Ice Hockey, Sports

ON THE CUSP: Terriers punch ticket to national title game with win over North Dakota

teamcelebration_BU vs ND_Maya Devereaux
BU celebrates after scoring a goal against North Dakota during the Frozen Four semifinals. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University men’s hockey coach David Quinn saw promise in what he witnessed from the 2014-15 Terriers over the summer, but he acknowledged that not even he could have imagined that both he and the team would be in the position that they are in now.

“There was going to be a lot of uncertainty on what type of team we could have,” Quinn said during a pregame press conference Wednesday. “These guys will tell you I might have thought it was a pipe dream, and I wouldn’t say it too loud because people would check me into a hospital if I told you I thought we could win a national championship this year in September based on what happened the year before.”

And yet, here the Terriers are — one win away from their sixth national championship in program history.

The Terriers, aided by goals from four different players, defeated the University of North Dakota, 5-3, in the Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday night at TD Garden, setting the stage for a showdown against Providence College in the NCAA title game on Saturday.

With the win, the Terriers (28-7-5) are now the ninth team overall, and first since 1998, to play in a national championship game following a losing record in the previous season.

In a contest that featured a myriad of momentum swings, BU maintained a commanding three-goal lead until the final 10 minutes of the match, when UND (29-10-3) mounted a furious comeback that only subsided thanks to an empty-net goal from freshman center Jack Eichel with 18.5 seconds left on the clock.

“We got it done,” Quinn said. “And at this time of the season, you just have to find ways to win. There are all sorts of ways to win. We’ve been very fortunate this year. We’ve won games a lot of different ways. We won one tonight in a way we hadn’t had to win one all. It’s a great sign.”

Multiple scarlet skaters made their mark on the score sheet Thursday, with 10 different Terriers registering a point on the night.

Eichel paced BU on offense, reaching 70 points on the year off two goals and an assist. The North Chelmsford native is the first Terrier to hit at least 70 points in a single season since Shawn McEachern compiled 82 points in 1990-91.

In net, junior goaltender Matt O’Connor held an opportunistic North Dakota offense at bay, recording 36 saves in the victory.

The Terriers drew first blood in the contest, with Eichel cashing in on a power-play opportunity after North Dakota forward Luke Johnson was whistled for tripping four minutes in.

Looking to gain an early advantage against North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre, BU swarmed the UND net. Junior forward Ahti Oksanen dished the puck across the crease to junior forward Danny O’Regan, but it was tipped by a UND skater and careened out to the slot.

Thankfully for the scarlet and white, Eichel was there to deposit the puck back into the net to hand BU a 1-0 lead at 4:59.

“To be honest, the puck got away from me a little bit,” Eichel admitted. “I had seen the goalie kind of come out on Ahti’s move. So I just tried to get it on net quick, and it was fortunate enough to go in.”

UND would regroup, generating multiple chances against O’Connor and the Terrier defense, but its efforts were once again undone by another costly penalty.

While pursuing a loose puck in the corner, North Dakota winger Bryn Chyzyk walloped freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey into the end boards, gifting BU with its second opportunity on the man advantage.

In a fitting case of hockey retribution, Hickey would be the one to make North Dakota pay.

The crafty blueliner uncorked a shot from the blue line that sailed past McIntyre with 48 seconds left in the first to give BU a two-goal cushion.

A tripping call against BU junior captain Matt Grzelcyk in the waning seconds of the first gave North Dakota a spark in the middle stanza, with Johnson putting UND on the board by way of a wrister 44 seconds into the second.

Johnson’s strike energized UND, who proceeded to put the Terriers on the ropes for the following 10 minutes thanks to sustained zone pressure and a flurry of shot attempts.

It seemed as if it was only a matter of time before North Dakota would once again find Terrier netting, but some of BU’s most unheralded players were ready to bail it out.

Just over 11 minutes into the period, Eichel passed the puck over to freshman forward A.J. Greer, who had lit the lamp just two times on the year. The 6-foot-3 winger did not hesitate, besting McIntyre with a devastating one-timer shot to give the Terriers some breathing room.

Less than two minutes later, BU received another boost from an unlikely source, as sophomore defenseman Doyle Somerby’s odd-angle shot snuck past McIntyre to make it a 4-1 game. It was the blueliner’s first goal of the season.

North Dakota would claw back over the final 20 minutes, however, as defenseman Troy Stecher’s shorthanded tally at 12:10 and center Connor Gaarder’s power-play score at 16:17 cut BU’s lead to one.

While UND continued to threaten, Eichel and the Terriers tried to do what they could to stay composed during the final minutes of the game.

“We just tried to weather the storm,” Eichel said. “All season, we’ve been pretty confident going into the third period. I don’t know how many games we went into third period with a lead. So it might have been a little different … They get a couple of goals. Maybe the momentum was on their side. We just wanted to battle.”

Finally, after North Dakota pulled McIntyre with around 1:30 remaining, BU earned the reprieve that it needed.

Despite skating into a scrum of UND skaters along the right boards, senior assistant captain Cason Hohmann managed to slide the puck out to Eichel, who cast it into the empty net from center ice, sealing the win and sending BU to its 11th NCAA championship game.

Saturday’s title game will feature a distinct Hockey East flair, as BU and Providence will form the first all-Hockey East championship match since 1999.

While relieved with the win, Quinn acknowledged that if his team wants to stand alone at the top of NCAA hockey on Saturday, it cannot repeat the same mistakes that it made against North Dakota.

“Hopefully, we’re going to learn some lessons tonight,” Quinn said. “We dodged some bullets, but we’re living another day. And we better learn from this, because if we do stuff like that Saturday night, we’re going to be in trouble.”

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I spend my days serving as Sports Editor of The Daily Free Press, covering BU Hockey and finding more ways to worship Tom Brady. Previous experience includes covering the Red Sox and Bruins for and writing for South Boston Today. Follow me on Twitter: @ConorRyan_93

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