Video: Brittany Ammerman talks about winning the Hockey Humanitarian Award

BOSTON — Wisconsin’s Brittany Ammerman talks about winning the 2015 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award after the ceremony at Matthews Arena on Friday.

Read Alex Faust’s feature on Ammerman here, and check out our earlier story on Ammerman’s work in creating a soccer league in Kenya.

Boston University’s Jack Eichel is the 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner

Boston University’s Jack Eichel has scored 70 points this season (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — Boston University’s Jack Eichel was named the winner of the 2015 Hobey Baker Award in a ceremony Friday at Matthews Arena.

Eichel, the national scoring leader with 70 points, also was named the Tim Taylor Award as Division I men’s hockey’s top rookie.

He beat out fellow Hobey Hat Trick finalists Zane McIntyre of North Dakota and Jimmy Vesey of Harvard for the award, becoming the third Terriers player lift the trophy. Chris Drury won in 1998, while Matt Gilroy won in 2009.

Eichel will try to duplicate what Gilroy did in 2009 — win the Hobey on Friday and win the national championship on Saturday. The Terriers play Providence in the Frozen Four title game at TD Garden.

Eichel is only the second freshman to win the award, joining Maine’s Paul Kariya in 1993.

More coverage to come.

NCAA, college hockey stakeholders discuss the state of the game

BOSTON — Representatives from different areas of the college hockey universe met with the media on Friday afternoon to discuss the current status of the game.

For about an hour, they fielded questions on a wide range of topics, including how to improve the NCAA tournament’s regional selection process, the impact of a competitive and challenging recruiting landscape and the continued growth of what’s become an emerging marketplace for athletic competition.

Standing in for college hockey were: Michigan State head coach and head of the NCAA rules committee Tom Anastos; College Hockey Inc. executive director Mike Snee; NCAA director of championships Kristin Fasbender; and member of the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee Tom McGinnis of Minnesota.

Here are some of the topics they discussed:

Regionals take center stage at Frozen Four

The most passionate area of inquiry centered on thoughts surrounding the selection of regional sites, which are now placed at neutral, predetermined sites.

The discussion about where to play the NCAA tournament’s first rounds veered toward a “campus site or not campus site” tone.

“Our goal is to maximize the experience for all of our student-athletes,” said Fasbender. “With the current setup, we know we cannot always guarantee that a host school will play at the predetermined sites. There are multiple options on the table that we want to discuss, and we’re going to continue to work with the NCAA body, the institutions and our television partners.”

“I was an advocate of the move to neutral sites,” said Anastos. “I’m also an advocate of constantly reviewing. Attendance is always discussed, and we always have lots of inputs. It’s not a simple solution, and there are different models we want to look at and discuss.”

Regional sites for 2016 are already in place, meaning change would not happen before the 2017 season.

Along with the site, the panel discussed the slotting of times of each game.

“We have a great partner in ESPN,” said McGinnis, “but we only have limited hours when we’re scheduling 12 games over a three-day period. But we’re continuing to look at models and see how we can discuss and evaluate.”

NCAA vs. major juniors

Increasingly this season, the battle between college hockey and the major juniors became more public with the higher-profile signings of players like Sonny Milano.

Milano, who chose to sign a professional contract and play this season with the Plymouth Whalers, made his decision after originally committing to Boston College.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing [to market college hockey],” said Snee. “We’re focusing on all aspects of marketing, from electronic to social media to traditional marketing. We have a partnership this year with TSN, and we’re making a slow acquisition of people who were rooted in information that might be a little bit older. We’ve really found a sweet spot in social media and on Twitter.”

Per Snee, one-third of all NHL players come from the NCAA system, with the New York Rangers topping the list of teams with college athletes. The Rangers recently sealed up the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL team with the best regular season record.

“We’ve been really good at chipping away [at the older school of thought],” said Anastos, “and we’re strengthening our relationships [with the hockey community].”

Watering the beanstalk

Despite all the questions about the regionals and the “battle” with the juniors circuit, college hockey continues to focus on the growth of its game. Arizona State joins Division I as the 60th member, and more than once there were lighthearted references to the 61st, 62nd and even the 63rd team to join college hockey.

“We are going to follow the interest,” said Snee. “You look at Arizona State and Penn State, and if there’s a situation where someone with resources and interest in hockey exists, that’s where we’ll go. We are targeting the schools we feel will be most likely to want hockey while focusing on places where growth can have the most impact.

“Arizona State is allowing us to have the conversations about other Pac-12 schools who maybe are thinking, ‘If they can do it in Tempe, maybe we can do it here.’ I’m really excited to see what impact Arizona State will have when you look 25 years down the road.”

At the same time, Snee touched upon the strengthening of the nontraditional college or hockey market. He referenced the flourishing youth hockey community of Huntsville, Ala., as an example of how an area can use college hockey as a centering piece to the construction of a tradition.

Parity reigns supreme

With a fourth-seeded team back in the national championship game, there is more parity than ever in college hockey. Even with an ever-changing atmosphere, the competition on the ice remains as competitive as ever.

In regards to the recent autonomy vote granting powers to schools within “power conferences,” Anastos, himself impacted in the Big Ten with Michigan State, said: “We really don’t know how everything will be different. We know it will be different, but we really don’t know and can’t determine the impact.”

McGinnis made the worthwhile point that there are already fundamental differences between some of the schools. In the 59-team Division I, not all schools offer the same amount of athletic scholarships, and some don’t offer any at all.

The last two national champions — Union and Yale — are among the schools that don’t offer athletic scholarship. Even with that scenario, there’s still substantial parity.

Providence students find on-campus viewing party

BOSTON — For the vast majority of Providence’s undergraduate hockey fans, McPhail’s was the place to be on Thursday evening.

The bar, located in the student union’s Slavin Center, welcomed the unlucky majority who could not score a ticket to the TD Garden with free food, giveaways, a projector-screen television and — just as importantly — a place to gather with other faithful Friars fans.

Manager Tim Dannenfelser did not have a hard figure on Thursday’s attendance, though he estimated about 200, of whom “at least 95 percent were students.” While the 233-occupancy establishment will duplicate its semifinal festivities for Saturday’s finale, Dannenfelser indicated uncertainty about how many students would wend their way to McPhail’s for the championship.

“Many students will probably have their own parties, since a lot of them live off-campus,” he said.

He definitely hopes to equal the energy level one more time.

“It was really loud,” he said. “Really loud. … Definitely more than [the atmosphere there during] the Super Bowl.”

McPhail’s hopes to give away a lot more food and a lot more prizes Saturday night … and hopes that the Friars themselves don’t give an inch.

Terriers’ Quinn praises goaltender O’Connor’s bounce-back ability

Matt O’Connor has allowed what could be considered a soft goal in the last two games (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — All season long, Boston University goaltender Matt O’Connor has been a model of consistency on a team loaded with freshmen, the youngest team in the country.

Unfortunately, in the last two games, at the most important time of the year, the junior has allowed arguably his two softest goals of the year.

With a 2-1 lead over Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional championship game, he gave up a mystifyingly bad goal on a shot that appeared to be an easy glove save. The goal left the game tied until the closing minutes when the Terriers scored on the power play.

O’Connor topped that one in all the wrong ways in the Frozen Four semifinals, mishandling the puck and unknowingly leaving it in the crease for an easy tap-in that breathed third-period life into North Dakota.

What does a coach say when his previously steady goaltender surrenders bad goals in back-to-back games?

“I find the less I talk to goalies, the better off they are,” Quinn said to considerable media laughter. Quickly, he added, “I mean that sincerely. I’m not being funny.

“Every player is going to make a bad play. Obviously, a goalie’s mistakes are a lot more magnified than anybody else’s.

“But the key to any athlete’s success is how does he respond to a bad play.”

As it turned out, O’Connor’s response to the gaffe preserved BU’s advance to the national championship game. North Dakota followed with a power-play goal that was no fault at all of O’Connor’s, and then kept up the pressure.

“After they make it 4-3, he makes a huge save to keep it at 4-3,” Quinn said.

“To me, it’s timely saves and how do you respond and what’s your mental toughness. He’s shown it all year.

“Every goalie is going to have a bad goal in their career. It’s how you respond to it. [Matt's response] is one of the reasons we continue to play.

“It’s why he’s a great goalie. It’s why he’s going to have a chance to play at the next level. And I’m just proud of him the way he battled back from it.”

Friars making the most of their season’s second chances

Providence’s Jon Gillies gave the Friars a solid footing early in the season (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — It’s not the best motivational tune, but nothing seems to fit Providence’s season better than “Lean On Me.”

In an offensively lean first semester, star goaltender Jon Gillies gave his teammates the confidence to play through their struggles without succumbing to “bunker hockey.”

“I think for us, it’s just been sticking with the process,” said senior captain Ross Mauermann. “Early on in the season against some tough opponents, we were working hard but just not getting the results we wanted. We knew we just had to keep working hard in practice and bringing it.”

Coach Nate Leaman agreed.

“I think we were pressing,” he said. “Ross probably hit five posts in the start of the season, and it just — for whatever reason — wasn’t going in for us. We were a little bit on the perimeter, we lost our identity a little bit as far as what makes us successful.

“We had some signs where it was starting to go for us: We won three games 1-0, Jon twice and Nick Ellis once in a shutout at UNH, so we were able to win some games, then the goals started to come a little more in the second half.”

Before Dec. 21, the Friars potted just 2.12 goals per game, 46th in Division I. On this side of the Christmas break, Providence averages 3.54 goals a game, sixth-most in the nation. Three of the strongest pistons in the engine have been juniors Noel Acciari (14 goals and 27 points since Dec. 28) and Nick Saracino (10-18–28) and the veteran Mauermann (19 points, after posting just seven in the first half).

“The biggest thing was making sure we were getting pucks to the net,” Mauermann said of himself and his team at large, “not trying to make the pretty play all the time, and early on we were trying to do that too much. It’s paid off for us in the tournament for sure, with a lot of second-chance goals.”

It’s been a second-chance kind of season for Providence, and the Friars are making the most of it.

Boston University avoids the worst of all hat tricks

North Dakota’s Stephane Pattyn tangles with Boston University’s Ahti Oksanen on Thursday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — In Thursday’s semifinal contest with North Dakota, Boston University held a commanding 4-1 lead with eight minutes left in regulation. The Terriers were also on the power play.

Game over.

That is, until three mind-boggling self-inflicted wounds put the Terriers on the precipice of one of the most gut-wrenching, cataclysmic collapses of all time.

While on the power play, goaltender Matt O’Connor mishandled the puck and unknowingly left it in the crease for an easy tap-in by Troy Stecher.

One self-inflicted wound down, two to go.

Two minutes later, the Terriers incurred a too many men on the ice penalty. On the resulting power play, North Dakota’s Connor Gaarder scored on the power play to make it 4-3.

Game most decidedly not over. The all-but-wrapped-up trip to the national championship game was now in serious jeopardy.

Two self-inflicted wounds down, one to go, the last one potentially the unkindest cut of all.

BU has prided itself all year long, and deservedly so, on its late-game composure and the leadership provided to a team with 10 freshmen by the upperclassmen, including Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann, the only two regularly active seniors.

Rodrigues, in particular, had emerged to become the No. 2 scorer in the country. His late-game composure allowed him to score the decisive power-play goal with 2:24 remaining in the Northeast Regional championship game, carrying the Terriers into the Frozen Four. His patience in executing his trademarked toe-drag move followed by a sniper shot into the top of the net typified the heroics he’s provided all year.

But here in the Frozen Four with less than two minutes remaining and North Dakota storming back, the senior leader usually filled with ice water in his veins pulled a stunt befitting of a 13-year-old, putting himself in line to become a goat on par with Bill Buckner.

During a stoppage in play, he skated near North Dakota player Stephane Pattyn, stick raised above chest level and “accidentally” clipped Pattyn near the helmet.

It was a move, indisputably deliberate, straight out of either “Slap Shot” or Pee Wee hockey.

Minutes away from advancing to the national championship game?

Mind boggling.

It stood the chance of becoming the senior’s college hockey epitaph, a sickening end to a terrific career.

The third and clearly the worst of the three self-inflicted wounds.

“It was a stupid play by a very intelligent player,” BU coach David Quinn said. “He got the penalty he deserved.”

Fortunately for the Terriers, Pattyn retaliated and instead of a North Dakota pulse-pounding power play, the sides skated four-on-four, which became a five-on-four when UND pulled its goalie.

Rodrigues had still provided North Dakota with the extra open ice coveted by a team down by a goal and with its goaltender pulled, but he’d dodged the bullet of a power play.

And with 19 seconds remaining, Jack Eichel scored the game-clinching empty netter on a shot from within the Terriers defensive zone.

An epic fail had been avoided.

The third self-inflicted wound turned out to be only a glancing blow.

“A lot of things happened in the last seven minutes that haven’t happened all year,” Quinn said. “Matt O’Connor has never given up a goal like that during the year.

“And then we got a too many men on the ice penalty, but it actually wasn’t too many men on the ice. We played the puck without being on the ice, which is a penalty. A penalty should have been called, but it shouldn’t have been a too many men on the ice penalty.

“And then Evan Rodrigues takes a stupid penalty, a penalty he’s never taken in my two years here.

“So that added all up to a chaotic situation. Hopefully, we can learn from it and avoid those chaotic situations.”

After the game, some media members suggested that Rodrigues be suspended, an idea that Quinn rejected after viewing the game tape.

“I don’t think that warranted anything like that,” he said.

While his players may have gotten away with three self-inflicted wounds, Quinn wasn’t about to add a fourth.

Providence’s Leaman takes unconventional road, with a primary assist from Shawn Walsh

Providence coach Nate Leaman is in his fourth season at Providence (photo: Matt Eisenberg).

BOSTON — Providence skipper Nate Leaman is an accidental coach.

“I thought I was done with hockey,” he said.

The 12th-year head coach did not follow the typical path to his current post. Many college hockey coaches read from a common script: Play in Division I, sign on as a volunteer/hockey operations/assistant coach at the alma mater, climb the ranks and jump to the top gig whenever and wherever one opens up.

Dean Blais did it at Minnesota. Dave Hakstol did it at North Dakota. David Quinn did it at Boston University. Nate Leaman… did not.

Leaman did not start playing hockey until he was already a teenager in Kettering, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton and an hour north of Cincinnati. If anything, hockey’s status in the shadow of football and basketball in southwest Ohio allowed Leaman to break into what is usually a lifelong sport.

“Yeah, 13,” recalled the two-time captain at Division III SUNY Cortland, a top-20 scorer in the program’s history and a 2014 Red Dragons Hall of Fame inductee. “I don’t think I was gifted — I wouldn’t use the term gifted — it was more that I just became a rink rat. That was it. I ended up working at the rink; our high school team practiced before school, so I was often the guy closing the rink and then getting there first thing in the morning for practices.

“High school hockey in Ohio was so small that I was able to learn the game because it wasn’t a terrifically high level at that time. I was able to jump in, learn the game and get involved.”

Leaman graduated with a degree in biological sciences and immediately pursued a master’s in the same subject at Maine.

“I was up there a couple weeks, probably a month. I was doing my master’s work in contaminants in biology and I realized I missed the game a little bit. My college coach put in a call to [longtime Maine coach] Shawn Walsh. Shawn Walsh said, ‘Come on in, I’ll sit down with you.’ He sat down with me for 20 minutes and helped me get a high school coaching job that year [at nearby Old Town High School].

“At Christmastime, the high school team I was coaching had a practice right before Maine. [Walsh] watched a couple minutes of that practice and came in, and asked me if I wanted to be the volunteer for the following year.”

Leaman proceeded to get right back into the game he had briefly abandoned, parlaying his experience at Maine into assistant positions at Harvard and with the 2007 and 2009 U.S. World Junior teams.

Union hired him away from Harvard in 2003, and Providence came calling in 2011. Leaman worked the bench at Maine’s Alfond Arena for only one season, but it was an opportunity he’ll always appreciate.

Walsh, who took the Black Bears to 11 NCAA tournaments, seven Frozen Fours, and the top of the mountain twice (1993 and ’99) in 17 years at the helm, died due to complications from renal cell carcinoma in the fall of 2001. Walsh was a polarizing figure in the game, but Leaman’s gaze drifted as he recalled how much he owed the legendary coach.

“It goes back to Shawn Walsh being a special person, sitting down with [a stranger] for 20 minutes,” he said. “It’s something I think a lot about. Shawn didn’t have to sit down with me. He didn’t know me at all. He could have easily not taken the time to help somebody out, and he did, so obviously I owe him a great debt of gratitude there.”

No longer among top six forwards, Boston University’s Lane embraces his role

Matt Lane moved to Boston University’s third line this season (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — Last season, Matt Lane skated on one of Boston University’s top two lines. He was, in the parlance, a “top six” forward.

This year’s influx of talented freshmen, however, most notably national scoring leader Jack Eichel, pushed Lane down to the third line.

On paper, a demotion. He was no longer “a top-sixer.”

Compensating for the apparent reduced role, however, the Terriers have rebounded from a 10-21-4 record to sit one game away from a national championship.

It’s a trade the junior has gladly made.

“Last year we struggled, [but] fortunately this year we got a lot of good players,” Lane says. “I prefer to be in this role, playing for the national championship, [than] be on a 10-20 team.

“I’m happy where I am right now. I’ve embraced the role the best I can. I’m just going to keep contributing here and hopefully finish this thing out, one more game.”

Yet to hear BU coach David Quinn talk, there’s been no demotion at all, no reduced role.

“People ask that a lot, but his role hasn’t diminished,” Quinn says. “He’s on the power play. He kills penalties.

“He’s a huge part of our team. He’s playing in key situations. If you look at his ice time, it’s probably less than last year because we have more depth, but he’s more important to our team this year than he was last year.

“He’s had a heck of a year. He’s a big reason why we’re in the situation we’re in.”

Video: Providence meets the media Friday

BOSTON — Providence coach Nate Leaman and Friars players faced the media on Friday to preview Saturday’s national championship game against Boston University.

Here’s the video, courtesy of NCAA On Demand:

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