Ice Hockey, Sports

Terriers set to face off against Providence in national championship game

The Terriers will look to claim their sixth national championship Saturday against Providence. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
The Terriers will look to claim their sixth national championship Saturday against Providence. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Boston University men’s hockey team has just one game left to play this season.

Thankfully for head coach David Quinn, he didn’t need to remind his players about the magnitude of the situation they face. The Terriers (28-7-5) are already well aware of the stakes.

“Anytime you get a chance to play in a game of this magnitude, you can never take it for granted,” Quinn said. “You need to take advantage of it. We’ve come too far and put too much into it. And I think our guys feel that way.

“The thing that I liked after our game last night is there was a level of excitement, but it was subdued. And I think there was a feeling in the locker room that we were excited about winning the hockey game, but I got a sense shortly thereafter that our guys were getting ready to win the national championship against a very good Providence team.”

On college hockey’s biggest stage, the Terriers will face off against Providence College in the NCAA national championship game Saturday night at TD Garden — with BU looking to claim its sixth NCAA title in program history.

Saturday’s contest will stand as just the third time that two Hockey East teams will duel for a national championship, and the first since 1999. BU has already clinched two trophies at TD Garden this season, first with the Beanpot on Feb. 23 and then the Hockey East Championship on March 21.

The Terriers have been riding a wave of momentum even before the NCAA tournament got underway, with the IceDogs currently on an eight-game win streak — the program’s longest since their nine-game run that capped off their 2008-09 championship season.

To get to the national title game, BU was forced to take part in a hard-fought battle against the University of North Dakota in the Frozen Four semifinal Thursday night.

Despite jumping out to a commanding 4-1 advantage with under 10 minutes remaining on the clock, UND (29-10-3) was able to tally two goals in quick succession, forcing the Terriers to rely on an empty-net goal from Jack Eichel to ease the pressure and come away with the precarious victory.

“The third period, not a lot was happening,” Quinn said of Thursday’s tilt. “And all of a sudden we give up a flukey goal and we’re back on our heels and respond the way you need to. And championship teams do that.

“You have to weather storms. You’re not going to blow people out at this time of the year. And I think our leadership and our confidence in each other has allowed us to withstand some of the ebbs and flows of a hockey game.”

As has been the case throughout the season, the Terriers are led on offense by freshman center Jack Eichel, who captured the 2015 Hobey Baker Award Friday night.

The North Chelmsford native — who leads the nation in points (70), assists (44) and plus-minus (plus-51) — will look to be the first NCAA player to win the Hobey Baker and national championship in the same season since BU defenseman Matt Gilroy accomplished the feat in 2009.

On defense, the Terriers are led by junior captain Matt Grzelcyk, who was named a CCM First Team All-American Friday night. The Bruins prospect has totaled 38 points on the season, ranking first nationally in plus-minus (plus-33), second in assists (22) and tied for third in goals (10).

Junior goaltender Matt O'Connor has posted a record of 15-0-1 in his last 16 contests. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Junior goaltender Matt O’Connor has posted a record of 15-0-1 in his last 16 contests. PHOTO BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

In net, junior goaltender Matt O’Connor has posted a record of 15-0-1 in his last 16 appearances, compiling a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .928 save percentage on the season.

Unlike the previous three teams BU has faced in the NCAA Tournament, this opponent in the championship is a familiar foe. Being in Hockey East, the Terriers played Providence (25-13-2) twice this season, splitting the season series during Halloween weekend.

BU took the first game of that series in Providence by a 4-1 margin, scoring four consecutive goals after falling behind 1-0. Eichel led the way with a goal and an assist, and also had eight shots on goal. As a whole, the Terriers peppered goaltender Jon Gillies with 41 shots that evening, which was uncharacteristic of a Providence defense that has averaged fewer than 30 shots allowed per game for the season.

The Terriers recorded 37 more shots the next night, but this time Gillies finished with 36 saves and a 2-1 win. It was BU’s first loss of the season.

Gillies, who was named a First Team All-American, has been the backbone for a Providence team that is back in the national title game for the first time since 1985. In 38 games this season, the junior has a .930 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average, which place him among the nation’s best.

Combined with a big defensive presence where no skater stands under the 5-foot-11 mark, the Friars boast the fourth-best defense in the nation at 2.02 goals allowed a game.

The Friars are more know for their play in the defensive zone, but have shined on the other end in three tournament games. They opened the East Regional scoring a season-high seven goals against Miami University, and then cruised to a 4-1 win over the University of Denver to clinch a Frozen Four spot.

In the Frozen Four semifinal against the University of Nebraska Omaha, Providence again won 4-1. The Friars dominated from start to finish, and controlled the puck for large chunks of the game. By game’s end, Providence outshot the Mavericks 48-26.

Key to this late run has been the play of forward Noel Acciari. He has four points in three tournament games, three of which are goals. The junior now has 31 points for the season, only second on the team behind forward Nick Saracino (38 points). The Friars boast a varied attack, with seven different skaters totaling at least 20 points on the year.

Quinn acknowledged that the Friars play in a similar style to BU’s previous opponent in North Dakota, but added that at this point in the tournament, every team boasts the same skilled, gritty roster.

“They both have great goalies, they both have mobile D corps,” Quinn said. “Their forwards are big, strong, physical.  Seems like we’ve been playing teams like that all last month, to be honest with you. “It’s going to be as it should be and as it always is when you play for a national championship, you have to be at your best, and we certainly know we have to be at our best tomorrow night.”

Despite the significance of Saturday’s showdown, Quinn noted that the Terriers are unfazed by the consequences at hand. This upstart team has a chance at greatness, but as Quinn stated, BU needs to take care of some unfinished business first.

“Our group has been very mature in their approach to big games and living in the momentum,” Quinn said. “And it’s one of the reasons why we have the record we have.

“It’s one of the reasons why we never lost two games in a row all year.  And I think that’s the type of stuff that — I think you can think about that stuff when you actually accomplish it.  And we haven’t accomplished it yet.”

More Articles

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

Comments are closed.