The Terriers battled until the final horn for a 2-1 win over Cornell University (21-11-2) on Saturday that punched their ticket to Tampa Bay, Florida. The Boston University men’s hockey team (29-10-0, 18-6-0 Hockey East) is in the Frozen Four, and boy, are they feeling good.
“I’m really proud of this group. All year long, they’ve been a resilient group. They’ve come together, especially in the last month,” BU head coach Jay Pandolfo said. “One of our goals was to get to the Frozen Four, and we accomplished that today, so I’m really proud of these guys.”
BU put together one of its strongest defensive performances of the year against Cornell, holding them to 14 shots through 60 minutes. Junior forward Dylan Peterson leaned into his physical game from puck drop and his team followed suit, meeting the towering Big Red for the challenge.
Senior forward Ethan Phillips shined once again, scoring what turned out to be the game-winning-goal. The senior has elevated his play at just the right time and has showcased the Terriers’ depth in the national tournament. “I got a lot of confidence from my teammates and coaches, had their support the whole time coming back from injury,” Phillips said.
Pandolfo pointed to Phillips’ bounceback effort and buy-in in the latter half of the season.
“Going into the Hockey East playoffs, he was our 13th forward at that time. For him to stick with it, and the way he played this weekend, he was a big reason why we won both these games,” Pandolfo said. “It’s a credit to him. He’s a great teammate.”
In the opening frame, Cornell attacked the offensive zone, forcing junior goaltender Drew Commesso out of his net often to play the puck, but he handled it well and gave most of the credit to his teammates.
“Our D played great all weekend,” Commesso said. “They let me see the puck, they did their job, and the forwards too, they blocked so many shots.”
The extra effort on the forecheck and backcheck made all the difference. The fourth line of senior forward Sam Stevens, senior forward Jamie Armstrong and freshman forward Devin Kaplan hunted for every loose puck in the offensive zone, while senior defenseman and captain Domenick Fensore and junior defenseman Cade Webber were particularly good at shutting down the Big Red’s transitions with sneaky stick-checks and speed.
Early in the second, Peterson pushed the Big Red around in the corner, popping the loose puck out to freshman forward Jeremy Wilmer, who was stationed near the right post. Wilmer dropped it to senior forward Wilmer Skoog in the slot for his second goal of the tournament to put the Terriers up 1-0.
“I think [Skoog and I] had some chemistry at the beginning of the year and it was good to get back with him,” Wilmer said. “I saw [Peterson] going hard … on the walls, so I knew I could try to swoop in and grab the puck. [Skoog] put himself in a great spot, so I looked for him and he made no mistake.”
A breakaway chance from freshman forward Quinn Hutson rang off the pipe to close out the second, but BU protected their advantage and headed into the final 20 minutes of regulation up 1-0 with a trip to Tampa just in reach.
Phillips doubled the Terriers’ margin at 7:26 in the third on the rush. Senior forward Matt Brown chipped the puck to him up the middle, and while Cornell’s sophomore goaltender Ian Shane stopped Phillips’ initial snipe, he didn’t give up on the play and buried the rebound past Shane’s left pad. The upperclassmen came back for moments like these.
“It’s extremely special. When you come in as a freshman, you have goals and things you want to achieve as a team, and each year you realize you’re running out of time,” Phillips said. “To be making this push together, there’s no one else you’d rather do it with.”
With Peterson in the penalty box with 8:56 left in the third, the Terriers were tasked with killing off the third Cornell power play of the night. While there were dangerous looks, BU gutted it out when it mattered the most.
“When it was time to block a shot, we blocked a shot. When it was time for [Commesso] to make a save, [Commesso] made a save. That’s important,” Pandolfo said of the penalty kill.
Cornell’s freshman forward Dalton Bancroft snuck one in with less than a minute on the clock to make it 2-1, but the Terriers hung on to secure a character-defining victory and clinch their spot in the Frozen Four for the first time since 2015.
The Terriers will face the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida on April 6. The Boston Hockey Blog will have continued full coverage, so be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.