2014-15 Terriers a Team in Every Sense of the Word
By Pat O’Rourke
BU News Service
Early on in the 2014-15 season, David Quinn felt he had a team that was capable of making a national championship run.
For most of Saturday night, it looked like that hunch would become a reality. The Terriers went into the third period with a 3-2 lead over Providence, and were 19-0 when leading with 20 minutes left. BU had landed 40 shots on Providence goalie Jon Gilles, a title game record.
That all changed when Matt O’Connor misplayed the puck out of his glove, which then trickled into the back of the net. The goal tied the score, 3-3, and a few minutes later Brandon Tanev scored off the faceoff with 6:17 left to make it 4-3, proving the be all the Friars needed to seal their first national championship.
But that didn’t take away from a special season put together by a special team. The Terriers went 28-8-5, winning the Beanpot and Hockey East titles — both firsts since 2009 — while qualifying for the Frozen Four for just the second time since 1997. They became the 11th team in program history to finish the year among the nation’s top two teams.
“The things we accomplished, when nobody thought we could do any of it, are a testament to [captains Matt Grzelcyk and Cason Hohmann] and everybody else associated with our team,” said Quinn. “We were a true team.”
The Terriers won just 10 games in 2013-14, Quinn’s first as BU’s head coach. It was the first time in 40 years in which the year started without Jack Parker leading the bench.
Coming off their worst season in a half-century, not many knew what to expect from the Terriers. They had a good core coming back with a large, talented freshman class coming in. O’Connor would be a full-time goalie after splitting time in his first two seasons with Sean Maguire, who took a medical redshirt this season.
BU was picked to finish sixth in the Hockey East prior to the season, their No. 20 ranking in the USCHO.com preseason poll the lowest the Terriers had been ranked in the 18-year history of the preseason poll.
But Quinn saw something in the team early on. He saw how the group bonded, how it gelled. And he sensed something special.
“Not only did the guys believe in each other athletically but they believed in each other socially, they trusted each other athletically and socially,” said Quinn. “When you have that at this level, you can do special things.”
It helped that the Terriers were welcoming a generational talent into the program in Jack Eichel. A player touted as the best prospect to come into college hockey since Brian Leetch walked on the Boston College campus in 1986. A 17-year-old kid already being compared to the likes of Mike Modano.
It helped even more that Eichel came as advertised. In 40 games, the North Chelmsford native scored 26 goals and 71 points. It took until his 11th game for a team to keep him off the scoresheet, an occurrence that happened just six times this season.
With Eichel centering him for the second half of the season, senior Evan Rodrigues was the nation’s leading scorer. After being bumped up to the top line during the second intermission of a 3-3 tie on Jan. 3 against Wisconsin, the left winger scored 15 goals and 44 points in 24 games, finishing with 21-40–61 totals, second only to Eichel.
“We were obviously a special team,” said Rodrigues. “I care about every single guy in this room. It’s a special group.”
But it was more than just the top line of Rodrigues, Eichel, and Danny O’Regan, though that tandem gained most of the attention — rightfully so — as the nation’s premier No. 1 line. The second line flourished when Robbie Baillargeon returned from mononucleosis. Ahti Oksanen scored 25 goals while Cason Hohmann emerged as one of the team’s best players in the second half. Freshman A.J. Greer was bumped up to the line during the postseason, and added a new element to the line.
Matt Lane was a great No. 3 center. Nikolas Olsson and Nick Roberto were strong bottom six contributors.
Defensively, the Terriers elder statesman was Grzelcyk, who had a year-and-a-half of college hockey under his belt, his sophomore campaign truncated by shoulder surgery. Four freshmen headlined the group, along with sophomore Doyle Somerby.
The blueline corps was anchored by O’Connor, who was going into his first full year as a full-time starter. The junior exceeded expectations, going 25-4-4 with a 2.18 GAA and .927 save percentage, earning himself second team All-Hockey East honors.
[O’Connor] is the reason we’re in this position,” said Eichel, “without him we wouldn’t have made it here and as far as we did.”
While O’Connor was great, the youthful blueline corps in front him had a hand in his success. The unit had a combined plus-105 rating, led by Grzelcyk’s plus-34. Freshman Brandon Hickey led the Hockey East and was tied for fifth nationally with 91 blocked shots.
“Obviously we had talent,” said Quinn. “But there’s a lot more ingredients that go into a championship team than just having talent.”
Great coaching makes great teams. It’s why the Terriers have been perennial power, as their bench has been run by names like Jack Parker and Jack Kelley. Add Quinn to that list too.
The Terriers not only improved by 18 wins from 2013-14 to 2014-15, but did so with a team that rolled eight freshman in its lineup, four of whom were defensemen. A goaltender who had never been a full-time starter in Division I college hockey. While Quinn credits the team’s veteran leadership for the quick adjustment of the Terriers youth, the best came out of Quinn this past season.
Many saw Oksanen as a big, strong defenseman who was coming off a strong sophomore season. Quinn saw a player with a skillset that would make him an elite winger, a beast on the walls and a monster around the net. The second-year coach put the third-year Terrier up front — to the dismay of Oksanen at first — and the Finnish forward finished the year sixth in nation with 25 goals. Not many coaches would’ve made that call, especially after the year Oksanen had in 2013-14 playing on the back end.
Not only did the team win games, they won championships. They became the first BU team to win the Beanpot and Hockey East since 2009. They came within 10 minutes of becoming just the eighth team to win the Beanpot, conference, and national tournament titles in the same season, just the fourth from BU (1972, 1995, 2009).
A great season with a tough ending, but a tough ending that took nothing away from a great season.