The NHL’s Olympic withdrawal opened up a seismic opportunity for Commesso, Boston University’s starting goalie and the Hawks’ 2020 second-round pick.
Drew Commesso was keeping a secret.
The Boston University sophomore — and Blackhawks’ top prospect goaltender — had learned the night of Jan. 6 he’d been selected to represent the U.S. in the Winter Olympics. He’d immediately called his parents, and his mom “almost started crying.” But they were the only people he told.
“We had two big games the following days, so I didn’t really want anyone in the [BU] organization to know because I didn’t want it to be a distraction,” he said Wednesday. “I was really just focused on playing two great games for the team and worrying about that news later.”
That Commesso did, saving a combined 61 of 64 shots as the Terriers swept their two-game series against Arizona State, 7-1 and 5-2.
His ability — at just age 19 — to compartmentalize that seismic information to concentrate on the task at hand was impressive. It also demonstrated perfectly why he’ll be trusted to help backstop a patchwork American roster next month in Beijing against European teams stacked with professionals.
The Hawks have high hopes down the road for Commesso, their 2020 second-round pick who has since gone 15-10-4 with a .912 save percentage in his first 31 NCAA appearances. Since Thanksgiving, he’s 5-0-1 with a .948 save percentage.
In the meantime, though, Commesso might actually be the Hawks’ lone 2022 Olympian, with Patrick Kane, Seth Jones, Alex DeBrincat, Lukas Reichel, Dominik Kubalik, Philipp Kurashev and Marc-Andre Fleury having all lost their opportunities to compete when the NHL pulled out last month.
It’s a “surreal” feeling for Commesso, considering his vivid memories of watching Jonathan Quick tend goal for the U.S. in Sochi in 2014 while sitting in the basement of his Massachusetts family home.
And after losing last month his own last opportunity to compete in the World Junior Championships, which were abruptly canceled due to COVID-19 cases, this Olympic shot has taken on even more meaning.
“All the stuff was going on at World Juniors, and one of my best friends, [Senators prospect] Jake Sanderson, and I were on the bus,” he said. “We looked at each other when some of the [Olympic] news came out and were like, ‘This could be a possibility for us.’ We were keeping our fingers crossed.”
Commesso might start out third on the U.S.’s goalie depth chart. Strauss Mann, a 23-year-old Connecticut native currently playing in the Swedish league, and Pat Nagle, a 34-year-old Michigan native with 11 seasons of AHL and ECHL experience, are also on the roster.
It’ll nonetheless provide valuable experience for a teenager who already acts, talks and plays like a veteran.
He credited lessons learned from the popular Jeff Olsen self-help book “The Slight Edge” for changing his “perspective and attitude,” turning his season around. Among his new habits: waking up early to stretch, read and jot down thing he’s looking forward to, and winding down before bed by unplugging, applying essential oils and reflecting on his day.
On the ice, he has worked to improve his skating and maneuverability in particular, calling this his “biggest season of development” yet.
The Hawks are watching closely; Commesso said he’s “so grateful for the amount of people from the Hawks organization that have reached out to congratulate” him. After the season, they’ll sit down to discuss future plans, although it’d seemingly make sense for him to return to Boston for his junior year before signing a contract.
He has something rather big to think about first, though. The US team will arrive in China on Feb. 4, just over two weeks from now.
“There’s so many stages [of hockey], and the international stage is just one of them,” he said. “I’ll just try to keep the most basic mindset: ‘It’s still a puck, and these players are still players, and my job is to go out there and stop the puck.’”