By: Dan Shulman
BU Men’s Ice Hockey vs. North Dakota (NCAA Tournament West Regional) Scheels Arena – Fargo, North Dakota – March 24, 2017
ABOUT THE OPPONENT
Location – Grand Forks, North Dakota; Mascot – Fighting Hawks; This Year’s Record – 21-15-3 (11-12-1 NCHC), 2-1-0 on neutral ice, ND leads all-time series 12-10-2; Fun Fact – North Dakota has made four of the last six Frozen Fours, including three consecutive appearances.
The Boston University Terriers will embark on its 2017 NCAA Tournament trek with a journey out west to the Black Hills for a date with West Regional host school North Dakota.
The Terriers, acting as the home team this weekend, fell to the seventh overall seed following a Friday night loss to Boston College in the Hockey East Semifinals at TD Garden. The Eagles opened up a three-goal lead over BU early in the third before the Terriers pulled their goalie and scored twice. But the comeback fell short when BC’s defense stalled the puck in the last ten seconds to thwart any of BU’s offensive zone chances.
“Right now, I think we’re playing pretty good hockey,” said BU Head Coach David Quinn. “The last few weekends I think we’ve played well. There’s been a couple times we haven’t gotten the results we’ve wanted. We’ve played a much smarter brand of hockey and done a good job defensively.”
North Dakota will take the short journey down the I-29 corridor from Grand Forks as the tenth-overall seed and the #3 seed in the West. The Fighting Hawks fell in the championship game of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference to the top seed in the West, Minnesota-Duluth, 4-3. North Dakota tied the game on the power play with under three minutes to play, only to see Duluth regain the lead two minutes later, also on the man-advantage.
Ohio State will join North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Boston University in Fargo after a loss in the Big Ten semifinals to Wisconsin, 2-1. The Terriers were paired against the Buckeyes in the Northeast Regional during BU’s 2009 National Championship run, besting Ohio State 8-2. BU also met both Duluth and North Dakota in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
BU and North Dakota played a memorable Frozen Four bout at TD Garden in Boston back in April of 2015. The Terriers earned a 5-3 victory, staving off a late comeback bid from the Fighting Hawks. BU scored a handful of goals against Hobey Baker finalist and current Boston Bruin, Zane McIntyre in the win.
This season, North Dakota is led by a trio of talented underclassmen – Brock Boeser, Tyson Jost, and Shane Gersich. Many people favored Boeser as a preseason Hobey Baker candidate, but injuries shortened the sophomore’s season by eight games and forced him out of the World Junior Tournament. Boeser has potted 16 goals and added 17 assists in just 31 contests for ND this season.
His teammates Gersich and Jost have combined for 263 shots on goal this season along with +17 and +18 ratings respectively. Gersich is the team leader in goals with 21 and points with 37. Freshman Tyson Jost played alongside Dante Fabbro as the only two NCAA representatives for Team Canada at the 2017 WJC. Jost’s 35 points are second to Gersich for ND and sixth-best among freshmen in the nation.
“We’ve faced a lot of good lines throughout the season and this is as good of a line as we’ve seen,” said Coach Quinn. “Our defensive philosophy doesn’t change no matter who we play. We’ve got to make sure our second defender get into the play quickly.”
Defensively, Tucker Poolman leads the Fighting Hawks skaters with 23 assists and a +18 rating. He is 13th among NCAA defensemen in scoring and 12 of his points have come on North Dakota’s 19.2% power play. Poolman has 49 blocked shots this season, third-best on the team.
In net for North Dakota will be Cam Johnson. The 2016 Mike Richter Award finalist had a rough middle of the season but rebounded just in time for the playoffs. With a .904 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average, Johnson also has four shutouts to his credit for the season.
“At this level, you can’t create offense unless you have a net-front presence,” said Coach Quinn. “If you’re going to have success, you have to have people at the net.”
For the Terriers, Clayton Keller continues to look like an NHLer already with a team-leading 42 points. The 2016 seventh-overall pick of the Arizona Coyotes is currently on an eight-game point streak and has recorded at least one point in all but three games this season.
Another forward who has looked good lately is Ryan Cloonan. Although it’s been 64 games since the sophomore last found the back of the net, his speed and puck-handling ability has been second-to-none. Cloonan continues to generate chances and has been a solid two-way player for BU this season.
The injury front for BU is looking better. Although Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson missed a couple days of practice earlier this week with an illness, the Swede should be ready to go on Friday. Nikolas Olsson has also returned to practice for the first time since breaking his leg back in late January against Merrimack. Olsson is not quite ready for game action but is progressing nicely and could be ready for the Frozen Four if the Terriers progress to that stage.
On defense, John MacLeod has been a bright spot for the inconsistent Terriers’ defense. The junior made his return to the lineup after missing a game with an undisclosed injury. MacLeod’s size makes him a physical presence on the blue line while his long reach and strong shot make him a threat in all three zones of the ice. The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect also has 44 blocked shots this season.
Jake Oettinger will be in net for BU this weekend as the Terriers look to make waves in the NCAA Tournament. The freshman had a few shaky moments in Friday’s loss to BC, but has been a solid net-minder all season. Oettinger’s .927 SV% is just shy of the legendary John Curry’s single season record (.929) and his 2.09 GAA is ninth in the nation.
“He’s been a big part of our success this year,” said Coach Quinn. “You’re only going to go as far as your goaltending takes you and you can’t survive at this time of year without a great goalie. He’s been on the big stage before and I don’t think he’s going to be affected by it.”
Puck drop for Friday’s game is scheduled for 3 p.m. EST and can be heard live on mixlr.com/wtbusports. It will be the first game of the 2017 NCAA Tournament with a sellout crowd expected to be on hand at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
PREDICTION – BU Wins
Many have already written the Terriers off in this game given the proximity to campus and the predominantly-North Dakota crowd. However, BU has shown its grit and determination when tested and a challenge could be valuable for this team. A road trip could draw the team together as a motivating force and BU could skate away as the winners, stunning Fargo.
BU’s THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
- Keep Composure
The Terriers are a young team but several members of the squad have experience hostile environments before, such as during the World Junior Championships. While North Dakota is a very experienced group, the Terriers are loaded with talent and can knock-off the Fighting Hawks by staying composed.
- Consistent Attacking Pressure
The Terriers played well in the first period of last Friday’s game only to let off in the second and much of the third periods. BU needs to overwhelm the Fighting Hawks, which have handily outshot its opponents by a +338 margin.
- Cut off Passing Lanes
North Dakota has displayed some quality puck-movement over the season and can carve apart opposing defense in a hurry. The Terriers will need to play tight defense by being physical and limiting North Dakota’s offensive options.