When the Boston University Terriers needed Jack Eichel the most, he was there. For the first 60 minutes of the Beanpot final against Northeastern, the consensus No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft was crazy dangerous, but had yet to make his mark on the scoresheet. But seconds into overtime, Eichel swooped towards the Northeastern net, drawing a controversial penalty on Huskies defenseman Matt Benning.
“His speed is intimidating; teams know when he’s out there," said Terriers coach David Quinn. "He gives us a swagger and it’s infectious. But it’s a respectful swagger.”
Less than a minute later, Eichel helped set up Matt Grzelcyk's winning goal on the power play and the Terriers were celebrating.
Those types of contributions are nothing new for Eichel, the Massachusetts-bred kid who used to go the tourney as a kid with his father. But in what is likely his first and only season of college hockey before he heads to the NHL, Eichel has more on two more titles in mind: The Hockey East conference championship and the Frozen Four.
“Absolutely, absolutely," Eichel said. "We know how hard we worked to win this one and the next few will be even harder. We have to get right back to work and it’s coming down to the wire in Hockey East; we want that top seed.”
Would three titles in a row be realistic? It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Eichel is a nightmare match-up for any team in the country and the Terriers aren't underdogs to begin with. Boston U. is currently sixth in the Pairwise Rankings, the system that determines which teams get into the Frozen Four bracket.
Eichel is leading the nation in scoring with 50 points in 30 games and he's doing so as a two-way player.
“An underrated part of his game is how he defends," Quinn said. "He’s strong on the puck and he ends a lot of plays.”
NHL scouts have echoed that sentiment and with his size, there isn't much to snark at when it comes to Eichel's game. It's no coincidence that the second-highest scorer in the land is linemate Evan Rodrigues, but the Terriers are also built on a pretty good foundation. Captain Grzelcyk leads a blueline corps that is young but talented, while goaltender Matt O'Connor is the hottest free agent in the NCAA right now.
Eichel could easily have gone to the Quebec League this year, where the schedule is heavier and the academics less demanding, but he wouldn't veer from his college track and he's happy to be a Terrier.
“It’s been everything I wanted," he said. "I’m really happy with my decision to come to B.U. It’s an unbelievable group of guys to be around every day and the atmosphere at the school, on campus, is what I wanted and I really enjoy it.”
There have been teachable moments, of course. Eichel was named captain of Team USA's world junior squad, which fell unceremoniously to the Russians in the quarterfinal thanks to a raft of stick penalties. The logic of giving the 'C' to an underaged player who already had the weight of the world on his shoulders might not have been USA Hockey's smartest move (Connor McDavid didn't lead Canada to gold, for example – Curtis Lazar did), but you won't hear any complaints from Eichel, even in retrospect.
“It was definitely a huge honor," he said. "There could have been a lot of captains on that team, I wasn’t the only leader. I didn’t look at it like I was the captain; a lot of guys had leadership roles and I was one of them.”
Eichel won't likely get another shot at world junior gold, since he'll be too busy in the NHL somewhere next year, but he does have his Beanpot and he's shooting for more. Given the way his season has unfolded, would you bet against him?