During the first month of the season, sophomore goaltender Jake Oettinger has faced his share of challenges.
Entering the year with large expectations after being selected No. 26 by the Dallas Stars in the first round of the 2017 NHL Enter Draft, Oettinger yielded six goals against Minnesota State University in the fourth game of the season, leading some to question whether a sophomore slump was in the works.
In undoubtedly the toughest test of the season for the Boston University men’s hockey team against the defending champions the University of Denver, Oettinger put these doubters to bed.
The Terriers (3-3-1, 1-0-1 Hockey East) erased a 2-0 deficit to nearly force overtime against the top-ranked squad in the nation, eventually falling 4-3 on a Denver (3-0-2) goal by junior forward Troy Terry with 16 seconds left in the contest.
Oettinger’s performance in net was the main catalyst in the comeback.
“[Oettinger] works hard every day,” BU head coach David Quinn said. “There is a lot of pressure on [him]. First-round draft pick, he is such an unbelievable kid and an unbelievable teammate that I think he puts too much extra pressure on himself. The work he puts in, he is one of the elite goalies in the country for sure.”
Normally when four goals are allowed, the losing goaltender is not the most impressive contributor in the contest. However, Oettinger was the exception on Friday night.
Twisting and turning his body in a multitude of directions, the Lakeville, Minnesota native staved off an onslaught from the Pioneers and kept the game close until the final ticks.
The second-year netminder finished with 22 saves after the Pioneers made 26 shots on the night, good for an .846 goal save percentage.
Denver controlled the tempo from the very outset, putting two goals past Oettinger in the first four minutes of the game. The first period was not Oettinger’s brightest, but it was not indicative of what was to come.
The goaltender was utterly unbreakable in the second period. He came to life during a Pioneers power play midway through the second when senior forward Chase Phelps went to the penalty box for holding.
Searching to double their 3-2 lead, the Pioneers opened the gauntlet on Oettinger immediately after junior forward Dylan Gambrell won the faceoff from Terrier junior forward Bobo Carpenter.
Denver sophomore forward Henrik Borgstrom opened up the power play by ripping one on Oettinger. Saved. Then, the goaltender made arguably the best stop of his career. With 8:50 remaining in the second period, defenseman Ian Mitchell ripped a right-handed attempt off of a Pioneers faceoff win.
The shot scooted past Oettinger and glanced off the bottom of the right post, hitting the goalie and squirting back towards the goal. With no time to spare, Oettinger gathered his bearings, turned around, and somehow swatted the puck out of the crease just before it trickled past the line.
“He is a talented goaltender,” Denver head coach Jim Montgomery said. “He fought through traffic, especially in that two-minute power play [when] we were in their end the whole time.”
The onslaught did not cease there.
Terry took two shots before Gambrell unloaded another pair, both of which were stopped by Oettinger, each with tremendous traffic around the net. Only after Mitchell and Terry each had one last opportunity to strike gold did Oettinger finally escape trouble with Phelps leaving the penalty box.
Oettinger continued his brick wall-like play throughout the third period until the waning moments, when Terry tucked a high wrist shot above his right shoulder for the victory.
“[Our goaltending] was fine,” sophomore defenseman Dante Fabbro said. “I thought we put [Oettinger] in positions that obviously we don’t want to put him in. He made some big stops that we needed him to. Collectively, in front of our net we were not as strong as we wanted to be.”
He was matched by a superb goaltender performance by Pioneers senior Tanner Jaillet. The 24-year-old made a handful of diving saves of his own, including one scintillating stop of a shot by BU freshman defenseman David Farrance in the third period.
Sophomore forward Patrick Harper whipped a brilliant cross-ice pass to set up Farrance for a one-timer on the right side of the ice. Jaillet seemed doomed after expecting to field a shot by Harper.
However, he was able to sidle over to Farrance’s side in a split position to reach the shot just in time, making a leaping stop to preserve a 3-2 lead.
“I thought [Jaillet] was really good,” Montgomery said. “As the game wore on, he was called upon to be our best player, and in the last two periods I thought he was. There is a reason why he won the Mike Richter Award and there is a reason why I am comfortable with him.”