Jack Eichel is a Stanley Cup champion, and boy was it a winding road for the former-Terrier to finally reach the top of the heap.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Eichel said to ESPN postgame. “Relief. There are so many emotions going through your body at that moment. It’s a really special feeling.”
The Vegas Golden Knights’ 9-3 victory in Game 5 over the Florida Panthers secured the franchise’s first championship in only six years of existence.
The trophy at the end of the tunnel also seemingly validated the hardships Eichel, 26, has had to overcome throughout his eight seasons in the NHL.
“A lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Eichel said of his journey. “Everything that has happened in my life has brought me to this position. It’s the way I kind of looked at things. Sometimes you have to go through some adversity and some tough times to make you a better person and better player.”
To rehash the saga, Eichel herniated a disk in his neck in March 2021 while playing for the Buffalo Sabres –– the team who drafted the center second-overall in 2015.
There was conflict over the treatment of Eichel’s injury. The then captain wanted to undergo artificial disk replacement, but Buffalo insisted Eichel get fusion surgery. Due to the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, the team had the upper-hand in the decision making, ultimately forcing Eichel out of the lineup until he was traded to Vegas in Nov. 2021.
The Golden Knights management allowed Eichel to choose his course of treatment, officially kickstarting a new era of Eichel’s career. The guys inside that locker room showed Eichel that hockey could be fun again, and he flourished because of it.
“Coming here and being with these guys everyday, it really changed my outlook on a lot of things,” Eichel said to Sportsnet postgame. “I started to really enjoy coming to the rink again.”
“Obviously got my health back and I can’t give the entire organization enough credit for allowing me to come in here, get a surgery and get back out,” Eichel added.
After missing the postseason for the first seven years of his career, Eichel made it all count during Vegas’ 2023 run. Centering the first line with Ivan Barbashev on his left and Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Jonathan Marchessault on the right wing, Eichel led his squad’s offense with spunk and tenacity.
No. 9 collected 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) through 22 playoff games, posting the third-most points in NHL history by a player in their first playoff appearance. Eichel had eight points in the clinching series against Florida, including three primary assists in the dominant 9-3 thumping on Tuesday.
“It’s tough to put into words,” Eichel said to the TNT panel. “The guys in the room, it’s just the most unselfish group in the world. It’s pretty good to do this with them.”
While in Buffalo, many harped on Eichel’s “one-dimensional” offensive style. Eichel threw it all back in their faces with versatile, 200-foot game performances night in and night out during the past few months.
The man had a chip on his shoulder, and his play was better for it.
Eichel had real edge –– especially in the finals –– and added a new layer of grit to his game. He put his body in front of pucks, took and dished out hits. Eichel’s play away from the puck, though, is what really propelled his effectiveness.
Everyone knows the all-star can score, and he sets up his teammates like no other. However, when he didn’t have the rubber on the stick, Eichel was hunting it down on the boards and in the neutral zone, while being a big part of Vegas’ backcheck that completely smothered its opponents.
Eichel rounded-out his game, and he has a Stanley Cup ring to prove it.
Now at the top, Eichel can look back on the people and places that helped him reach the ultimate goal.
“Probably take it back to Chelmsford, Mass,” Eichel said to ESPN about his day with the Cup. “It’s a crazy journey, brings you to Las Vegas to play hockey, winning a Stanley Cup. But, I’ve always been a big believer in remembering where you came from so I think it would be pretty cool to bring it back to Chelmsford.”
Perhaps a stop at Agganis Arena?
While Eichel only played one season in scarlet and white, he indelibly left his mark on the program. Eichel had two goals and two assists in his Terrier debut against UMass. All four points came in the third period in the decisive 8-1 victory.
That was just the beginning.
Through 40 games in the 2014-15 campaign, Eichel amassed 26 goals and 45 assists for a nation-leading total 71 points –– the most ever garnered by a freshman at BU.
Eichel and the Terriers won the 2015 Hockey East title and made it to the national championship game against Providence…that’s all I’m going to say about that!
The first-year phenom won the Hobey Baker award at the end of his collegiate tenure before departing for the pros and remains one of the greats to come out of the program. No matter our NHL loyalties, a Vegas win is a win for Terrier Nation.
“When you’re going on a run like this, it’s hard to process what’s going on while it’s happening,” Eichel said to Sportsnet.” But, when that thing [Stanley Cup] comes out of there, it’s a pretty special feeling.”