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.

Pluses and Minuses: BU’s goaltending highlights Hockey East quarterfinal sweep of Merrimack

The No. 3 Boston University men’s hockey team handily advanced to the Hockey East Tournament semifinals with a 5-0 win over Merrimack College on Saturday, sealing the quarterfinal series sweep and a trip to TD Garden next weekend.

Matt O'Connor. PHOTO BY JUSTIN HAWK/DAILY FREE PRESS FILE PHOTO
Matt O’Connor. PHOTO BY JUSTIN HAWK/DAILY FREE PRESS FILE PHOTO

There was plenty to like from BU this weekend, but since we’re us, we found some things to complain about, too. Here are some of both:

Pluses

OC shines
Junior goaltender Matt O’Connor has been solid in net all season for BU, and had yet another stellar performance on Saturday. He turned away 26 Merrimack shots, including 15 saves in the second period, playing 58:58 of shutout hockey.

He even recorded an assist in the game, passing the puck up to freshman forward Jack Eichel during a penalty kill on senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann’s shorthanded goal at 4:11 in the second period.

“It’s usually off of Eichel,” O’Connor joked. “If I can just get it back the forecheckers, maybe I‘ll get lucky. … I’ve really been working on playing the puck, moving it quicker this game, because they have more of a dump style and it really helped us.”

O’Connor was pulled with 1:02 remaining in the game on the brink of the second shutout of his career, however, because there were more important matters to tend to.

Moccia sighting
When BU held a 4-0 advantage with a little more than a minute remaining, it was clear that it would be the last game of the season at Agganis Arena. A third game to determine the series winner between BU and Merrimack wouldn’t be necessary, so all games would be played at a neutral site from there on out.

For several Terriers, it would be their last time ever touching the Agganis Arena ice for a game — including graduate student goaltender Anthony Moccia. BU head coach David Quinn acknowledged that and gave Moccia some time in net for his final game at Agganis.

“At the end of the day, Moccia’s going to remember that for the rest of his life,” Quinn said. “OC I’m sure would’ve loved to have the shutout, but that moment’s going to mean a lot to Moccia than O’Connor finishing the last minute and a half of that game.

“I talked to OC about it, I’m sure initially he was a little bit frustrated, but by the end of it, by the time we were in the locker room, he was beaming and happy as heck for Moccia.”

Was O’Connor fine with the decision?

“Absolutely,” O’Connor said. “It’s not for the stats, it’s playoff hockey and it’s a full-team sport.”

Moccia entered the game when Merrimack had a 6-on-4 man advantage, but stood on his head, even recording a save — the third of his career in just more than 10 total career minutes — to hold Merrimack scoreless in the game.

Defense
Like Friday night, BU played shorthanded on defense, with just five players available due to upper-body injuries to freshman John MacLeod and sophomore T.J. Ryan. But that posed no trouble for BU’s blue liners.

Sophomore Doyle Somerby and freshman Brandon Hickey each had five blocked shots. The team had 16 total in the game.

In addition to holding Merrimack to just two shots on goal during the second period, BU got some work in on offense during the game. Junior captain Matt Grzelcyk scored an empty-netter with 4:21 remaining in the game, and freshmen Brandon Fortunato and Brien Diffley each had an assist apiece.

“I thought all of our D played all weekend,” Quinn said. “All five of them had real good weekends.”

Second period
For the second straight night, the Terriers were able to swarm the Warriors in the second period, recording three in the second frame on Saturday. Conor has more about the team’s second-period play in his sidebar.

Minuses

Chippy play
At the end of the second period, with BU holding a 3-0 lead over Merrimack, tempers began to fly and a post-whistle scrum broke out.

For Merrimack, defenseman Jonathan Lashyn received a roughing penalty and a 10-minute misconduct, and forward Brett Seney received penalties for roughing and cross-checking in addition to a 10-minute misconduct.

Hohmann also received a cross-checking penalty and 10-minute misconduct. Sophomore forward Nick Roberto had a roughing call against him in addition to a 10-minute misconduct of his own.

In all, each team received 38 penalty minutes in the game – a season-high for BU. The Terriers played a very good game, but it’s a major concern when things start to get so chippy — a suspension or injury caused by fighting or a temper tantrum would be the last thing BU needed entering the Hockey East semifinals.

Pluses and Minuses: Terriers down Merrimack 6-2, take game one of Hockey East quarterfinals

In its first game in two weeks and its first of the Hockey East Tournament, the No. 3 Boston University men’s hockey team beat Merrimack College soundly on Friday night, pushing the Warriors aside to the tune of a 6-2 score at Agganis Arena.

Evan Rodrigues. PHOTO BY JUSTIN HAWK/DAILY FREE PRESS FILE PHOTO
Evan Rodrigues. PHOTO BY JUSTIN HAWK/DAILY FREE PRESS FILE PHOTO

With the win, the Terriers put themselves in a position to advance to the conference semifinals if they can grab another victory on Saturday afternoon. And if BU pieces together another performance like the one in the opening game, it’s not unreasonable to think that’s a likely possibility.

Here’s a look into what went right and wrong tonight in this edition of Pluses and Minuses:

Pluses

Larrys and Joes

When a team has the most prolific top line in the country, you can expect a lot of highlight reel goals. And while that was the case for at least one of BU’s tallies on the evening, three of its markers came off second chances near the netmouth.

About 14 minutes into the second period, senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues let a shot fly on goalie Rasmus Tirronen. The netminder made the initial stop, but the puck slid behind him in the crease and sat stationary before freshman center Jack Eichel knocked it in for his first of two goals.

Three-and-a-half minutes later, Rodrigues picked up a puck near on the doorstep as well that had come off a rebound and roofed it from in close under the bar. Junior forward Matt Lane gave the Terriers even more insurance as he batted in a second-chance shot as well to extend the lead to 5-1.

“For the most part, it was just roll your sleeves up and win a battle along the wall and stay with rebounds at the net front and don’t be denied,” said BU head coach David Quinn.

Quinn also noted that he felt his team displayed the grit and toughness required to beat a defensively strong Merrimack team.

“At the end of the day, it comes to, when you throw a puck into the corner, who’s willing to win the battle and the grit and determination,” he said. “I know as coaches, we get caught up in the video and the X’s and the O’s, but it’s more about the Larrys and the Joes and not the X’s and the O’s.”

Offense from defense

For much of the year, the Terrier defense’s proclivity for generating shots and making plays has helped power the second-best team offense in the country. Friday night was no different, as four of the five defensemen dressed for BU tallied at least a point. For more on this, read Sarah’s sider.

Offense against good defense

The Terriers looked locked in from the drop of the puck, outshooting Merrimack 18-4 in the first period and out-attempting the Warriors 29-8. By night’s end, BU would post a 46-shot performance and held Merrimack to just 19.

The victory also marked the Terriers’ third straight game with at least five goals and second consecutive with six. The half dozen pucks that BU put past Tirronen is even more impressive when you take his .928 save percentage into account. And when Merrimack was outshot in both games it played against Northeastern University last weekend, Tirronen stopped 99 of 102 shots faced, good for a .971 sv%.

Before Friday’s game, the Warriors allowed 2.28 goals per game on average, a total that placed them at 13th in the nation.

“Six goals is a lot, especially against that team and that goalie,” Quinn said. “They do a great job defending, and you got to have a physical aspect to your game offensively if you’re going to create chances for yourself and I thought we did that.”

Eichel also pointed out that, with a goalie and defense as stalwart as Merrimack’s, every shot is a good one.

Netting six goals isn’t too shabby, either.

 

Minuses:

The power play (sort of)

Although it’s tough to really harp on this considering the Terriers converted on two of their eight chances with the man advantage,  Quinn said there was still room for improvement, despite firing 20 shots on Tirronen on the power play.

“I didn’t love our power play tonight,” he said. “I know I sound like the grumpy coach, but I thought we kind of slowed it up a little bit. I thought we allowed them to get in shooting lanes, and I was surprised we had 20 shots on the power play, but I think we need to be better. I thought we got a little bit away from doing the things we’ve been doing for the most part all year, thought our pace kind of slowed down a little bit.

“But I’ll take 2-for-8 all day long.”

Pluses and Minuses: Terriers crush Northeastern, clinch conference regular-season title

Jack Eichel. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Jack Eichel. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

What a week it’s been for the No. 4 Boston University men’s hockey team.

From no titles in almost five years, to two titles in one week. The latter, the Hockey East regular-season championship, came Saturday night during BU’s 6-1 win over Northeastern University at Matthews Arena.

In one of the best first periods the team has played all year, BU (21-7-5, 14-5-3 Hockey East) scored four times in the first 16-plus minutes. The Terriers poured it on, yes, but they could’ve technically stopped after the first period. No. 9/10 Boston College had lost, and the conference title was all theirs.

But alas, BU scored twice more in the final 40 minutes in a memorable end to the regular season.

“Tonight, I just thought from the get go, we certainly did a much better job taking away time and space, being more physical with them, trusting each other and obviously we were opportunistic too,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “That’s a hell of a team we just played.”

Here’s a look into what went right and wrong tonight in this edition of Pluses and Minuses:

Pluses

Eichel continues on the Hobey campaign trail

At this point, what hasn’t freshman forward Jack Eichel accomplished? Just about every night he does something special, and Saturday was no different.

He finished the game with three points (two goals and one assist). His first goal was most impressive, skating almost end-to-end and finishing with a shorthanded goal. It was reminiscent of a goal BU scored up at the University of Maine on Nov. 14, though Eichel finished tonight’s play with a goal rather than an assist.

All night he was faster than pretty much everyone out on the ice. Even better than two of his goals was a chance he didn’t score on in the second period. He took the puck from the defensive zone, blew by two NU (16-14-4, 12-8-2 Hockey East) skaters in the neutral zone and then toe-dragged around a third in the offensive end. Eichel backhanded a shot on goal, but it was snuffed out by goaltender Clay Witt.

Quinn noted it wasn’t just a one-man show, and Eichel’s linemates, senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues and junior forward Danny O’Regan, have played a huge role in BU’s success.

“It’s a great line. They all have a work ethic too them,” Quinn. “They all have the ingredient you’re going to need to have a great line. Number one, they’ve all got great skills. Number two, they’ve got hockey intelligence. And number three, they’ve got a great competitiveness to them — all three of them.

“And when you add that up, you get a line that’s dangerous every time they’re on the ice.”

Eichel now has 55 points this season, tying Colin Wilson’s mark from 2008-09. Wilson did it in 43 games. Eichel accomplished it in 32.

More points from Ahti

Junior winger Ahti Oksanen made the transition from the blue line to the forwards corps this season look almost seamless. He arguably has the best one-timer on the team, and just always seems to be in the right spot with just enough space to create a chance.

After tonight’s performance, Oksanen added four more points (two goals and two assists) to his season total. And as much as his shot has been his best asset, the highlight on Saturday came on an incredible pass he made.

It took just a little over 10 seconds for BU to score on its first power-play chance of the night because of the Oksanen feed. Holding the puck near the crease, Oksanen made a no-look, through-the-legs pass to a wide-openO’Regan, who potted his 19th goal of the season.

By the end of the night, Oksanen had 32 points, just adding to his career-high year.

Love Moccia 

Graduate student goaltender Anthony Moccia had played in only six minutes of regular-season game action in his college career. With 3:19 to go in the game and the Terriers up five goals, Quinn pulled junior netminder Matt O’Connor for Moccia. For more on this, read Conor’s sidebar.

Power play excels

They’re the N0. 1 power-play unit in the conference for a reason. They’re fast, they move the puck well and they generally find the open man. With the man advantage tonight, the Terriers went 3-for-6, while looking good in the process.

The real impressive shift came during BU’s 5-on-3 chance late in the second period. There were plenty of good opportunities and crisp passes made on the attack, eventually leading to Oksanen’s goal off an Eichel missed shot. Eichel, would get his chance, though, and he added a power-play goal with less than two minutes to play in the third.

BU’s man advantage percentage now sits at 27.1 percent, almost six percentage points better than the second-highest spot in the conference.

Minuses 

Roy strikes again

When in doubt, if BU plays Northeastern, just assume junior Kevin Roy will have at least a point. He had 10 points in eight career games against BU coming into Saturday, including a hat trick in the 2013 Beanpot semifinal. He added one more tonight in the first period.

It was Northeastern’s only goal, but he beat O’Connor clean with a nice wrist shot from the left circle. Every time he plays BU, he seems to do something that kills the Terriers.

Playing the puck behind the net

Northeastern’s game-winning goal against BU in that 2013 Beanpot semis, of course from Roy, came courtesy of a bad turnover from O’Connor behind the net. A similar play happened in the second period tonight.

O’Connor had trouble connecting on a pass with his defenseman behind the net, and then tried to make an outlet pass from the goal line. The Huskies recovered. O’Connor, however, covered up a weak shot attempt. Any better look, and it probably would’ve went into the open goal.

It didn’t hurt the Terriers, but that’s a mistake that should be cleaned up heading into playoff season.

Pluses and Minuses: Rodrigues ties program record in scorefest with UMass

Whew. That was an exhausting one.

Evan Rodrigues. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DFP STAFF
Evan Rodrigues. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DFP STAFF

The No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team scored nine goals in a game for the first time since 2007, but its game against the University of Massachusetts on Friday was more of a whirlwind than that total indicates — the game was tied with under 6:30 remaining.

The Terriers ultimately came away with the 9-5 win. There was a lot to swallow with that one, but I’ll try to break down what we did and didn’t like as best I can:

Pluses

Have yourself a night, Evan
Senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues has been on a roll as of late, and we’ve talked a lot about it. Tonight, he found his way onto the score sheet six times with six assists against UMass — and nearly a seventh time, but what would have been a third-period goal for senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann was waved off.

The six assists ties a program record, last accomplished by Ron Anderson in 1972.

“He’s a heck of a hockey player,” said BU coach David Quinn. “He’s a really good hockey player: Tough, skilled, fast, really smart, a kid that really understands what’s going on out there. He’s got a bright future.

“We’re going to lean on him heavily down the stretch.”

The tallies extended Rodrigues’ point streak to nine games. He has a total of 21 points in that span.

The six helpers tonight boosted his season point total to 34, good for second in Hockey East and fifth in the nation. He is also tied with freshman forward Jack Eichel for the team lead in assists (25).

You too, Ahti
Junior forward Ahti Oksanen also had a strong night, recording his the first hat trick of his collegiate career. He is the second Terrier to record three goals in a single game, as junior forward Danny O’Regan notched one against Merrimack College on Dec. 6.

Oksanen has scored 16 goals this season, including six goals in his last four games.

Defensemen scoring
The BU defensive corps has been a steady source of offense for the Terriers this season, and Friday night was no different.

Freshman Brandon Hickey tallied the first and final goals of the game for his first collegiate multi-goal game and to bring his season total to four, the most among all D-men on the BU roster.

“He can really shoot a puck,” Quinn said about Hickey. “I don’t know if there’s a guy in the league who gets more pucks through than him. He keeps it low, he can shoot any type of puck. You don’t have to put it on a platter for him.”

Junior captain Matt Grzelcyk notched the game-winner midway through the third period for his first goal of the season. He had two more assists in the game. Freshman Brandon Fortunato also added a pair of assists.

Power play

The Terriers went 6-of-8 on the power play on Friday — easily their best performance on the man advantage all season. Hickey and Oksanen each had a pair of power-play goals, and Eichel and Grzelcyk tallied the other two.

BU now owns the second-best power-play percentage in the nation, at .269.

Minuses

Penalties
Despite scoring six power-play goals, the Terriers allowed three power-play goals to the Minutemen.

Two of these UMass goals came within a minute and a half of each other, after a costly five-minute major call on Rodrigues, who was sent to the box after a boarding call. A goal from forward Shane Walsh tied the game, and another from forward Frank Vatrano gave UMass its first lead of the game at 4-3.

“Obviously penalties were a major problem for us tonight,” Quinn said. “We just can’t take that many penalties and continue to expect to have success, especially against a power play like that.”

UMass forward Troy Power also notched a goal 10 seconds after junior forward Danny O’Regan was sent to the box for slashing in the second period.

“If we’re going to have the success we think we’re capable of having, we just can’t take those types of penalties,” Quinn said.

Turnovers
Quinn didn’t put any of the blame on freshman goaltender Connor LaCouvee, who earned his fifth start of the season on Friday, for the five goals allowed in the game.

“I feel bad for LaCouvee because he looked like he was just a victim,” Quinn said. “He certainly played well. There wasn’t, I think, anything he could’ve done for anything of the five.”

A few mental lapses, instead, gave UMass extra chances. Most notably, a poor turnover from junior forward Mike Moran along the boards led to the Minutemen’s first goal of the game.

Pluses and Minuses: Oksanen, Eichel shine in OT victory over UMass Lowell

That was a pretty fun one for BU fans, wasn’t it?

I got to see two pretty cool comebacks today — BU’s 4-3 overtime victory over UMass Lowell, and the Seahawks’ comeback against Green Bay later, oh my! — so all in all, not too shabby of a sports day. But as was the case in Seattle, there was some ugliness on top of all the greatness.

Ahti Oksanen. PHOTO BY DANIEL GUAN/DFP STAFF
Ahti Oksanen. PHOTO BY DANIEL GUAN/DFP STAFF

Here’s a breakdown of the good and bad from Sunday’s game at Agganis:

Pluses

Eichel’s OT magic

Freshman forward Jack Eichel’s game-winning goal was the shot heard ’round college hockey. His one-timer 1:18 into overtime secured the victory for the Terriers, and moved them into a tie for first place in Hockey East.

In BU’s seven overtime games this season, they’ve been able to etch out a goal for a win just twice. Eichel had the winner in both of those games.

Eichel continues to lead Hockey East and the nation in scoring, with 34 total points (1.70 points per game).

The Ahti factor

Junior forward Ahti Oksanen notched two goals in Sunday’s contest — his third multi-goal game of the season, and his second in the past four games.

Oksanen is one of four players on the team with a multi-goal game under his belt, and currently ranks fourth on the team in scoring (18 points on 12 goals and six assists).

Shuffled lines

Quinn has been mixing up his lines a bit the past few games, and it has been paying dividends.

That experiment started with moving senior assistant captain Evan Rodrigues to the first line to replace Oksanen. Oksanen replaced Rodrigues’ spot on the second line at left wing.

Rodrigues has six points (1g, 5a) in the three games since the switch, which has propelled him to 18th place in the nation in points per game. Oksanen has three points (2g, 1a) in the past three games.

“We didn’t play as well — me and Eichel and [junior forward Danny] O’Regan — as we played in the beginning of the year,” Oksanen said. “It was good coach kind of recognized that and switched the lines. Right now I feel really good playing with [sophomore forward] Robbie [Baillargeon], and today [freshman forward Nikolas] Olsson was on the right wing, and that worked really good.”

Senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann, who has played on the second line all year, moved to the third line for Sunday’s game, and was replaced by Olsson on the second line, but neither scored in the contest.

Power Play

BU has had a lot of luck on the power play as of late, including going 3-for-4 on Sunday. Conor has more on that in his sider today.

Minuses

Defensive lapses

After striking first on the scoreboard, BU allowed three straight goals to the River Hawks, from getting out-hustled and leaving too many open opportunities.

BU head coach David Quinn mentioned this as an issue in Friday’s game against Boston College — he said his team clearly appeared as if it had four freshmen on defense. Following the game against Lowell, though, Quinn said he appreciated the effort, but noted the team’s errors.

“Our D played well,” Quinn said. “Again, at times we turned it over. Sometimes people forget we do have four 18-year-old defensemen back there. A lot of their [Lowell’s] chances were off turnovers. We gotta get better below the top of the circles, possessing the puck and holding on to it. We have given up too many shots for my liking.”

Pluses and Minuses: No. 2 Terriers trounce Wisconsin to close out weekend trip

MADISON, Wisconsin — No late-game deflections were needed this time for the No. 2 Boston University men’s hockey team.

Danny O'Regan. Photo by Alexanda Wimley/Daily Free Press Staff
Danny O’Regan. Photo by Alexanda Wimley/Daily Free Press Staff

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:

Pluses 

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.”

Minuses 

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.”

Midseason Hockey East power rankings

With the calendars now flipped to 2015, the second half of the college hockey season is set to begin. A lot of things have changed since our preseason power rankings, so this list will look a bit different than it did in early October.

To kick off the 2015 portion of the season, here are our rankings of the 12 Hockey East teams — not necessarily a regurgitation of the standings:

1. Boston University (11-3-2, 7-1-2 Hockey East) – The Terriers were expected to improve after a dreadful 10-win 2013-14 season, but questions loomed as another large freshman class would have to play a major role in the turnaround. But the young group has more than stepped up. Freshman center Jack Eichel has arguably been the best player in the country with 27 points in 16 games — a national best. Eichel’s “OREO” line with junior wingers Ahti Oksanen and Danny O’Regan has combined for 62 points. BU’s four rookie defensemen have also helped as a force on both ends. The return of sophomore forward Robbie Baillargeon and freshman forward Nikolas Olsson should improve the depth of this team.

2. University of Massachusetts-Lowell (13-3-3, 7-0-2 Hockey East) – The loss of a few key seniors was not enough to keep the River Hawks from being a force at the top of Hockey East. No one from UML has more than 16 points, yet the River Hawks’ balanced scoring attack has them as the No. 1 scoring offense in Hockey East at 3.78 goals per game. Freshman C.J. Smith is averaging just under a point a game with 17 points in 19 contests. UML has used Kevin Boyle as its top netminder, and he has a .918 save percentage, a number the River Hawks would likely prefer to see go up.

Mario Puskarich. PHOTO COURTESY OF UVM ATHLETICS
Mario Puskarich. PHOTO COURTESY OF UVM ATHLETICS

3. University of Vermont (14-4-1, 7-3-1 Hockey East) – A 20-win team a season ago, Vermont is ahead of pace to break that win total this year. Forward Mario Puskarich and defenseman Mike Paliotta are tied for third in Hockey East with 18 points, and Paliotta’s mark is the best for a defenseman in the conference. Goaltenders Brody Hoffman (.924 save percentage) and Mike Santaguida (.953) have been a solid backstop duo. With their help, Vermont is best in the conference in goals allowed per game and penalty-kill percentage. However, the balanced Catamounts team still has to play BU, BC and UML down the stretch.

Jon Gillies. PHOTO COURTESY OF PC ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS
Jon Gillies. PHOTO COURTESY OF PC ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS

4. Providence College (11-6-1, 6-4 Hockey East) – Our preseason pick — and Hockey East coaches’ selection — at No. 1 began the year with an unimpressive 1-3-2 start, but has won seven of its last eight games. Goaltender Jon Gillies is back to his old form, posting the league’s best save percentage at .942. Gillies put an exclamation point on 2014 with a shutout over Vermont on Dec. 29, and capped off the week by being named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. The Friars have been one of the conference’s best defensive teams, though still struggle offensively, beginning play in 2015 in the bottom third of Hockey East in scoring offense.

5. Boston College (10-7-1, 4-4-1 Hockey East) – Another team at the top of our list to start the year has struggled. The Eagles have yet to find a breakout goal scorer; however, the Eagles boast six players with at least 11 points, so a well-rounded attack has kept them in the top tier of Hockey East offenses. Surprisingly for the Eagles, a very good group of defensemen — two of whom represented the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Canada — have played sloppy hockey at times. Missing defenseman Steve Santini might have hurt the BC blue line corps more than some expected. His expected return to the lineup could help improve a defense that ranks sixth in the conference in goals allowed per game at 2.44.

6. Merrimack College (10-5-2, 4-4-1 Hockey East) – The Warriors have taken advantage of the smaller ice at Lawler Arena and have a 7-1-1 record at home. They’ve been able to bottle up faster teams, and keep scoring to a minimum. Goaltenders Rasumus Tirronen and Collin Delia each have a goals-against average under two. Freshman Brett Seney is tied for the team-lead in points with 15 and has done an admirable job leading the second line. The road gets tougher for the Warriors, though, with Hockey East games remaining against BC, UML and Vermont.

7. University of Notre Dame (9-9-2, 4-4-2 Hockey East) – The Fighting Irish had to deal with losing 11 seniors after last season and have battled inconsistencies thus far. Forwards Robbie Russo and Mario Lucia have been bright spots with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Notre Dame’s goaltenders, however, have struggled, as neither Cal Peterson or Chad Katunar has a save percentage above .909. Eight games against teams at the bottom of the conference at the beginning of the second half could benefit the Fighting Irish.

Kevin Roy. PHOTO COURTESY OF ELAN KAWESCH
Kevin Roy. PHOTO COURTESY OF ELAN KAWESCH

8. Northeastern University (5-10-1, 3-6-1 Hockey East) – The Huskies have recovered a bit since an awful 0-8-1 start, though they are still a long way from the top of the standings. A Hobey Baker Award nominee last year, forward Kevin Roy started this year off slowly, although he’s back to a point per game pace with 16 points in 16 contests. Goaltender Clay Witt has not matched his miraculous performance from a season ago, and has a lowly .909 save percentage. Northeastern has gotten outshot by a sizable amount, which has put a lot of pressure on Witt. The Huskies ended the first half with wins in four of their last five games, which could propel them going forward.

9. University of Connecticut (4-9-4, 2-4-1 Hockey East) The Huskies have just four wins, but they’ve beaten BC and Vermont and tied BU. Those wins and one tie are in large part thanks to goaltender Rob Nichols, who sports a .931 save percentage. But UConn has relied on Nichols a bit too much, as the Huskies are getting outshot 557-440. Poor possession numbers could end up hurting the offensively deficient Huskies more as the season rolls along.

10. University of New Hampshire (6-11-1, 1-5-1 Hockey East) – The Wildcats’ one win in Hockey East play came against Northeastern. UNH’s reliance on freshman goalie Adam Clark, who has a .903 save percentage, hasn’t paid off. Forward Tyler Kelleher has been solid with 17 points, which is tied for sixth in Hockey East. The defensive unit and Clark will need to step up for this team to make a run.

11. University of Maine (4-13-1, 2-6 Hockey East) – Coach Red Gendron’s squad has taken more than a step back this season and find themselves as one of the weakest teams in Hockey East. Forward Devin Shore has just 11 points in 18 games, nowhere near his 43-point sophomore campaign. All of Maine’s skaters are averaging under a point a game, and thus are at the bottom of the offensive rankings. And coupled with the second-worst defense, the Black Bears are in a world of hurt. Goaltenders Sean Romeo and Matt Morris have been abysmal with goals-against averages over 3.30 and save percentages under .900. Maine also continues to struggle away from Alfond Arena, finishing 2014 with an 0-6 record on the road.

12. University of Massachusetts (5-13, 1-9 Hockey East) – The only defense worse in Hockey East than Maine’s is the one from this UMass squad. The Minutemen have given up 4.44 goals per game and goaltender Henry Dill has the worst save percentage (.868) among qualifying goalies. Forward Frank Vatrano and his 11 goals — second in Hockey East — have been the lone positives for the Minutemen.

(Disclaimer: These power rankings were released midday before many of the 7:00 p.m. games later Friday night.)