By: Dan Shulman
BU Men’s Ice Hockey vs. Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA West Regional Final) – Scheels Arena – Fargo, ND – March 26, 2017
ABOUT THE OPPONENT
Location – Duluth, Minnesota; Mascot – Bulldogs; This Year’s Record – 26-6-7 (15-5-4 NCHC), 5-0-0 on neutral ice, BU leads all-time series 10-8-3; Fun Fact – Rematch of the 2015 Northeast Regional Final in which BU prevailed, 3-2.
The road to Fargo for many includes a flight through Chicago. For Boston University and Minnesota-Duluth, the West Regional Final is all about earning the right to head back to Chicago for a trip to the Frozen Four.
The Terriers did the improbable on Friday by besting North Dakota in a double-overtime thriller featuring everything from disallowed goals to glass-shattering hits. BU became the first Boston school since the 16-team format was introduced to win a regional game it had to fly to, according to the Grand Forks Herald.
“Just so proud of our team,” said BU Coach David Quinn. “A lot of adversity, an incredible atmosphere. These three guys (Keller, McAvoy, Oettinger) played in that gold medal game up in Montreal but you’d be hard-pressed to say it was louder than this building—there was a lot more people in that building—but you’d be hard-pressed to find an atmosphere like this.”
“It was a game we wanted to play in, that wasn’t just coach talk. Our players wanted to play in North Dakota in here to go through this experience. If you want to win national championships, you’ve got to beat great teams like North Dakota and that’s a great team.”
The Terriers saw a 3-1 lead evaporate late in the third period when Ludvig Hoff and Christian Wolanin each scored to send the game into overtime. In the first overtime frame, BU was held without a shot on goal and North Dakota looked to have won until the goal was disallowed for offsides. In double overtime, the Terriers earned a win when Clayton Keller fed Charlie McAvoy back door to end the Fighting Hawks season.
Minnesota-Duluth also captured an overtime victory when Willie Raskob fired a shot from the top of the circle past Ohio State goalie Matt Tomkins. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two periods thanks to goals from Dominic Toninato and Nick Wolff. But the Buckeyes equalized midway through the third to force overtime. Duluth goaltender Hunter Miska had a career-high 40 saves to keep Duluth’s season alive.
“We’ve grinded through games and even when you’re not at your best every game, we found ways to win and tonight was no different,” said UMD Head Coach Scott Sandelin. “We gave up the lead and played on our heels and relied on some great saves from our goaltender to keep it tied and fortunately made a play in overtime to get the win. Certainly excited about moving on and obviously BU is a very good team—like everybody this time of year. Just pretty characteristic of this team.”
It’s de ja vu for BU and Duluth, who met in the Northeast Regional final two years ago. BU came into the game following an overtime win over Yale and the Bulldogs bested Minnesota. The Terriers won that game 3-2 thanks to a late third period goal by Evan Rodrigues.
This season, the Duluth offense is led by Alex Iafallo. The senior has a team leading 18 goals and 29 assists along with 150 shots on goal this season. He is tied for seventh in the nation with five game-winning goals as well.
As a team, Duluth has scored 32 goals since the calendar turned to March, averaging 4.56 goals per game. The Bulldogs are the highest-scoring team in the NCAA in the month of March. However, Duluth has been outshot in its last three games, averaging just 26 shots in that span.
Defensively, Neal Pionk has recorded 32 points (7G, 25A), 17 of which have come on the power play. Pionk has a +22 rating and has been on the ice for 44 Duluth goals this season – a team-high. The sophomore has also blocked 63 shots this year.
In net for Minnesota-Duluth will be Hunter Miska. The freshman has a 25-4-5 record in his rookie campaign, good for the third-most wins in the nation. His .919 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average rank better than his predecessor Kasimir Kaskisuo’s freshman season. Miska has also posted five shutouts this season.
For the Terriers, Clayton Keller has tallied a point in 24 of his last 25 games, only being held without one in BU’s loss to UMass-Lowell back in February. Keller leads the team in both goals (20), assists (24), plus/minus (+15), and shots on goal (136).
Defensively, the Terriers put up a stout effort against a strong North Dakota offense Friday, blocking 51 shots as a team. Junior Brandon Hickey had 17 individually, bringing his season total to a team-leading 75. Freshman Dante Fabbro also has 75 blocks and collected six against the Fighting Hawks.
“Hickey has been a horse for us all year on the back end,” said BU goalie Jake Oettinger. “It’s no shocker to me that he had that many blocks tonight because he lays his body on the line every night for the team. That’s why he’s one of our leaders and he’s definitely a guy that led by example tonight.”
Charlie McAvoy, who scored the game-winner against North Dakota, had arguably his best game in a Terriers uniform on Friday. The sophomore had two points, finished the game with a +2 rating, and blocked four shots.
On special teams, BU has killed off 25 straight penalties for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 regular season. The power play, conversely, has been quiet recently going 0-7 in their last two games, but 4-15 (26.7%) in the playoffs.
The goaltender for BU will be Jake Oettinger on Saturday night. The freshman made a career-high 56 saves Friday, pulling him into a tie for the single-season SV% record at .929. His 2.09 GAA is third best among freshman goalies in NCAA this season.
Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. EST and can be heard live on mixlr.com/wtbusports.
PREDICTION – BU Wins
Despite playing nearly 92 minutes of dramatic hockey in a de facto road game against North Dakota, the Terriers are well-conditioned enough to play well on a quick turnaround. Duluth is a fairly similar team to North Dakota and in its game with Ohio State yesterday, Duluth struggled connecting passes through the neutral zone. If the Terriers exploit this weakness, they have the talent to knock off one of the nation’s best teams.
BU’s THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
- Get Puck to the Net
Duluth goalie Hunter Miska and the Bulldogs defense only allows an average of 27.9 shots on goal per game but were forced into overtime when Ohio State took 42 shots on goal. The Terriers should mimic the Buckeyes’ strategy by throwing as many pucks to the net-front as possible in a game that will likely be close.
Although the Duluth power play has been only 3-22 (13.6%) in the postseason, it has operated at 19.8% throughout the season. This includes a stretch of eight straight games with a power play goal to end the season. The Terriers will be better suited to play a disciplined style of hockey against a power play that can erupt at any time.
- Be Physical
BU is not known for its physicality, but Duluth showed that it struggled when being roughed up by an opponent. If the Terriers can make the transition game in the neutral zone difficult by being physical, BU will gain an advantage.