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BU Packs Punch in Heavyweight Bout Win over Cornell



by Scott Weighart,

BOSTON – Boston University’s 3-2 win over Cornell may not have been the most exciting regular-season game in the history of Agganis Arena.

Then again, it’s hard to recall a game that would definitely top it.


With then-No. 7 BU hosting then-No. 14/15 Cornell, the game lived up to its billing as a heavyweight bout. The Terriers took it to the Big Red early but couldn’t score. Cornell dominated late in the first period and pulled ahead, 1-0. BU tied it up in the second, only to fall behind 2-1 thanks to their foe’s tic-tac-toe passing near the net.

The Terriers squandered not one but two five-on-three power plays, including a lengthy one late in the second period. Just when it looked like Cornell had dodged a bullet going into the second intermission, though, Jeremy Wilmer tapped in a Ryan Greene pass with just 9.7 seconds left in the period to equalize the game again.


It seemed like BU would have all of the momentum going into the final frame. Instead, Cornell took its third lead of the night at the 8:20 mark. Just when the Terrier faithful were starting to get anxious about the outcome, senior captain Domenick Fensore tied it up yet again on a power-play shot from the left-wing circle.


As the period wound down to its final minute, almost everyone in the building envisioned a thrilling three-on-three overtime period.

Not so fast. This heavyweight bout was decided by a skater who fits more into the middleweight class. After some deft passing from seniors Matt Brown and Jay O’Brien, 5-9 freshman Lane Hutson buried a shot from the left-wing circle with just 3.8 seconds left on the clock. This gave BU a stunning win in a game it had led for only those last 3.8 seconds.


“It was a great hockey game,” BU coach Jay Pandolfo said outside of the Terrier locker room afterwards. “They’re a heck of a hockey team over there. They really compete hard. They’re hard on pucks; they’re very well coached. The game had a bit of everything. It was physical. There were power-play goals. There were good penalty kills, great blocks, and great goals. It went back-and-forth and to be able to finish it with three seconds left, pretty incredible. I give our guys a lot of credit with sticking with it.”


“As a regular-season game, it’s got to be up there as one of the biggest wins for our team,” said senior Sam Stevens, who scored the first BU goal by redirecting a Case McCarthy shot from the right point. “I think they’re definitely one of the best teams we played this year. They play hard, they play strong, they’re really structured. They’ve had our number the past couple years too, and it’s really good to see us stick with it. We got down three different times during the game, and our special teams made a big difference.”


Another big factor was the play of the smaller guys. Fensore, Hutson, and Wilmer are all listed as 5-9 or less. Playing against some tall skaters with big strides, the smaller stature of several Terriers appears to be not a bug but a feature.


“No doubt,” Pandolfo said before elaborating on the play of defensemen Fensore and Hutson. “Those guys started getting active on the blue line, and they can attack. They do such a good job of slipping by guys just with one head fake or one shoulder fake, and they’re so good on their edges. They really started attacking, those two guys, and no doubt it can be an advantage against bigger players that aren’t as quick.”


Stevens agreed. “They might be small, but they have a huge heart, and they play the game the right way. They love taking guys on one-on-one, regardless if they’re as tall as them or 6-4. When you see those guys dance on the blue line, it’s pretty special to see.”

“Especially at the blue line, we play more of a man-on-man game,” left wing Luke Tuch said afterwards. “Occasionally they’ll switch off down low and swarm you. Dom was taking guys one-on-one all game, going down the boards and beating them wide.


“Obviously you want to blow teams out, but that was unbelievable,” Tuch added. “Our top players stepped up, made some big plays, and our role players made some great plays, too.”   

While much attention was paid to the third-period heroics of Fensore and Hutson, the game easily could have been out of reach by then if not for the stellar goaltending of junior Drew Commesso. Just 17 seconds after Cornell’s first goal, Commesso came up with a huge save on a backhander by Dalton Bancroft that almost made it 2-0.


After getting walloped in a collision with a Cornell player early in the second period – losing his stick and playing without it for a solid minute – Commesso made two more big saves in the next three minutes before Stevens tied it. Then, at 11:40, he kept the game knotted 1-1 with a pad save on what looked to be a sure goal, again by Bancroft. Likewise, you could not fault Commesso whatsoever on the first two Cornell goals.


“A couple times – especially in the second half of the first period and in the second period – we left him out to dry,” Tuch said. “That’s what great goalies do: They show up in big moments of the game and that’s exactly what he did.”


“He was excellent tonight,” Pandolfo said. “We knew they like to just get around the net and get pucks to the net, get pucks to the crease and battle there, and they did that. Drew had no chance on those goals, and they had some other chances there where he came up with unreal saves. He did a good job of keeping us in the game and allowing us a chance to get back.”


The upshot was a game that will go down as an Agganis Arena classic.

“This one’s up there, I’d say,” Tuch said. “I think we just stuck with it. The emotions? We kept them in check, and I was really proud of our team. That was probably one of the loudest atmospheres I’ve heard here for sure.”


The comeback win capped off a very satisfying week for the Terriers, who won in an entirely different fashion last Wednesday. Playing against then-No. 19/17 UMass, BU stormed onto the ice with four goals in the first period and never looked back, winning 6-2 in what may have been the team’s most dominating performance of the season. The best news was how hard they played in the third period despite the game being well in hand.

“I think as a unit, our consistency that game was about as good as it’s been all year,” Stevens said. “That all starts with how hard we play. If we play hard one through 12 and one through six, we’re a really deep team. If we just get the puck down low and work hard to get it back, we’re a pretty hard team to guard.”


That win also reflected the resilience of the team, which has not lost more than one game in a row this season. Playing against then-No. 16 Michigan Tech in the Desert Hockey Classic the previous weekend, the Terriers fell behind 3-0 early and fought back before not quite managing to tie it the final minutes. They were determined to write a different script on Wednesday.

“I thought we played really well from start to finish that game,” Pandolfo said. “We possessed the puck. I thought we were hard on pucks. I thought we did a really good job. We’re a competitive group. They know how to respond, they take it upon themselves, they take ownership when we don’t play well: They own that.”


The Terriers now have wins against a long list of teams in the top 20 this season. That bodes well for the eventual postseason.

“It just gives us a lot more confidence,” Tuch said. “And I think it gives us more swagger going into next weekend. I think we only have about 13 games left in the season, so we know every period and every game is very valuable to us, and we’re going to play with that swag and that confidence because we know we’ve got a really good team, a really deep team, but we can’t take anything for granted.”

“I think everyone’s bought into the team,” Stevens said. “We have a goal. We want to win championships, and to win championships, you’ve got to put your ego aside and do what’s best for the team and play the right way, regardless, if it’s 4-0 one way or the other. We’re doing a good job of developing our identity. We’ve just got to keep building on that.”

Pandolfo – who knows from experience what it takes to win championships from the NCAA to the Stanley Cup – is making sure that the team doesn’t get ahead of itself.


“Honestly, we take it a game at a time. They have goals – our team, our players – but we don’t speak about it much. I don’t talk much about playoffs or the Frozen Four or anything like that. We just try to take it one game at a time and try to keep getting better and improving as a team.”


There will be more heavyweight bouts for the Terriers to come, especially when it gets to be March. With electrifying water bugs like Fensore and Hutson on the ice, this is a team that definitely can hit above its weight.



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