Perhaps it was fitting that there was no on-ice announcement on Saturday night and little fanfare when Boston University senior Evan Rodrigues received the most outstanding player award in the NCAA Northeast Regional against Minnesota-Duluth.
Rodrigues may be the most overlooked star player in college hockey this season.
2015 Frozen Four
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He set a Hockey East record with six assists in a game in late January. He was the only Hockey East player to notch two hat tricks this season, and he’s always been acknowledged to be a strong two-way player. As a sophomore, he was arguably the best skater on the BU team.
All the same, he was overlooked when the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award were announced, and he didn’t make the Hockey East first team, either.
A big reason why Rodrigues has gone under the radar has been because of linemate Jack Eichel, who won Hockey East’s player of the year and rookie of the year honors, and who appears to be the odds-on favorite to win the Hobey a week from Friday. On top of that, Eichel should be the No. 2 overall pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
While Eichel has earned the accolades he’s received, it’s fair to say that the praise for him and BU’s large and talented freshman class in general has led the average fan to underestimate how crucial Rodrigues and several other returning players have been to the Terriers’ resurgence this year.
As the youngest team in college hockey, the Terriers have relied on their upperclassmen to help the new kids on the block with early-game jitters. Captain Matt Grzelcyk and goalie Matt O’Connor have been stabilizing forces, but Rodrigues is the most electrifying player to watch.
“I would have expected him to be up for the Hobey, to be honest, with his performance,” junior goalie Matt O’Connor said in the BU locker room after Saturday’s game. “He’s definitely not only a leader but an all-around phenomenal player. I think a guy like him is one of the main reasons we’re in a spot like this.
“Obviously, we have great young talent, but to have a senior who can really deliver consistently? He’s one of those players that you know is going to deliver every night. Maybe he goes unnoticed, but he definitely doesn’t for a lot of the guys in the room.”
If the focus on Eichel keeps his linemate from getting as much attention has he might, Rodrigues repeatedly has reminded everyone that his post-holiday scoring surge coincided with being moved up to the first line with Eichel and Danny O’Regan.
“He was having a great year before his coach smartened up and put him with Eichel and O’Regan,” BU coach David Quinn said. “Then all hell broke loose.”
“Getting the opportunity to play with Jack and Danny is second to none,” BU captain Matt Grzelcyk said. “When we came back from Christmas, we wanted to make sure that we amped up our play, but he’s been electric all year. Seems like every time he gets the puck, he’s making a play.
“Everybody knows that he has the skills, but not everybody knows he is one of the hardest workers on the team, and he really sets the tone for the rest of the guys in the locker room.”
On the biggest stage of his life on Saturday night with the Frozen Four at stake, E-Rod delivered when his team needed it most. Early on, he took a wild golf swing of a shot at a bounding puck and somehow knocked it in the net for the first goal of the night.
And with the game tied 2-2, less than three minutes to go and a power play seconds away from expiring, Rodrigues scored a goal that BU fans will be talking about for years to come.
Grzelcyk slid the puck to him high in the right-wing circle, admitting later he wanted the Ontario native to shoot immediately. Instead, Rodrigues executed his trademark toe-drag, pulling the puck back as a Bulldogs defender lunged headfirst in a valiant effort to block the shot.
With that player out of the way, Rodrigues fired a wrist shot high glove side for the game winner.
After the news conference, Rodrigues agreed that it was the athletic highlight of his life to date.
“I think so. I can’t think of anything bigger than this right now,” he said. “I can’t even remember what I did after I scored. I was so excited. Just to see that go in the net, I was ecstatic.”
Backup goaltender Anthony Moccia laughed and shook his head when asked about the goal. “That’s just poise, and that poise is not just from tonight, it’s from four years of hard work,” he said. “It’s hard to describe. He’s calm but loose at the same time and also knows when to push guys and when to step up. It’s kind of the perfect hockey player mentality.”
On Saturday night, Quinn clearly relished seeing Rodrigues in the limelight.
“I knew he was a great player last year, and his stats obviously didn’t reflect that — nobody’s stats reflected that,” Quinn said. “But boy, this kid, he has a lot of ability. He’s got big-time skill, as he showed tonight. He’s hockey tough — tough to knock off the puck. He has a great release and he’s incredibly intelligent.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. I mean, he’s a 21-year-old senior; there aren’t many of those running around college hockey these days. He’s a great kid, a great student-athlete and he’s having a monster senior season.”
We’ll have to see what he can do for an encore when the Terriers get to play at the TD Garden for the fifth time this season. Moccia probably won’t see any time between the pipes, but he’s excited to have a ringside seat to watch his teammate finish his BU career at the Frozen Four.
“I’ve played with Evan for four years now,” Moccia said. “He’s deceptive with the puck. He’s a guy who shows up and works hard every day. He’s one of my favorite players to watch and one of my favorite friends to be around. I think he definitely got messed over at the Hockey East awards and should be up for the Hobey top 10. I love the guy and can’t wait to see what he does in the Garden next week.”