By Michael Wax
Cover Photo Credit: Joe Eachus
Boston University Men’s Hockey (29-10-0) punched its ticket to its first Frozen Four since 2015 with a 2-1 victory over Cornell University (21-11-2) on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m just really proud of this group,” BU Head Coach Jay Pandolfo said. “All year long, they’ve been a resilient group. They’ve come together, especially in the last month, month and a half.”
With a first-year head coach in Pandolfo, and 11 seniors returning to the Terriers, hopes were high entering the 2022-23 season. The Terriers made it one of their goals to reach the Frozen Four.
“I think everything,” Pandolfo said, regarding what changed over the year. “Our details off the ice, details in practice. How we practice, how we compete in practice. Just all those things add up over the course of the year.”
The first period saw plenty of action but no scoring. Cornell sophomore goaltender Ian Shane, who stopped all 27 shots in Cornell’s victory over the University of Denver in Thursday’s Regional Semifinal, was busy and got all seven of the Terriers’ first-period opportunities. His best save came early in the period, as he flashed the glove on a backhander from freshman forward Ryan Greene.
Each team also received a power play in the first, but the penalty kill for each side held strong, and the teams went into the locker room scoreless. Shots were 7-2 Terriers after 20 minutes.
BU grabbed the first goal of the game just 2:13 into the second period. The third line of freshman Jeremy Wilmer, senior Wilmer Skoog and junior Dylan Peterson put together a big forechecking shift after a dump and chase, getting Cornell behind their net. As Cornell’s defense got overwhelmed, they turned the puck over to Peterson, who sent a quick pass to the net for Wilmer. Wilmer then found Skoog with a cross-crease pass, and Skoog buried it to give the Terriers a 1-0 lead.
“I think we had some chemistry at the beginning of the year, it’s good to get back with him,” Wilmer said about the Wilmer/Skoog connection. “I knew I could try and swoop in and grab the puck, and [Skoog] put himself in a great spot. So I just looked for him, and he made no mistake.”
BU faced a tall task in the second period, as Cornell received another power play following a too many men on the ice call. Cornell, the nation’s seventh-best power play, sent a barrage of shots toward Commesso, who made several key stops. As the power play ended, a shot from junior forward Gabriel Seger deflected off a player in front, hit Commesso in the left shoulder and bounced off the crossbar.
Freshman forward Quinn Hutson had an opportunity to double the Terriers’ lead on a breakaway but hit the right post.
The second period ended with the Terriers up 1-0 on the scoreboard and 15-10 on the shot counter in a more even period between the two teams.
“We knew going into the game, tonight was going to be a tough game, especially if they scored the first goal,” Cornell Head Coach Mike Schafer said. “Two nights ago, against Western Michigan, they limited scoring chances throughout the course of the night and they did that for good periods of time tonight.”
After Cornell made a big push to start the third period, BU doubled its lead following its first TV timeout. As Cornell fumbled the puck outside their offensive zone, Peterson jumped on the loose puck and had an open lane to the net. After an initial pad save by Shane, Phillips followed up with the goalie down and out to make it 2-0.
Phillips’s two goals were tied with Wilmer Skoog for the regional lead, and his four points across two games led the region.
“Going into the Hockey East playoffs, he was our 13th forward at the time,” Pandolfo said of Phillips. “He was a big reason why we won both these games. It’s a credit to him.”
The Big Red scored with 29.4 seconds left to cut the lead in half, as freshman forward Dalton Bancroft chipped the puck over Commesso’s shoulders and into the net.
With time winding down, freshman defenseman Lane Hutson sacrificed his body to make a big block and solidify the Terriers’ place in the Frozen Four.
“We trust Lane,” Pandolfo said. “Clearly we trust him offensively. We also trust him defensively. He’s grown his game so much in that area. He is as competitive as they come. He wants to win.”
With two more weeks in their season, the Terriers will have an opportunity to become an even tighter group in their quest for the program’s first national championship since 2015.
“Honestly, just spending more time with the guys,” Commesso said. “That’s the best part of this team is that we’re so close and to get another two weeks to spend with them is so special … They’re my best friends. I love spending every second with them.”
The Terriers will have the week off before heading to Tampa for the 2023 Frozen Four. They’ll play the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the National Semifinal.