By Michael Wax
Cover Photo Credit: Joe Eachus
Boston University Men’s Hockey (29-11-0) saw their season end following a 6-2 loss to the University of Minnesota (29-9-1) in the semifinal of the 2023 Frozen Four.
“They were all over us in the first,” BU Head Coach Jay Pandolfo said. “But then I thought we found our game in the second. We started playing our game, we ended up finding a way to tie it up. Then just discipline and penalties caught up to us. You can’t give that team seven power plays, that’s not winning hockey for us.”
The loss marked the end of the road for the 2022-23 Terriers.
“Just really proud to be a Terrier,” senior forward Jay O’Brien said through tears. “Hell of a group. Hell of a season. Going to miss throwing on that Scarlet and White.”
Junior forward Nick Zabaneh returned to the lineup after a three-game absence, slotting into the third line with freshman forward Jeremy Wilmer and junior forward Dylan Peterson.
Minnesota pushed the pace early, hitting the post and missing the net off the rush a decent amount.
BU broke the ice after the halfway point of the first period. With senior forward Jamie Armstrong and freshman forward Devin Kaplan providing pressure along the offensive boards, the Terriers were able to gain control. Armstrong fed the puck to captain Domenick Fensore, who walked along the blue line before firing a wrist shot through traffic. While senior goaltender Justen Close made the initial save, the puck came right to senior forward Sam Stevens, who sent a backhander past the outstretched leg of Close.
“They’re a big part of our team all year,” Pandolfo said. “Forward depth on our team was very strong. Those guys bought into playing a certain way and they had tough matchups, a lot of D-zone starts, and they relished the role they had. That’s what you need on winning teams.”
Minnesota special teams boosted the Golden Gophers by killing off a penalty before tying the game. As senior forward Jay O’Brien was assessed a minor penalty for elbowing, Minnesota’s power play went to work. Senior forward Jaxon Nelson and freshman forward Logan Cooley both had opportunities, junior forward Mike Koster fired a shot that squeaked through Commesso and tied the game up.
Minnesota took the lead thanks to another power-play goal just minutes later. After junior forward Luke Tuch was assessed his second minor penalty of the game, the Golden Gophers’ power play wasted little time. A between-the-legs pass from the side of the net from sophomore forward Aaron Huglen gave sophomore forward Rhett Pitlick a wide-open net to tap the puck in and give UMN the lead.
“Rhett sent me a Sidney Crosby-kinda play similar to that this afternoon,” Huglen said. “I said ‘We’ll either try that or I’ll break to the net.’ He broke to the net and I found him.”
UMN thought they had increased their lead to 3-1 on a last-minute goal from Logan Cooley. However, BU challenged the goal and got the score back to 2-1 thanks to goaltender interference.
BU found the tying goal on the power play with 12 minutes to go in the middle frame. From the left circle, senior forward Matt Brown got the puck back to Fensore, who sent another wrist shot through traffic. The captain’s shot was tipped by senior forward Jay O’Brien, standing between the face-off dots, to tie the game 2-2. Senior forward Wilmer Skoog also provided the screen.
Minnesota was close on multiple occasions to gaining the lead back, hitting the crossbar on a delayed penalty and then having a shot swept off the line while on the power play. The Golden Gophers were given three consecutive penalties between the second and third periods, giving them over almost two non-connected minutes of 5-on-3.
Minnesota would capitalize on this extended power play time late into the final power play. From the left circle, freshman forward Luke Mittelstadt wired a shot over the shoulder of Commesso to help UMN regain the lead. Assists went to Koster and senior forward Bryce Brodzinski.
“You play a team with that much talent, just can’t go in the box that often. We had Dom and Lane out there killing penalties for, had to be, five or six minutes. That’s just too much for those guys,” Pandolfo said.
Mittelstadt struck again less than two minutes later to give Minnesota their first two-goal lead. BU failed to get the puck out of the zone on a clearing attempt, and the freshman defenseman blasted a slap shot by Commesso. Huglen and freshman defenseman Ryan Chesley picked up the assists.
“Ches [Chesley] gave me a great pass,” Mittelstadt said. “Kind of the same thing, screen out in front. Fortunate to put it in.”
BU pushed at the end and pulled Commesso with just under three minutes to go, but Cooley iced the game with an empty net goal with 2:41 remaining and added a second empty netter with 1:43 to go.
Minnesota will face the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the NCAA championship game, with puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 8.