Pluses and Minuses: BU claims 8th Hockey East title in program history

Matt O'Connor. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Matt O’Connor. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

For the way this past month has gone for the No. 3 Boston University men’s hockey team, two weeks without a championship trophy must’ve felt like an eternity. The Terriers made sure Saturday night that they wouldn’t go empty-handed.

BU (25-7-5) rolled to a decisive 5-3 win over the No. 12 University of Massachusetts Lowell, taking home the Hockey East championship at TD Garden. It’s the eighth time BU has accomplished this and first since 2009.

“I just couldn’t be happier for our players,” said head coach David Quinn. “Because I know what a special feeling this is. As great of players as these guys are, they’re unbelievable kids, they’re unbelievable people. And I can’t tell you how happy I am for them.”

Freshman center Jack Eichel led the way with three points (two goals, one assist) en route to being named Hockey East Tournament MVP.

Of course, not everything was coming up roses for the Terriers. We’ll take a look at the good and the bad in this edition of Pluses and Minuses.

Pluses

Eichel does it again

What more can be said about this freshman from North Chelmsford? Each time he steps on the ice, it seems like he finds a way to outdo himself. Saturday was much the same.

He used his speed and puck skills to either create or score three of BU’s five goals. His toe-dragging goal through the right circle at 15:02 in the first period was a thing of beauty.

Sarah will have much more to say on Eichel in her sidebar.

Making the most of the situation

There were two times in this game where Lowell (21-12-6) fell into bad defensive position and BU had great 2-on-1 opportunities. Both times ended with a BU celebration.

The first one, early in the second period, started with a strong defensive play by sophomore blueliner Doyle Somerby. He fed freshman winger A.J. Greer, who was on the rush with senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann. The senior held the puck for a few seconds until he got into the low portion of the right circle, then slid the puck through goaltender Kevin Boyle’s pads for a goal.

The score put the Terriers up by two, but the one that extended the lead to three goals might’ve even been better. With 45 seconds remaining in the second, freshman forward Nikolas Olsson capped off a brilliant goal.

Junior center Matt Lane started the play with a perfect outlet pass from the defensive-zone boards to center ice. Olsson picked up the puck and had junior captain Matt Grzelcyk to his right. He dished to Grzelyck, who in turn passed it back off Olsson’s stick for the goal. Boyle tried to follow the puck, but he had little chance to stop this one.

Grzelcyk’s streak continues

Speaking of BU’s junior captain, he’s been on quite the roll in the second half. He now has 16 points in his last 11 games, with three points in the championship win.

He started off the game with a power-play goal off a feed from Eichel at 13:08 in the first, his 10th goal of the year. What makes that goal total more impressive is the fact that he didn’t have any until 24 games into the season.

But is this offensive stretch all that important to Grzelcyk? Not really.

“It doesn’t mean much to me, it’s not something I pay attention to,” Grzelcyk said. “I think it’s just a product of playing with some great players and I think our team in general has really barreled down.”

Quinn attributes Grzelcyk’s play over the past two months to a combination of work ethic and ability.

“He just wants to be the best player he can possibly be, he’s incredibly competitive and tough,” Quinn said. “This kid practices like it’s a game, which is a hard thing for players his age to do. He sets the tone in practice, he works on his game, he’s coachable. He wants to be the best player he can be.”

Line change pays off for Greer

It’s hard to think that BU is experimenting at this point in the season, but that’s exactly what has happened.

Starting in Friday’s game, Greer moved up to the second line left wing position, while sophomore forward Robbie Baillargeon slipped to the third line. Greer, who’s been in and out of the lineup this season, has made the most of the move.

He had four shots on goal with two breakaways against the University of New Hampshire and added two more chances on net Saturday.

Greer finished with one point on the weekend, but his play, at least from just watching, was better than that. His combination of physical and skilled play was fun to watch.

O’Connor and Rodrigues get well-deserved honor

Neither senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues nor junior goaltender Matt O’Connor were named the conference first team. They can, however, take some consolation in the fact they were named to the Hockey East All-Tournament Team.

Rodrigues has been a helping hand on the offensive end through most of the season. He continued that trend in the postseason tournament, finishing with seven assists — a Hockey East Tournament record.

As Quinn noted Friday night, O’Connor essentially stole away multiple goals from UNH (19-19-2) in the first period. His presence was important, as a young defensive corps made uncharacteristic mistakes in front of him. Through the first three games of the tournament, he allowed just three combined goals.

He made some terrific saves Saturday night, including this fantastic glove stop in the second period.

“You win with everybody on the roster, you win with everybody within your program,” Quinn said. “I just couldn’t be happier for everybody associated with our team because after what we all went through last year, for people like Matt [Grzelcyk], and Cason, and E-Rod, and OC, and Laner, and all the guys that returned, they would not be denied.”

Minuses

Penalty hurts momentum
Lowell was letting the game slip away after Eichel’s goal late in the first period, and pendulum was swinging in BU’s favor. With one penalty, though, the complexion, at least early in the game, flipped.

Freshman defenseman John MacLeod, who had a good weekend, was called for an arguably questionable elbowing penalty with less than two minutes left in the first. Six seconds later, Lowell had a goal. Instead of being up by two, the Terriers held a one-goal lead heading to the first intermission. It’ll be tough to get away with that in the NCAA Tournament.