Blackhawks encouraged by progress of prospects Drew Commesso, Ryan Greene at Boston University

Commesso, whose goaltending has been particularly sharp since Christmas, and Greene, who has exceeded all expectations as a freshman forward, have helped BU climb to No. 3 in the NCAA.

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Blackhawks goalie prospect Drew Commesso tends the crease.

Blackhawks goalie prospect Drew Commesso is having another good season at Boston University.

Kyle Prudhomme/BU Athletics

With a virtual-reality headset over his eyes and noise-cancelling headphones over his ears, Blackhawks prospect Drew Commesso probably looks more like an astronaut than a goalie.

But with that VR headset, he’s using an app called Sense Arena that simulates hockey situations to improve reaction time. With those headphones, he’s pumping in crowd noise at full volume to desensitize himself to the distraction.

And with that extremely cutting-edge approach to his craft, he believes he’s only getting better.

“I’ll just do drills where it focuses on a one-on-one situation where a player will come down [the ice], situations where the crowd will be louder,” Commesso said. “That helps prepare me for the game [so] the crowd noise doesn’t really affect me. I can just focus on stopping pucks. It’s a new era of training, but it’s definitely helped me a ton this year. I have absolutely noticed a difference.”

Commesso is one of two elite Hawks prospects at Boston University, which is 20-7-0 and ranked No. 3 in the NCAA. Freshman forward Ryan Greene has been a big surprise as a major offensive contributor, as well.

BU goalie coach Brian Daccord introduced Commesso to Sense Arena. He now spends 20 minutes on it per day (in addition to normal team practice), perfecting his tracking through traffic and quickening his reaction speed without physically exhausting himself. He sharpens his mind with non-hockey-specific cognitive function exercises, too.

Commesso has also worked with Daccord this season to improve his skating ability, considering that another strength of his.

“I want to beat pucks before they get to the passer, instead of meeting them there, and part of that is staying low and at a steady level,” Commesso said.

012723_BUvsBC_KylePrudhomme_0912.jpeg

Drew Commesso has been particularly sharp since Christmas.

Kyle Prudhomme/BU Athletics

He’s 15-5-0 with a .910 save percentage and 2.65 goals-against average this season.

Those numbers are a bit worse than his .914 and 2.52 last season, but not worryingly so. BU’s aggressive offensive system also leads to him facing a fair number of high-danger counterattacks, which don’t help his stats but probably do help him prepare for the NHL. And since Christmas, he has been stellar by any measure, going 9-2-0 with a .919 save percentage and 2.38 GAA.

“Goaltending is so mental, [and with] the little mental things I’ve been doing...I’ve noticed such an improvement in my readiness and my mindset,” Commesso said. “This year from last year, I’ve made such a big jump. I’m really happy where my game is. But I know there’s a ton of room for growth.”

Hawks assistant general manager Mark Eaton, who oversees prospect development, likes how “self-aware” Commesso is of “what he needs to do.”

Eaton is hoping BU can make a deep postseason run, though, to get Commesso more experience in terms of games played. He has made only 60 appearances in his college career so far, having missed time due to the pandemic and his impressive showing in the 2022 Olympics.

Fortunately for Eaton’s interests, a deep postseason run seems rather likely. Commesso, a Massachusetts native, called this the best BU team in years.

He’s likely to sign a pro contract with the Hawks at season’s end, joining Arvid Soderblom and Jaxson Stauber as the three prospects competing to be the Hawks’ future star in net. But he’s understandably concentrating on this college season and the “buzz around campus” right now.

“It’s pretty natural to think about [signing], but...Chicago has been great with me about letting me focus here at BU,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll talk once everything is over.”

Greene pastures

Eaton’s trips to Boston have also allowed him to watch Ryan Greene, a Hawks second-round pick last summer whose stock has risen even higher in the time since.

Greene, a center from Newfoundland, has experienced no difficulties translating his USHL junior-hockey production from last season (51 points in 59 games for Green Bay) to the NCAA level this season, tallying 22 points in 25 games for BU so far.

“He thinks the game well [and he’s] good on both sides of the puck, which is so important as a center,” Eaton said. “That transition from USHL to college isn’t always an easy one, but he has made that transition well. That’s due to his hockey sense and his ability to get up and down the ice.”

Ryan Greene skates with the puck.

Ryan Greene has been productive as a freshman this season.

Kyle Prudhomme/BU Athletics

He models his game after Flames center Elias Lindholm, having been told that comparison so many times that he eventually embraced it, and the Hawks would surely be thrilled if he evolves into anything close to a Lindholm-like player.

“He’s a big player and he’s a strong, fast, and super smart,” Greene said. “A lot of the same attributes that drive my game drive his as well.”

Greene impressed at Team Canada’s training camp ahead of the world junior championships, but he was surprisingly cut from the final roster. As a 19-year-old, he won’t get another chance next year to participate.

He felt he was “deserving” of a spot — a sentiment shared by many in the hockey world — and has used the snub as fuel.

“Honestly, it was upsetting,” he said. “The first few days, you’re a little bit down on yourself. Once you get those first few days over with, you realize you can just use it as motivation. At least I did, personally. It still motivates me every day, and I’m sure it will for a while.”

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