If you were an outsider, or just a regular fan of the National Hockey League who views the potential of prospects solely through the prism of the Canadian Hockey League, Friday night’s game between the Boston University Terriers and Boston College Eagles was sold to you as the meeting of two of the top undrafted American talents: BU’s freshman forward Jack Eichel and BC’s rookie defenseman Noah Hanifin.
The reality was much, much deeper.
For instance, consider the more pressing storylines: Terriers starter Matt O’Connor entered play with a 1.26 goals-against average, lowest in all of Hockey East. BC’s Ryan Fitzgerald ranked in the top five in the country with seven goals. The hosts were looking to get back on track after being blanked for the first time in 103 games. BU’s sophomore head coach David Quinn was looking for his first win against BC, after losing all three regular-season tilts plus a first-round Beanpot contest.
That 5-3 Terriers road victory in front of a packed house at Conte Forum and a national audience on NBCSN wasn’t just a win for Quinn’s team that most likely vaulted them over their bitter rivals, but a statement to the hype machine that there are full rosters of players on both sides who are capable of turning heads.
It was the 266th all-time meeting between the schools separated by roughly 2.3 miles along a meandering stretch of six-lane highway (and two in the middle for the MBTA’s Green Line) called Commonwealth Avenue. Perhaps the most provincial of all the provincial rivalries in Division I hockey because of their location within the city limits of Boston, proclaimed at times to be the “Hub of the Universe,” proximity of both fan bases in residence throughout the region, and the sheer number of top-flight talent both sides have churned out for decades, it never fails to stir emotion for those intimately involved.
All told, both Quinn and Jerry York’s rosters boast 16 different players who have already caught the eye of an NHL club – nine to the Eagles and seven to the Terriers – and one of them, sophomore blueliner and 2013 second-round Devils draftee Steve Santini, wasn’t in the lineup due to a wrist injury which is expected to keep him out of action a couple more weeks.
That the road team ended up on the correct side of the score is not shocking: Though proud owners of two national championships in that time frame, Boston College has lost five of its last seven games to Boston University at Conte Forum since the start of the 2008-09 season. In addition, Quinn’s kids had outscored the opposition to that point by a 14-1 margin in the third period thanks to a four-goal burst which fueled the win.
“Our third period has been great all year,” Quinn admitted. “We’re in great shape, we don’t get fazed by the situation, [and] we haven’t faced insurmountable leads. Give a lot of credit to our leadership, too.”
That there was another undrafted player on nobody’s national radar who made the difference, is the difference between looking at what others will frame for you against investing the time to watch for yourself. Even if you’re not an alumnus of either school and steeped in the rivalry, these teams have asserted themselves on the regional and national stage long enough that Evan Rodrigues shouldn’t be a bolt out of the blue.
A senior and native of the Toronto suburbs, Rodrigues has been paired with Eichel on the Terriers’ top line and is enjoying a well-timed burst of confidence and production. His breakout campaign occurred two years ago, with 14 goals and 20 assists in 38 games as a sophomore along with then-freshman leading scorer Danny O’Regan (San Jose, 5th round, 2012).
This year, “riding shotgun” to the kid from Chelmsford, MA who has grabbed everyone’s attention, Rodrigues has gone for 10 points (7G, 3A) in seven games. He tallied twice on Friday – once in the second period to quell momentum BC had after gaining the game’s first goal and then two successive power-play chances – and then picked up the game winner on another superb individual effort with 5:46 left in the contest.
After Eichel evened the game just under two minutes prior, Rodrigues, given much room to roam up the left-wing side, eventually circled behind Thatcher Demko and snuck a stuffer attempt home inside the far post to give Boston University a lead it did not relinquish.
“I didn’t really have a play there,” Rodrigues said following the game. “I just brought it around the net and figured why not throw it in front. You never know who’s going to be there. Danny [O’Regan] and Jack [Eichel] were both driving the net, so I just threw it out there, it hit a skate, and found the corner of the net.”
His opening salvo was less meaningful, but much prettier. Picking up the puck off a dump-in try by Nikolas Olsson, Rodrigues wended his way from the right wing and between the circles, dragging BC’s Scott Savage with him before Savage was so crossed up that he slid onto his belly, then pulling the puck onto his forehand and moving Demko out of position before flipping a backhander into a half-open net.
It was Olsson who provided the insurance marker into the empty net with a hair under 44 seconds to go, one of three players to collect more than one point on the night for BU.
The takeaway for Quinn was that the Terriers vaulted into one of the top four slots in Hockey East and improved to 5-1-0 on the season, while York remained “stuck” on 500 wins with BC, still one away from Snooks Kelley’s program record. For Eichel and Rodrigues, a role reversal as the former had the “quiet” game while the latter produced the kind of highlights no one but close observers to the league could imagine. Boston University assumed the No. 3 ranking while BC dropped out of the top five.
One night later, back at Agganis Arena, both guys showed their mettle as Boston University was involved in what appeared to be a garbage-time matchup with upstart UConn that turned into an ugly 4-4 tie which meant much more to the Huskies as a measuring stick while revealing just how far the Terriers have to go in order to take every opponent seriously.
Connecticut was rested following its landmark 1-0 home win against BC on Wednesday night, and all the time spent raising hands to head or gazing at the heavens over missed opportunities finally came to fruition. Trevor Gerling (named HE Player of the Week) and Shawn Pauly led the way with two goals and two assists each, as UConn led 2-1 after two periods and Pauly connected for the tying power-play marker during a 4-on-3 advantage with 3:14 to play.
In between, it was the Eichel-Rodrigues-O’Regan show.
The trio combined for eight points, with O’Regan totaling two goals with one assist and Eichel chipping in three helpers. That line produced the game’s opening goal just 35 seconds in, then Eichel and O’Regan set up Brien Diffley’s goal to forge a 2-2 deadlock only 39 seconds into the final period, then joined up once more to aid O’Regan on his partial breakaway tally with 4:17 to go which provided the hosts with their lone lead of the night.
“Typical Hockey East game,” was all Quinn had to offer. “It usually comes down to the wire, with one-goal games and overtime games. You always like to get four points after you win one on a Friday night, but three points is a good weekend in this league. It was a see-saw game, and probably justice that both teams got a point.”
Eichel, however, did end up garnering Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors after posting a goal and three assists. Checking in on Flyers’ draft picks
The North Dakota Fighting Sioux are off to a stellar start: 7-1-1, including an eight-game unbeaten string (7-0-1) following a weekend sweep of former WCHA rival Wisconsin which vaulted them into the No. 2 spot in the country in this week’s USCHO poll.
Fueling those victories of 4-3 and 5-1 in Madison on Friday and Saturday nights was senior and Philadelphia’s fifth-round pick in 2010, Michael Parks. Parks, who is clearly an outsider in terms of making an NHL appearance with the franchise, made an interesting decision in the Summer not to attend the club’s rookie activities, instead remaining behind in the Midwest to attend to working out and making his final collegiate season the best possible.
The 22-year-old native of St. Louis has seen those efforts pay off, tying for the team lead (with Drake Caggiula) by posting eight assists and 11 points in nine games.
In Friday’s 4-3 victory, Parks scored the game-winner on a power play at the 8:18 mark, then added an insurance tally on a breakaway while the Sioux were shorthanded just over four minutes later. The marker pushed UND’s total to six goals a man down in the season’s first eight contests. One night later in a 5-1 decision that finished off the Kohl Center sweep, he assisted on the final two scores of the evening — from Troy Stecher and Gage Ausmus.
Since the dynamic Mark MacMillan is sidelined long-term after suffering a nasty skate cut to his arm, look for Dave Hakstol to lean on Parks to take more of a lead role in the Sioux offense. North Dakota puts its streak on the line at the Ralph in a Friday-Saturday set against Miami of Ohio.
Not to be outdone, but the Bowling Green Falcons have soared to a 7-2-1 record and have won three straight games including a sweep in Fairbanks against WCHA foes the University of Alaska. BGSU’s defense has surrendered three goals or fewer in all but two of its contests so far, and part of the praise goes to 18-year-old freshman Mark Friedman.
Friedman, a Toronto native who totaled 10 goals and 40 points for Waterloo in the USHL last season, has totaled a goal and three assists this season. He also put together two steady performances — churning out a team-high combined 12 shots on goal as the former CCHA entrant claimed back-to-back 3-2 victories over the Nanooks.
Bowling Green will see an in-state opponent this weekend, a home-and-home series with Big Ten Ohio State that kicks off at home this coming Friday.
This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.