The No. 9 Boston University men’s hockey team (3-2-1, 1-1-1 Hockey East) will host the No. 3 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (4-1-1, 0-0-0 NCHC) for two games at Agganis Arena this weekend, reviving the storied rivalry in a top-10 matchup.
“It’s really exciting. It’s two blue bloods of college hockey going at it – if you can’t get up for this weekend, you’ve got problems,” senior forward Dylan Peterson said Thursday.
Peterson is part of the third line with sophomore forward Jeremy Wilmer and senior forward Nick Zabaneh that has found its spark the past two weekends. Wilmer’s hockey IQ and vision of the ice, combined with Peterson and Zabaneh’s speed has made the trio hard to defend against as they consistently create high-danger scoring chances.
“We’re arguably one of the better lines out there on a nightly basis,” Peterson said. “Not really changing anything, just keep doing what we’re doing. If we’re not putting up points, we’re doing something out there, we’re impacting the game in some way.”
The third line’s recent impact speaks to a greater theme with BU – it’s starting to get contributions from up and down the lineup. While freshman forward Macklin Celebrini and junior goaltender Mathieu Caron stole the show on Saturday against UMass, the Terriers’ overall play since Notre Dame has been more of a team game, with an emphasis on their defensive structure and quick transition.
“For us, it’s about competing in all three zones and being hard to play against,” BU head coach Jay Pandolfo said Wednesday. “We’re heading in the right direction. We’re one month in now, so now we’ve got to make sure we see signs of it being more consistent and that’s the main thing.”
Pandolfo will have his full roster at his disposal to match up against the Fighting Hawks – he said everyone is healthy this week and there have been no absences in practice. That’s good news for sophomore defenseman Lane Hutson and senior defenseman Cade Webber, who came back from injury last weekend.
The head coach will also have some decisions to make on his defensive group. Against UMass, junior Ty Gallagher skated as the extra defenseman while captain Case McCarthy slotted in with Webber on the second pair and his younger brother, freshman Gavin McCarthy, moved up to play with L. Hutson.
The third pairing of Aiden Celebrini and Tom Willander seems like one you cannot break up. The two Vancouver Canucks prospects have quietly been so dominant, consistently playing a smart, simple game night in and night out.
Compared to last season, having too many talented defensemen is a good problem to have, but it’s yet to be seen if Gallagher and freshman Mick Frechette will carry any bigger role this weekend.
“It’s still to be determined,” Pandolfo said. “We have another practice ahead of us tomorrow and we’ll look at some guys again tomorrow in practice. I haven’t made any decisions on the lineup yet up to this point.”
The Terriers will look to stick to their game and focus on crisp execution against a North Dakota team that has been on the up-swing since missing the NCAA tournament last year. Converting on the power play – which has gone 5-for-24 thus far – will be important, and Zabaneh emphasized paying attention to detail on the little things.
“You kind of just play a direct game,” Zabaneh said. “Play north, keep it simple, play behind their D and just work the O-zone. We’re really good on the rush, but I feel like sometimes when their D’s up, getting it in behind their D and just getting to work down low – that’s when good things come.”
Five things to know about North Dakota before puck drop
- The Fighting Hawks are coming off a series with Minnesota State last weekend where they won 6-2 on Friday and tied 2-2 on Saturday before losing in the shootout.
- Senior goaltender Ludvig Persson has gotten off to a hot start in his first season with North Dakota after transferring from Miami University. Persson has posted a 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage through six games.
- North Dakota has 14 new players on its team this year – seven of which are freshmen, and the other seven are transfers from the portal with prior NCAA experience.
- The Fighting Hawks’ power play has struggled early in the season, going 4-for-27 coming into the BU series.
- Fifth-year defenseman Garrett Pyke leads the team with seven points (seven assists), and graduate forward Hunter Johannes leads the team with five goals.
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.
“I think this is one of the reasons that you play college hockey, weekends like this,” Zabaneh said.“We have a really good team, they have a really good team. It’s whoever comes out and wants it more.”