It is rare in sports (or life in general) when someone so hyped not only lives up to unrealistic expectations but regularly surpasses them. Boston University’s freshman center Jack Eichel is a once-in-a-generation talent and he backed up all the talk about him by scoring two goals and adding an assist as the Terriers (28-7-5 overall) held off North Dakota (29-10-3) 5-3 at TD Garden on Thursday in the Frozen Four. It’ll be an All-Hockey East 2015 NCAA championship game on Saturday (7:30, ESPN) as BU takes on Providence (26-13-2) who beat Omaha (20-14-6) 4-1 in the first game of the evening.
“It was an incredible game,” noted BU head coach David Quinn. “We were up 4-1 on the power play late in the third period and gave up a fluky shorthanded goal that we haven’t all year. Then we were called for too many men on the ice, another thing that hadn’t happened all year and they cut it to 4-3 but it was a great sign that we still found a way to win. Saturday should be a heck of an atmosphere and game.”
Held to just one assist in BU’s 3-2 overtime win over Yale in their tournament opener and scoreless in their 3-2 victory against Minnesota-Duluth that sent them to the Frozen Four, you had a feeling that Eichel was due for a breakout performance. With a national audience watching on ESPN2 (not to mention TSN in Canada) and countless lottery teams in the NHL drooling over the chance to draft him (probably No. 2 in June behind Canadian superstar center Connor McDavid), the Chelmsford native delivered with his 12th game of three or more points this season.
He fittingly opened the scoring for the Terriers with a power-play goal 4:59 into the contest, a backhander that went top shelf for an early 1-0 advantage. “The puck got away from me but I wanted to get it on net quick,” explained the 18-year-old. “I was fortunate that it went in.” He assisted on BU’s third goal-midway through the second period-a slick feed to fellow freshman A.J. Greer for a powerful one-timer that gave the Terriers a 3-1 lead. Finally, when things got sketchy at the end and North Dakota appeared poised to tie it up and send the game to overtime, who else would score on an empty-netter from beyond his own blue line than Eichel? When they show his highlight reel at the 2015 Hobey Baker award ceremony on Friday (that he’s sure to capture), this memorable game should be featured prominently.
“All season long, we’ve been confident going into the third period,” said Eichel. “This was similar to the Beanpot (4-3 overtime win over Northeastern), we wanted to battle and we’ve worked hard on our defensive-zone coverage. Coach Quinn harps on it which can be annoying at times but it obviously paid off.”
Indeed, the winning play that sealed the victory for BU was a product of top-notch effort by junior defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and senior center Cason Hohmann along the boards which made the puck go to Eichel. The flashy moves and eye-popping skills will earn him plenty of money in the NHL but it is sequences like that which truly show how elite Eichel is for a college hockey player. The Terriers can only hope to cap off this already special season with the ultimate prize: the NCAA championship trophy.