 2023-24 Terriers are tasked with defining what the modern day rivalry looks like. To Corbett, it’s simple, just “play the right way.”
“A big part of ‘play the right way’ is – everybody wants the puck, we get guys that are skilled and creative and can make some really high-end, jump-out-of-your-seat plays – but, it’s how do we play away from the puck?,” Corbett said.
“The ability to transition and play the type of game we want to play is not to neglect the defensive side, but to embrace the defensive side. Defend well, limit the time in your own zone, move the puck quick.”
The series opens Friday at 7p.m. at Agganis Arena, followed by another 7p.m. start time on Saturday on home ice. The Boston Hockey Blog will have full coverage of both games, so be sure to follow along on Twitter (X) @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.