While it was by no means a one-man performance, Boston University forward Jack Eichel provided further proof of why he is considered a lock to be chosen second overall at the 2015 NHL Draft. Eichel and his BU teammates defeated a determined University of North Dakota squad, 5-3, in the second semi-final contest at the 2015 Frozen Four in Boston, MA.
On the night, Eichel netted two goals and added an assist to boost his NCAA-leading point total. More important, though, was that Eichel was a threat during most of the shifts he took in the game, helping to keep an attacking North Dakota squad off balance.
As it happened, it didn’t take long for Eichel to make an impact in this game. Four minutes into the first period, North Dakota forward Luke Johnson took a tripping penalty, putting the Terriers on the power play.
With the Terriers working in the North Dakota zone, UND goaltender Zane McIntyre stopped a BU shot but was unable to control the rebound. Terriers forward Ahti Oksanen did gain control of the puck to McIntyre’s left, then passed cross-crease to linemate Danny O’Regan. O’Regan then quickly moved the puck to Eichel in the right faceoff circle, who then fired a backhand shot into the net past a scrambling McIntyre to give BU the 1-0 lead. The time of the power play goal was 4:59, with Oksanen and O’Regan getting the assists.
Eichel talked about the goal following the win.
“To be honest, the puck got away from me a little bit,” said Eichel. “I had seen the goalie kind of come out on Ahti’s move. So I just tried to get it on net quick, and I was fortunate enough to (have it) go in.”
The Terriers had the better of the play through the first 10 minutes, outshooting North Dakota 7-1 during that span. While North Dakota wasn’t completely on their heels, they were unable to sustain any pressure in the BU zone.
That changed near the 14-minute mark of the first when North Dakota finally went to work in the BU zone. That effort led to the first difficult save of the game for Terriers’ goaltender Matt O’Connor, on a shot by Bryn Chyzyk. But, while the save was made, Eichel was also picking up a penalty for hooking to give UND their first power play of the game.
The Terriers killed off the penalty, but any momentum the team had through the first 14 minutes had dissipated. With three minutes left, North Dakota held an 8-7 edge in shots and were playing with more authority.
But, in a game that swung back and forth, North Dakota managed to give some momentum back to BU when Tucker Poolman took a boarding penalty with 2:09 left in the first.
BU went to work in the North Dakota zone, with forward Robbie Baillargeon passing the puck along the boards behind the UND net to forward Cason Hohmann. Hohmann then moved the puck back to defenseman Brandon Hickey at the left point who quickly fired a one-timer through McIntrye’s legs to give the Terriers a 2-0 lead. The time of the goal was 19:12, with Hohmann and Baillargeon getting the assists.
The celebration of the Terriers’ second goal was short-lived, however, as defenseman and team captain Matt Grzelcyk picked up a tripping penalty at the 19:26 mark. The Terriers made it out of the first period with their 2-0 lead intact but down in the shot department, 10-9.
BU head coach David Quinn talked about the good showing in the first period, something that hasn’t always been the case this season for the Terriers.
“I know overall, if you look at our season, you can say we’re a slow-starting team,” stated Quinn. “We started really strong against Minnesota-Duluth (in the NCAA Tournament). We’ve had better starts over here in the last six weeks. So it was exciting to see the way we started playing at a pace and possessing the puck. And I think I looked up at one point, the shots were 7-0, seven minutes into the game.
“But it’s awful hard to sustain that. Like I said, you’re playing in the Frozen Four. North Dakota is a really good hockey team. And once we went up 2-0, I thought they turned it up a notch again, a little bit of desperation on their end. Human nature might have kicked in on our end.”
Indeed, the power play left over from the first period helped North Dakota get back into the game on the scoreboard early in the second period.
Less than a minute into the second, North Dakota’s Poolman gained control of the puck along the right boards after an errant shot by Jordan Schmaltz, then moved the puck to Johnson in the faceoff circle to the left of O’Connor. Johnson had a good look before firing a shot short side over O’Connor’s left shoulder to make the score 2-1 in favor of BU. The goal was scored at the 44-second mark of the second, with Poolman and Schmaltz getting the assists.
After the goal, North Dakota turned up the pressure for the first 10 minutes of the second period. Good scoring chances for UND defensemen Keaton Thompson and Troy Stecher were stopped in close by O’Connor in the minutes following the goal, with the Terriers now back on their heels.
BU didn’t help their cause any when Hickey took a cross-checking penalty 6:43 into the second period.
North Dakota moved the puck confidently on the power play, but their best scoring chance off the stick of forward Michael Parks was stopped by O’Connor.
With the Hickey penalty killed, the Terriers managed to get back some momentum from North Dakota, with both teams trading chances at the midpoint of the period.
Just past the halfway point of the second period and with the teams in the middle of a line change, Terriers’ defenseman Brien Diffley found Eichel with a pass in the neutral zone. Eichel moved in over the North Dakota blueline, then found an open A.J. Greer moving in on the right wing. Greer wasted no time, firing a one-timer past McIntyre to give BU the 3-1 lead. Eichel and Diffley notched the assists on the goal, which came at the 11:20 mark.
Eichel talked about setting up the shot for Greer.
“I just jumped on the ice, actually pretty late,” admitted Eichel. “And Diff makes a great play to beat the first forechecker. Slides me the puck and I got over the blue line. Saw A.J. opened up, tried to put it in his wheelhouse where he could hammer one. He works on his shot a lot, and I wasn’t surprised at all. He’s got a great one-timer.
“It was a big goal in the game. Gave us a little bit of cushion.”
The goal silenced what had become a raucous North Dakota fan base, and it wasn’t long before the Terriers took more air out of UND’s balloon.
With the Terriers again working in the North Dakota zone, Diffley stopped a UND clearing attempt at the right point, then fired the puck around the boards to defenseman Doyle Somerby along the left boards. Somerby moved down the boards, then fired a shot that eluded a screened McIntyre and found the back of the net to give BU the 4-1 lead. Diffley had the only assist on the goal, which was scored at the 13:10 mark of the second.
The teams traded chances through the remainder of the period, with no further scoring. North Dakota was behind on the scoreboard but led on the shot clock, 25-21.
While North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol wasn’t thrilled to fall behind by three goals after two periods, he had no doubts that his club would continue working hard in the third period.
“I think this group – I’ve used the term “resilient”, said Hakstol when asked of his team’s deficit at the end of the second period. “No question what our third period would be like, I mean, that’s a deep hole to come out of, let’s be honest. But I don’t think anybody — I don’t think there was any second thought about it.”
While some of that hard work was evident from North Dakota in the first half of the third period, the results didn’t follow. O’Connor turned away scoring chances by Stephane Pattyn, Luke Johnson, and Jordan Schmaltz to keep the score at 4-1.
But, with 8:26 gone in the third, UND forward Nick Schmaltz was whistled for interference. While it was the Terriers with the power play, it would be North Dakota that would take advantage of the situation thanks to a fortunate break.
North Dakota dumped the puck into the Terriers’ zone on the penalty kill. O’Connor left his crease to play the puck behind the net, but lost the puck in his skates. The puck continued sliding towards the front of the BU net, with North Dakota defenseman Troy Stecher easily knocking the puck into an empty net to make the score 4-2. The goal, which came with 7:50 remaining, was an unassisted effort.
Three minutes after the Stecher goal, BU picked up a minor penalty for having too many men on the ice, providing North Dakota with an opportunity to draw one goal closer.
With North Dakota working on the power play in the Terriers’ zone, forward Brendan O’Donnell fired a one-timer towards the net that hit BU’s Hickey on his upper body. The puck deflected to UND defenseman Nick Mattson, who quickly moved the puck to forward Connor Gaardner in the faceoff circle to the right of O’Connor. O’Connor then fired a one-timer that beat the BU goaltender to make it a one-goal game. Mattson and O’Donnell registered the assists, with the goal coming with just 3:43 left in the third period.
North Dakota pressed for the tying goal in the final three minutes of the third period, but the player who started BU off on the right foot also made sure that UND wouldn’t complete their comeback.
With three North Dakota players battling for the puck with BU’s Hohmann along right boards in the Terriers’ zone, Hohmann was able to move the puck to Eichel, who in turn fired the puck from inside his own blueline into the now empty North Dakota net to seal the 5-3 win.
The shots on goal for the game favored North Dakota, 39-28, but it would be Boston University moving on to the NCAA championship game.
For UND coach Hakstol, the effort and execution through much of the game was what he felt was needed in this clash.
“I thought overall, I liked 50 minutes of our game,” said Hakstol. “I didn’t think we managed the puck very well in the first eight to ten minutes of the game. Believe me, (BU) played a good game. They made plays. I want to make sure I give them a lot of credit. They’re an outstanding team.
“But I always kind of look from within. And I thought we didn’t manage the puck real well in the first few minutes of the game. We ended a few of our own cycles rather than grinding and making them defend. And honestly, you know, I thought bounces were a little hard for us to come by in this hockey game until Troy got the one bounce on the shorthanded goal. So if I could change one thing, it would be some of our execution in the first few minutes of the game. Beyond that, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more that we can ask out of our players tonight.”
For the Terrriers, it is time to focus on their championship game opponent, Hockey East rival Providence College. While the two teams have not met since early in the season, Coach Quinn has a good idea of what to expect from the Friars.
“Obviously they’ve got a great goalie (in Jon Gillies),” said Quinn. “They play hard. They’re strong. They’re physical. They make you earn every inch of ice. They’re well coached. Structurally sound. It’s going to be a heck of a hockey game and huge challenge for us.”
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