The Boston University men’s hockey team has punched its ticket to Tampa. With assertive wins over Western Michigan University and Cornell University in last weekend’s NCAA regional round, the Terriers will return to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2015.
BU will face the University of Minnesota in the national semifinals on April 6 at Amalie Arena in the Sunshine State. The 5 p.m. matchup features the tournament’s top-seeded University of Minnesota and a hungry Terrier squad that has been playing its best hockey of the season in recent weeks.
“I’m just really proud of this group. All year long, they’ve been a resilient group. They’ve come together, especially in the last month,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said following BU’s 2-1 regional final win over Cornell. “One of our goals was to get to the Frozen Four, and we accomplished that today, so really [I’m] proud of them.”
Coming off the Hockey East Championship victory on March 18, BU took its conference-winning formula and elevated the details of its game to string together two of its most cohesive efforts of the 2022-23 campaign.
The Terriers took on WMU, one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country, and held its fire-power first line to two shots — and one ringer off the post — through the first 40 minutes. BU’s gutty fourth line of senior forward Jamie Armstrong, senior forward Sam Stevens and freshman forward Devin Kaplan shutdown the Broncos’ big three, as did the defensive core.
“We went in knowing they had a great offense, the game plan was kind of to shut their top line down,” junior goaltender Drew Commesso said. “Give our players a ton of credit, they let me see the puck … our D were great tonight, talking to me all night. Forwards were blocking a lot of shots.”
The Hutson brothers shined once again, with Lane netting the first tally of the tournament and Quinn potting the eventual game-winning goal against WMU. The two freshmen have combined for 12 game-winning goals thus far — clutch runs in the family.
“They score in big moments, they both want the puck on their stick,” Pandolfo said. “Quinn’s a goal-scorer. If he gets the puck in the slot, there’s a good chance it’s going in the net. And obviously Lane drives offense. He’s got a sneaky shot, and he just finds a way at certain times to come up big.”
While BU faced a tighter-checking, more structured team in Cornell on Saturday, it adjusted well and was fueled by the depth of its roster. Senior forward Ethan Phillips had a career weekend, collecting four points (two goals, two assists) over the two games as he slotted in on the first-line wing.
Phillips took some time to settle in after returning from injury in February but stepped up at just the right time.
“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.
The next-man-up mentality has been preached all year and was evident throughout the regionals. Without senior defenseman Case McCarthy on the backend or junior forward Nick Zabaneh at center due to injury, the Terriers gave themselves no excuses.
On the blueline, senior defenseman and captain Domenick Fensore — who is also battling a lower-body injury — led the charge, getting his nose in every corner and stick in every passing lane. Junior defenseman Cade Webber sacrificed his body, as he does night in and night out, blocking any shot that came his way. Even guys that had an inconsistent start to the season, like senior defenseman John Copeland, logged tall minutes and were sturdy and dependable.
“You certainly need to have some talent when you win, and we have that, but we also have guys that bought into playing the right way,” Pandolfo said.
The freshman class, which has been impressive since day one, really grew up this month. Freshman forwards Ryan Greene and Jeremy Wilmer were buzzing all around SNHU Arena, finding their pockets and leaning into their physical edge.
“I think this is a good experience for all of the freshmen to get used to playing in these high-stakes games,” Wilmer said. “I think we are doing a good job of adjusting, and we’re gonna continue to go in Tampa.”
Wilmer was reunited with senior forward Wilmer Skoog on the third line, and the duo connected for two pretty goals this weekend. Skoog, who was back from HE suspension, had an extra boost of energy reentering the lineup and marked up the scoresheet for BU.
In both contests, the Terriers’ transition game was excellent. They won 50-50 puck battles, their skating skill topped that of their opponents and their goaltender stood on his head. However, there was another key to success — perhaps the most important — that propelled this group into Frozen Four positioning: They’re playing for each other.
Ten seniors came back because they wanted to raise trophies and hang banners at Boston University. They came back to win the Hockey East championship. They came back to fight for the NCAA title. And along the way, the rest of their teammates bought in as well.
When asked what he’s most excited about in Tampa, Commesso said the games aren’t the only thing on his mind.
“Honestly, just to spend more time with the guys,” he said. “That’s the best part of this team, we’re so close, and to get another two weeks to spend with them is so special.”
The Terriers are now two wins away from their ultimate goal, skating for the chance to put the program they love at the top of the nation.
“It’s extremely special. When you come in as a freshman you have goals and things you want to achieve as a team. Each year you realize you’re running out of time,” Phillips said. “To be making this push together, you know there’s no one else you rather do it with.”