NCAA Tourney Takes Day 3: BU smothers Cornell, Minnesota cruises past St. Cloud
A brief recap of today’s NCAA tournament games:
No. 5 Boston University 2, No. 13 Cornell 1 (Manchester regional)
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Cornell is a team whose entire game plan, year after year after year, is to deny its opponents scoring opportunities.
It uses big bodies, hockey IQ, and an extremely effective system to achieve this end. If hits were an officially tracked stat in college hockey, they would be at or near the top of the national leaders every single year. Coming into this game, they allowed just 20.6 shots a night.
And BU absolutely, positively dominated the Big Red at their own game. Cornell had just 14 shots on goal, didn't score until the final minute, and the Terriers won 2-1 in a game that might as well have been one of yesterday's eight-goal blowouts for how little they were giving up. Both coaches said after the game that they knew the importance of being the first to score.
Attempts were actually pretty close – 45-40 for Cornell – but the Terriers sold out for 21 blocked shots and made enough of their relatively few chances in the other direction to cobble together a couple goals that proved more than enough to win the game.
"I'm just really proud of this group," said first-year BU coach Jay Pandolfo. "All year long they've been a resilient group, especially in the last month, month and a half. We struggled there around Beanpot time, lost four in a row. But we have come out the other side, and I give them a lot of credit."
It all went that way from the jump, too. Cornell finally put its first shot on goal almost 12 minutes into the game, on the Big Red's only real bout of extended possession in the entire game to that point. And while they created a bit of havoc around the BU goal, nothing really came of it.
Not that the Terriers were doing much to get the puck close to the Cornell goal all that frequently, either, because again, this is very much the Big Red's game and they excel at it. But BU certainly held the puck in the attacking zone and at least nodded toward being a scoring threat for much of the early going.
The teams traded back-to-back power plays but neither could muster much in the way of offence during those four minutes, and the first period ended with shots 4-4, and attempts were 11-11.
There was a good pace to the game, plenty of up-and-down action, but the first period really set the tone for the whole thing; it was gonna be that kind of game, and no one was going to colour too far outside the lines.
But even with neither team giving too much away, BU still had the skill and determination on the forecheck to break through. A broken entry play led to Wilmer Skoog being all alone at the top of the crease, and Jeremy Wilmer (not a typo, by the way – these linemates are named Jeremy Wilmer and Wilmer Skoog) found him with a quick pass from behind the goal. That was his 16th of the season, moving into a tie for the team lead.
Wilmer Skoog (FA) opens the scoring for @TerrierHockey in the regional final.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) March 25, 2023
Jeremy Wilmer (#2023NHLDraft) and Dylan Peterson (#STLBlues) the assists.#NCAATournament pic.twitter.com/Dd8LgEzfzC
"Cornell is a very good team when they have a lead, so I think it was important for us tonight to get that first goal and see if they would press a little," Pandolfo said. "You will be able to open it up a little bit more. We didn't really open it up, but it was important to play with the lead inside the team. I think within their last seven, eight games, they've given up four or five goals, total. So we knew they wouldn't give up that many goals to start with the lead."
Then back to the slog. The only action of real note in the second period came late, when BU's Quinn Hutson created a breakaway for himself with a pokecheck at the defensive blue line, but put it off the post, and Cornell took it right back up the ice. They wouldn't be so lucky on the next BU breakaway opportunity, but for now, that one play was among the very few that broke up a Cornell push to gain just a little more territory in this game of trench warfare.
At the end of the second period, shots were still only 13-11 for BU, and attempts 34-30 for Cornell. No one was getting to the net, and almost a third of total attempts in the game had been blocked. Just an absolute rock fight.
But Ethan Phillips put the game away midway through the third, as he and Matt Brown combined to force a turnover to convert some brief Cornell zone time into a counterattack. Phillips turned on the jets, effortlessly got behind the defense, and while his first shot didn't go, the rebound went straight to him. Ian Shane (19 saves) didn't stand a chance.
Ethan Phillips (#LGRW) goes in alone on the breakaway and sends his own rebound home to give @TerrierHockey a 2-0 lead.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) March 25, 2023
Matt Brown (FA) the lone assist on the play. #NCAATournament pic.twitter.com/OeS1KODdQQ
Drew Commesso (13 saves) was called upon to make a few saves on high-danger chances throughout the game, and he did it. He also got bailed out by a crossbar in the second period, but he's a goalie who's just solid enough that you can count on him to be the last line of defence.
"I have the simplest job in the world, to just stop the puck," Commesso said. "I go in with that mindset every game and obviously some games you're going to have more fans and it's going to be more hectic. But at the end of the day, my job stays the same, to just keep the puck out of the net."
Dalton Bancroft – one of the most Ivy-League names you're gonna come across – broke up the shutout attempt with 28.4 seconds left, scoring an extra-attacker goal after some chaos around the net. BU got in a couple blocks, Commesso made a save or two, but the puck was bouncing around a bit too much for anyone to corral. That made the final moments a little interesting, but Cornell only got one last good look at the goal before the final buzzer.
"Tonight, I think, for whatever reason, we didn't play the team game we played [in a 4-3 loss on Jan. 14] at BU," said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. "We advanced pucks a lot faster, got in on the forecheck, and we scored the first goal of the [January] game. I think that's always key in hockey. When the first one goes in it changes the complexion of the game, and they got it tonight, and then they can play differently."
BU became the first team to advance to this year's Frozen Four, quite the feat for a team that didn't reach 20 wins last season, and changed coaches over the summer.
"A lot of guys came in motivated," Pandolfo said. "We had some freshmen come in that really contributed to our team from up and down our lineup. It really is those guys, credit to them for buying in. It feels great. Without those guys, we are not sitting here today."
No. 1 Minnesota 4, No. 6 St. Cloud State 1 (Fargo regional)
As long as the game was at 5-on-5, Minnesota was comfortable and in control.
Apart from a rampant performance by Veeti Miettinen, the Gophers were able to throw a blanket over most of the rest of the St. Cloud attack. Even still, shots at full strength were 27-17.
But the problem, such as it was, came on special teams. The Gophers got three power plays and didn't even get a shot attempt. They also put the Huskies on five power plays, and conceded a goal on one of them, early in the second period.
This Minnesota offence is highly capable no matter what the game situation, though, and still scored four goals in an otherwise close game, en route to another commanding win.
Not that St. Cloud made it easy. While the Gophers only gave up 28 shots, that required them to block 25 other attempts. But they did it, and Justen Close was there to make most of the rest of the saves.
Minnesota opened the scoring early in the first period, but couldn't extend its lead despite a significant territorial advantage. Penalties were piling up, though, and Adam Ingram cashed in on St. Cloud's third opportunity, just 3:07 into the second period.
Jackson LaCombe led the Minnesota takeover. He set up Logan Cooley's game-winning goal less than three minutes after Ingram tied it, then scored the insurance marker himself halfway through the third. Jaxon Nelson cleared a puck the length of the ice for the empty-netter that put the game away for good.
Logan Cooley (#Yotes) regains the one-goal lead for @GopherHockey on the breakaway.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) March 25, 2023
Jackson LaCombe (#FlyTogether) the assist on the play.#NCAATournament pic.twitter.com/SD5FpPWEmF
In the end, Minnesota outscored opponents 13-3 in this regional and while that obviously flatters their offensive capabilities, it does show how easy it is for them to turn it on and fill the net. They're the No. 1 team in the country for a reason, right?
The winners of today's two games – Minnesota and BU – will meet in the Frozen Four two Thursdays from now.