When the Boston University Terriers and Providence College Friars take to the ice at TD Garden in Boston on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) it will be the first battle between two teams from Hockey East for the national championship since 1999, when Maine defeated New Hampshire 3–2 in overtime in Anaheim, and the third since the conference was formed in 1984. But this time, the crown is a little closer to home. BU and Providence have the shortest combined distance from their respective home rinks to the championship venue in the tournament’s history. The Terriers’ Agganis Arena is just four miles down the road from TD Garden, while the Friars’ Schneider Arena is 51 miles south of 100 Legends Way.
The Friars will be looking for the first national championship in their program’s history while BU is used to big stage, winning as recently as 2009 and gunning for the Terriers’ sixth title. Both teams had to get through tough National Collegiate Hockey Conference opponents in the semifinals with Providence getting the best of Omaha goalie Ryan Massa in a 4-1 win while BU star Jack Eichel shined in a 5—3 win over No. 2 North Dakota.
Providence and BU faced off in a home-and-home series back on Halloween weekend, splitting the games in dramatic fashion. At Schneider Arena, the Terriers took it to PC, outshooting the Friars 41-18 and scoring four unanswered goals en route to a 4–1 victory. Coming off one of their poorest efforts of the season, the Friars rebounded in BU’s territory the next night. Goalie Jon Gillies made 37 saves in the 2–1 win that kickstarted a 13-3-0 run for the Friars in their next 16 games.
Here are three keys to victory for each side.
No. 3 Boston University Terriers
1. Jack Eichel must do what Jack Eichel does best.
Eichel’s two goals and assist in the semifinal was just about what everyone expected from the freshman Hobey Baker finalist and the same will be expected in the finals.
BU coach David Quinn joked after the game on Thursday that he is calling for the Eichel line in his sleep, and with good reason. Through seven postseason games since the beginning of the Hockey East tournament, Eichel has eight goals and seven assists. His presence on the ice with or without the puck demands attention from the defense and creates chances for linemates Evan Rodrigues (21-40-61) and Danny O’Regan (22-26-48).
2. Jump on Gillies early.
In the semifinals, the Terriers got to North Dakota netminder Zane McIntyre early. Four of their first 14 shots on the Mike Richter Award winner found the twine.
If the Terriers want to put up big numbers against the ever consistent Gillies, they need to pepper the Flames draftee early and often.
The Friars are not a big scoring team, so make them play from behind and force their star goaltender make big saves just to keep them in the game.
3. Don’t beat yourself.
After surrendering a shorthanded goal against North Dakota to make it a two-goal game in the third period, the Terriers looked panicked. Three minutes later, BU was pegged with a too-many-men penalty which led to an ND power play goal that closed the margin to 4–3 with 3:48 to play.
After that, things got chippy and sticks, gloves, and elbows started to fly after the whistle. Rodrigues and ND’s Stephane Pattyn each went to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties with 1:33 remaining, setting up a 5-on-4 for North Dakota with McIntyre pulled. Fortunately for the Terriers, they were able to hang on and get an empty-net insurance goal from Eichel with 19 seconds left.
Bench violations and unsportsmanlike penalties in the third period are all it takes to let the championship slip away. Make life easier, play smart.
Providence College Friars
1. Gillies gives a repeat performance of Nov. 1.
The 6’ 5” junior came up bigger than his considerable frame in the Friars’ 2–1 statement win over BU on the road early in the season. If the Friars want to stay in this game, they have to keep the Terriers off the board, and Gillies will be the man to lean on. Easier said than done considering that BU has outscored its opponents 37-14 during its current eight-game winning streak.
2. Own the neutral zone.
The Terriers have the same run-and-gun style of offense that Providence saw in its semifinal game against Nebraska-Omaha. The Friars countered it by absolutely shutting down the Mavericks in transition and owning the middle of the ice. If defensemen Tom Parisi, Jake Walman, and Mark Florentino can hold the neutral zone like they did in the that game, they will prevent odd-man rushes and can slowly grind down BU’s dangerous forwards.
3. Mark Jankowski and Ross Mauermann must get on the scoresheet.
Jankowski (goal, assist) and Mauermann (assist) each picked up points in the semifinal win. The Friars are now 16-3 this season when Jankowski, the 21st pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Flames, gets on the scoresheet. Since every goal is precious for these underpowered Friars, seeing Mauermann tally his 12th of the season would be heartening indeed. PC is 8-1-1 when its senior captain lights the lamp.
On paper this may seem as close to David vs. Goliath as a championship game could get. BU is a scoring powerhouse with three of the most dangerous forwards in the country while Providence struggles to score. The Terriers are playing in front of their hometown fans and have been on an absolute tear of late. But this is a Hockey East rivalry and stranger things have happened. If the Friars have any shot, it will be in a low-scoring affair and Jon Gillies will have to be remarkable. But BU may have already survived its only scare when it held off North Dakota’s third period comeback effort in the semifinal. Terriers 5–2