Following his team’s 5-3 win over the University of North Dakota, Boston University men’s hockey head coach David Quinn was more than breathing a sigh of relief. With North Dakota making a last-minute surge, overtime looked like more of a reality with each passing second.
“Hopefully we’re going to learn some lessons tonight,” Quinn said. “We dodged some bullets, but we’re living another day.”
The Terriers (28-7-5) did indeed dodge some major bullets during that late stretch, which propelled BU to its first berth in the NCAA Tournament championship since 2009, and 11th overall.
Freshman center Jack Eichel finished with three points (two goals, one assist), including the all-important empty-net goal in the waning seconds of the game. But it wasn’t just Eichel, as some other unsung heroes came up huge.
Here’s a look at some of went right and wrong from the Frozen Four semifinal:
Eichelmania rolls on
The North Chelmsford product pretty much has a permanent spot in this section of the blog, and for good reason. You don’t have the year he’s having and not get some positive recognition. Thursday night just added to what has been the best freshman season in Division I college hockey since Paul Kariya’s rookie campaign in 1992-93.
He scored BU’s first goal 4:59 into the game on a backhander down low and set up a game-changing goal (more on that a bit lower down) midway through the second period. But his goal with 18.5 seconds left in the third period from the defensive zone all but ended any chance of a North Dakota comeback.
According to Eichel, though, the credit for the goal shouldn’t go to him, but to the weathered playing surface.
“I just tried to put it on net. To be honest, I thought it was going wide,” Eichel said. “I think it hit a divot in the ice and rolled in. It was a lucky play but Grizzy [junior captain Matt Grzelyck] and [senior assistant captain Cason] Hohmann made a spectacular play in the corner to ice the game.”
Rut in the ice or not, Eichel had a goal and his 70th point in the season. That hasn’t been accomplished at BU since forward Shawn McEachern had 84 in the 1990-91 season.
A special year for the freshman has a chance to end with a championship and a Hobey Baker Award. There were obviously high expectations coming in, but it’s fair to say his performance probably has exceeded whatever people pegged him for at the beginning of the season.
Greer turns the tables
Without the play of junior goaltender Matt O’Connor and some help from the goal posts, North Dakota (29-10-3) could have very well scored three or four times in the second period.
For the first 10 minutes in the middle frame, the puck essentially never left the BU zone. UND already had one goal in the period, and continued to search for one more. Momentum was swinging and it sure looked like someone was bound to score.
A goal was scored, but it wasn’t from North Dakota. It was from freshman forward A.J. Greer.
Off a bad UND change, Eichel jumped on the ice and passed the puck over to a wide-open Greer just to the right of the slot. Greer unleashed a powerful one-timer that snuck under goaltender Zane McIntyre’s pads for BU’s third goal. Instead of the game being tied, the Terriers went up by two. Talk about momentum swing.
“He works on his shot a lot, and I wasn’t surprised at all,” Eichel said of Greer. “He’s got a great one-timer. It was a big goal in the game. Gave us a little bit of cushion.”
Greer, who moved up to BU’s second line earlier in the postseason, scored his first goal in over three months. His play over the last few weeks, though, has been some of the best hockey he’s played since coming to BU. Sarah will have more on that in her sidebar.
An emphatic recovery
The puck slid along the end boards and freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey went to try and coral it. As Hickey went to do this, he was slammed hard up against the wall by UND forward Tucker Poolman. Hickey was knocked down on the ice to both knees, clearly shaken up.
It took him awhile to gather himself, but he skated back to the BU bench. He wouldn’t stay put there for long, though. He made his next shift with BU’s second power-play unit, and boy did he make the most of it.
Standing at the left point, he ripped a one-timer off Hohmann’s feed to extend BU’s lead to two goals late in the first period. Give credit to not only his toughness, but the quick recovery to get back on the ice and contribute.
Uncharacteristic strong start
How many times has the narrative been played out that BU starts slow but finishes strong? More times than one can count on one hand. But that wasn’t the story this game. Thursday, the Terriers looked ready to go from the outset and got a strong forecheck going in the first few shifts.
BU held an advantage in shots through the first 10 minutes (9-9 after 20), and eventually a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes.
“It was exciting to see the way we started playing at a pace and possessing the puck,” Quinn said on the first period. “And I think I looked up at one point, the shots were 7-0, seven minutes into the game.”
One that they’d like to have back
There would be no better way to take control of a game than on a power-play chance with a three-goal lead late in the third period. It was an ideal situation for BU, which looked like it had UND down and out. One fortuitous bounce later, though, and North Dakota was right back in the game.
O’Connor mishandled the puck behind his own net, and UND’s lone forechecker, Troy Stecher, tapped the puck into an open net at 12:10 of the third. The goal seemed to energize a seemingly downcast North Dakota team. BU was lucky enough to weather the storm that followed.
Getting into penalty trouble is never a good thing, and against a quality team like UND, it could very well change the outcome of a game. North Dakota seemingly had the puck deep each time it went to a power-play, which ended up leading to two goals and a 50-percent success rate.
Even when BU would find a way to clear the puck, there was little pressure at the defensive blue line to stop another entry into the zone.