NCAA hockey tournament preview: BU vs. RIT

Quinn Hutson, Macklin Celebrini, Luke Tuch and Ty Gallagher celebrate after a Boston University goal. Photo Courtesy of John Ratner/

By Chloe Wojtanik

Boston University News Service

Boston University has played 75 different programs since its first college hockey game in 1918. When BU and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) face off during the first round of the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship tournament, that total will rise to 76 different programs. 

The Tigers, who won the Atlantic Hockey championship last Saturday, made the transition from Division II to Division I during the 2005-06 season and have only made the NCAA tournament three times prior to this year; so the Terriers haven’t had much of an opportunity to face this new foe. 

“I haven’t looked into them too much yet,” BU Head Coach Jay Pandolfo said. “Obviously, we don’t see them during the regular season, so we’ll start watching some video on them and prepare like we do with most teams.”

The Terriers will look to bounce back in this tournament after their disappointing showing in the Hockey East championship game, where they were dominated by BC and lost 6-2. BU allowed Boston College to score on all four of its power play opportunities, and BC freshman Will Smith put on a clinic for the Terriers as he scored four goals himself in the win. 

“You have to have a short memory this time of year,” said Pandolfo. “There’s still a lot of hockey to play, and we want to get it done. More for us now, it’s putting it behind us. I think we understand as a group how to play and what it looks like to have success, and we’ve got to get back to that mindset.”

RIT has an impressive defenseman on their team that BU will need to look out for, especially when he has the puck on his stick in the Tigers’ offensive zone: Gianfranco Cassaro, a fifth-year defenseman that transferred from UMass, racked up 17 goals and 19 assists in 39 games this season. Cassaro leads RIT in power-play goals with eight and has more goals than any defenseman in the nation. Yes, even more goals than BU’s star defenseman Lane Hutson. 

BU is an extremely young team. Their best player, Macklin Celebrini, who was recently named the Hockey East rookie and player of the year, is just 17 years old. On the flip side, RIT has 11 players in their starting lineup who are at least 23 years old. It’s going to be a challenge for a young BU team to play to the mature style and level that RIT brings to the ice. 

“It’s been like that the whole year,” Celebrini said. “Every team has their older guys and younger guys. Obviously, they’re an older team; more experienced, mature. We’re excited to play them and see what they bring.”

Although there’s two regionals locations in the New England area, Providence, Rhode Island and Springfield, Massachusetts, the tournament selection committee has decided to send BU and RIT to play in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While the other three Hockey East teams in the tournament get to drive on a bus to their games, BU had to hop on a plane for a not so little road trip. 

“I don’t think it really matters to us,” Celebrini said. “Wherever we get put, we get put, and we just have to deal with it and bring our A game.”

“It’s awesome,” graduate student forward Sam Stevens, who played for the Sioux Falls Stampede during his junior hockey days, said. “Sioux Falls is a good spot; we’re excited to go there. It’ll be fun.”

The puck will drop between BU and RIT on Thursday, March 28 at 5:00 P.M. at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, and BU fans can catch all the action on ESPNU and ESPN+. The winning team will go on to play the winner of the Minnesota and Omaha game in the second round of the tournament. 

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