MADISON, Wisconsin — No late-game deflections were needed this time for the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team.
Behind freshman forward Jack Eichel’s four points, the Terriers (12-3-4, 7-1-2 Hockey East) cruised to a 6-1 victory over the University of Wisconsin on Saturday at the Kohl Center.
A new-look first line composed of Eichel, senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues and junior winger Danny O’Regan combined for five of the six goals. For his part, freshman netiminder Connor LaCouvee made 32 saves in his return to the crease.
As always, there were positives and negatives to Saturday night’s game. Here’s an in-depth look at the pluses and minuses:
Eichel’s big night
If there were any fears that the freshman was in the midst of a slump, Eichel allayed those — and then some.
Trailing by a goal early in the second period, the Terriers were in need of a goal to get back in the game. Eichel came through.
As he skated in through the left wing, he had the opportunity to feed Rodrigues as he charged low to the net. But instead of making a cross-ice pass, Eichel dangled through multiple defenders, turned around and fired a wrister that Badgers (2-12-2) goaltender Joel Rumpel had little chance to stop.
Eichel connected on his second goal of the game on a power-play opportunity as he threw a puck in between a well-placed screen in front of the net. On the man advantage midway through the third, it appeared like Eichel might have scored his third of the night, but O’Regan deflected the puck past Rumpel, so the freshman was credited with the assist.
As if he didn’t have enough spaces on the stat sheet filled, the North Chelmsford native started a shorthanded 2-on-1 with O’Regan, who tapped the puck into a gaping net at 11:32 in the final period.
BU coach David Quinn said a down game on Friday fed into a positive one on Saturday.
“I didn’t think he played well and, more importantly, he didn’t think he played well,” Quinn said. “So I knew he was going to bust out for a big night sooner or later.”
Revamped first line clicks
Yes, Eichel had a stellar night, but his linemates weren’t too shabby either. Instead of Oksanen playing at one of the wing spots, Quinn shook things up and bumped Rodrigues up, while Oksanen slid into the second unit. The move paid off, as the new trio finished with 10 combined points.
O’Regan scored two goals off of Eichel primary helpers, and Rodrigues finished the night off with a goal in which he toe dragged around a diving Badgers defenseman and wristed the puck high over Rumpel.
The addidtion of Rodriuges to the group didn’t affect the chemistry the line previously had, O’Regan said after the game.
“Ahti’s got a big-time shot, but Evan’s just a great player,” O’Regan said. “He’s got great vision and [he’s] really creative. It’s really fun playing with him, he opens stuff up and creates a lot of offense.”
LaCouvee returns in a big way
It had not been since Nov. 30 that the freshman started a game. If he had any cobwebs, it didn’t show. It was his best game since opening night in Amherst.
He finished the night with 32 saves, including 17 in the third period alone. It was not just the saves he made, but the way he made them that stood out. Time and time again he used his right pad to kick away most rebound attempts to the side boards.
“I thought he played very well, Quinn said of his goaltender. “Made some big saves and did a lot of good things.”
His only blemish came two minutes into the second period when forward Jedd Soleway jammed a loose puck into the net.
Olsson continues physical play
For a long stretch in the first half of the season, the Terriers were without the 6-foot freshman forward. Since Nikolas Olsson’s return to the lineup on Jan. 3, BU has benefitted from his gritty efforts.
The freshman seems to find his way fighting for the puck near the boards or down low in the crease. This is exactly how he found the back of the net Saturday. As he pushed to the net after an initial shot from sophomore forward Nick Roberto, Olsson bounced on the rebound and deposited the puck into the cage for his second goal in three games.
“You know when he’s out there, he’s a big, wide body, Quinn said. “He’s got good hands, he’s got good skill. He’s a guy that we missed when he was out of the lineup.”
Too many chances allowed in third period
Up 3-1 to start the third period, the Terriers sat back and let Wisconsin rack up offensive-zone time. In just the first few minutes, the Badgers held a 6-0 shot advantage in the frame.
Although BU scored three goals in the final 20 minutes, Wisconsin outshot the Terriers 17-12 to end the game. Quinn said the problems that led to so many Wisconsin chances need to be addressed.
“We were just way too sloppy, Quinn said. “We were much better than we were last night, but still, we can’t just give 17 shots up in the third period with a 3-1 lead. We have to play smarter hockey than that — we recognize that, we know that.”