Ice Hockey, Sports

BU men’s hockey set to take on Western Michigan in NCAAs

The Terriers are officially dancing.

The Boston University men’s hockey team against Providence
The Boston University men’s hockey team against Providence. The men’s Terriers team is set to take on the Western Michigan Broncos on Thursday afternoon. CAROLINE FERNANDEZ/BOSTON HOCKEY BLOG

It didn’t take too much time early on this season for that to be a foregone conclusion, but a Hockey East Championship last Saturday confirmed it. Under 24 hours later, the Terriers’ matchup was made official during Sunday night’s NCAA selection show.

“We’re excited to be here. Up to this point, we’ve had a pretty good year,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said in today’s media availability. “The big thing for us we’ve focused on throughout the course of the year is playing our game. You obviously have to make adjustments to what certain teams do, but we feel like we’re at our best when we’re playing the style we want to play.” 

The Boston University men’s hockey team (27-10-0, 18-6-0 Hockey East) is set to take on the Western Michigan Broncos (23-14-1) Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. at SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. It will be the Terriers’ first action in the NCAA Tournament since a first-round loss in the 2020-21 season, where BU fell to St. Cloud State, 6-2. A disappointing 2021-22 campaign made BU a spectator of last year’s 16-team gauntlet.

Although many juniors and seniors have stuck around after a disappointing two years, the Terriers can attribute a great degree of their success last weekend to their freshman class. Forward Devin Kaplan, along with the brothers, defenseman Lane and forward Quinn Hutson, scored enormous goals in back-to-back overtime thrillers at TD Garden.  

On the topic of players BU would not have won Hockey East without, there’s junior goaltender Drew Commesso. Even though the keeper may have hoped for more consistency in the regular season, he has already started to silence all doubters after an All-Tournament team worthy performance. With a .943 save-percentage last weekend, Commesso is getting hot at just the right time.

Hopefully for the Terriers, last weekend was the start of a three-weekend run for the junior whose days may be numbered in scarlet and white.

Off the backs of Commesso and the Hutsons, the Terriers were forced to adjust their lineup as they battled multiple injuries last weekend. Senior defenseman Case McCarthy’s frightening collision resulted in a reported broken collarbone, along with a likely concussion. Junior forward Nick Zabaneh also sustained what appeared to be a knee injury in the second period of Saturday’s championship game. 

Not as severely injured as Zabaneh or McCarthy, senior captain defenseman Domenick Fensore was able to grit out a seemingly painful six-plus periods of hockey last weekend. Fensore was not 100 percent, coming off an injury incurred in the University of Vermont game the weekend prior. The senior defenseman seemed to physically improve as the weekend went on, though.  

What the Broncos possess is not exactly something that is foreign to the Terriers: scoring goals. Sitting just two spots below the Terriers, who are ranked third nationally in offense, are the Broncos, who average 3.87 goals per game.

“They obviously have some great offensive players up front so it’s going to be our job to stay in their face and take away time and space for them,” Fensore said in today’s media availability. “Just kind of close quick on them in the d-zone as well and transition to offense quickly.” 

The only two draft picks on Western Michigan transferred into the program. What the Terriers have on their hands are a bunch of farm-raised midwestern boys that love to put the biscuit in the basket. 

“They’re a very aggressive team, they like to press on the forecheck and that’s something that we’ve been preparing for,” senior forward Matt Brown said of Western Michigan. “We haven’t really faced that in the last couple of weeks. We’ve played teams that have sat back a little more.” 

Freshman forward Ryan McAllister and senior forward Jason Polin lead their squad in points with 48 and 46, respectively. Polin has potted 29 goals this season — for most in the country — and is a driving force on the Broncos’ first line. McAllister is tied for most assists in the nation with 35. Pandolfo said his team has to focus on taking away these players’ time and space. 

Between the pipes for Western Michigan will most likely be junior Cameron Rowe. He has posted a .907 save percentage and 2.45 goals-against-average this year. 

This is a doable task for BU –– they are the higher seed, the favorite. This could very well be the last weekend of the season for BU. It could very well be the last collegiate game of 11 graduating players’ careers.

It will be up to this leadership group to extend their season into April. These seniors could have left for pro hockey, but they stayed to play in these exact games.

“This is what you play for. To have these moments where you’re playing in big games,” Pandolfo said. “We know at this point in the NCAA tournament it’s one and done. You’ve got to make sure you’re ready, but we want our guys to have fun with it.”

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