By Gracie Davenport
Photo by Joe Eachus
Boston University Men’s Hockey (29-10-0) punched their ticket to the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time since 2015 with a 2-1 victory over the Cornell University Big Red (21-11-2). The postseason variation on Red Hockey Hot took place in a packed SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Here are three observations from the NCAA Regional Final win two weeks ago.
Well-Oiled Machine: The Terriers Did What They Do Best
This was by no means an easy feat, but BU simply wanted it more.
The Big Red remembered the Terriers’ 4-3 come-from-behind win on Jan.14. BU never led that game, but freshman defenseman Lane Hutson sealed the game-winner with three seconds remaining in regulation. The sting from the last-second heroics continued to linger with Cornell heading into the re-match.
“That one stunk,” Cornell forward Jack O’Leary said after the Regional Semifinals win against Denver on Thursday. “We want that one back obviously, but there is no better place and no better stage to get revenge.”
Since being dealt that loss by BU, Cornell picked up their heads and finished their season with a meaningful push. Over their next 16 games, the Big Red only suffered three regulation losses.
“[BU has] a hell of a hockey team,” Cornell Head Coach Mike Schafer said ahead of the re-match. “I texted Jay Pandolfo after that [first] game and said they taught us lessons we needed to learn.”
However, the Terriers came out strong Saturday, and played a simple style reminiscent of many wins over their season to shut down the Big Red.
BU opened the scoring early in the second period with a goal of that caliber.
The ‘Wilmers’ capitalized on a Cornell defensive breakdown that started below the goal line. Junior forward Dylan Peterson worked down low to win the 50-50 puck battle along the boards, kicking the puck toward freshman forward Jeremy Wilmer.
Wilmer spent a lot of ice time with senior forward Wilmer Skoog earlier in the season, and the pair reunited last game against Western Michigan. Peterson lured three Cornell players behind their netminder, and Skoog’s net-front presence proved valuable for the tap-in from Wilmer.
“I think we had some chemistry at the beginning of the year, and it’s good to get back with him,” Wilmer said on returning to play with Skoog. “Skoog just put himself in a great spot, so I just looked for him. He made no mistake like he usually does.”
After the Wilmers connected, the Terriers did what they do best: Play with the lead. BU is now 21-0-0 when scoring the first goal, which is a credit to their smart play.
The Terriers were aggressive on pucks and played well in transition. All night, BU prevented Cornell from creating any momentum by breaking up plays in the neutral zone.
“They honestly can’t handle us, and it’s pretty clear to everyone,” Peterson said ahead of the third period. “We’ll just keep doing the same thing. We’ll keep this lead and move on.”
In the final frame, the Terriers did just that.
The depth of BU’s lineup shined as all four lines stepped up to protect the Terriers’ lead. The blue liners only allowed three shots to reach junior goaltender Drew Commesso in the third period, blocking everything that moved.
Junior defenseman Cade Webber does not get on the scoresheet often but knows his role as a sponge. Webber and sophomore defenseman Ty Gallagher led the teams with four shot blocks each.
“I think I’m one of the guys that realizes how many shots that he blocks,” Commesso said on Webber. “He’s so good in the D-zone, and I’m so lucky to play behind him.”
BU’s invaluable senior class always has a hand in their success, and two key members got on the scoresheet to cap off the game: Matt Brown and Ethan Phillips.
Standout Player: Ethan Phillips
Phillips continued his dominant NCAA Regional showing with the game-winner midway through the third.
On a slick feed from his linemate Brown, Phillips used his speed to score on the breakaway. Although his first shot was kicked away, Phillips knocked home the rebound.
This marked the senior forward’s first even-strength goal since Dec. 2.
Phillips missed significant playing time over the second half of the season due to injury. However, he put on a show Regionals weekend, stringing together two goals and two assists.
Phillips was rewarded for his excellent play Thursday with an empty-net goal but became the driving force that sent his team to Tampa Saturday night. For his play, Phillips was named to the All-Regional Team.
“When he came back, it just took him a little bit to get his conditioning going,” BU Head Coach Jay Pandolfo said of Phillips. “He was a big reason why we won both these games … I’m so happy for him. He deserves it.”
Home Crowd Advantage: BU Loves Hockey
The Terriers are used to playing during the early weekday time slot, evidenced by their 4 p.m. start time in the Hockey East semifinals and 2 p.m. start time in the NCAA Regional Semifinal.
The Regional Final was a noticeable change of pace as 7,143 faithful packed into the stands for the nighttime Cornell matchup.
Although every fan in attendance wore red and white, BU clearly had the upper hand in numbers.
“We have the best fans in the country. They travel well for us,” Phillips said. “For them to show up today meant a lot to us as a team. Those are the people we want to play for.”
The Dog Pound is just as much a part of this team as the players, and their support all season long has been crucial to the Terriers’ success.
This family dynamic is reciprocated well within the BU locker room.
“The best part of this team is we’re so close. To get another two weeks to spend with them is so special,” Commesso said. “Obviously looking forward to the games and putting together our best effort, but just spending more time with the guys off the ice. They’re my best friends; I love spending every second with them.”
With this win, the Terriers improved to 6-0 all-time at the Manchester regional site and now have their eyes set on Tampa.
BU’s quest for its sixth national title starts on Thursday, April 6 at Amalie Arena. The Terriers will face off against the No. 1 Minnesota University Golden Gophers (28-9-1) in a 5 p.m. matchup.