Frozen Four preview: Boston University hopes key late-season games help overcome inexperience

Ahti Oksanen (2) and Boston University may be playing near home but they won’t have the experience advantage against North Dakota (photo: Melissa Wade).

In one corner we have North Dakota, a participant in last year’s Frozen Four and a team that has won games in the NCAA West Regional two years in a row.

In other words, loaded with NCAA tournament experience.

2015 Frozen Four

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In the other corner we have Boston University. The Terriers missed the tournament entirely the last two years, last season by several country miles. Only two players, senior forwards Evan Rodrigues and Cason Hohmann, played in BU’s NCAA tournament game three years ago, a 7-3 loss to Minnesota.

Advantage: North Dakota.

Presumably, a huge advantage. But that’s not keeping BU coach David Quinn awake at night.

“We’ve been fortunate over the last month where we’ve been in a lot of pressure situations,” Quinn said. “Looking back, we may benefit from the Beanpot getting postponed. Over the last month, we’ve played in three semifinal-final situations to win a tournament, from the Beanpot to the Hockey East finals to the regional finals.

“I’m hoping, and I have faith in our guys, that we can draw from those experiences and it will alleviate any of the inexperience we have being in the national tournament because at the end of the day, obviously the venue is going to be bigger, the crowd is going to be bigger.

“But we’ve been in situations that will help us overcome some of our inexperience in the national tournament.”

The inexperience factor goes deeper, however. North Dakota rolls out six seniors; BU, two. North Dakota relies on only three freshmen to contribute significantly with two more as role players; BU played nine rookies while emerging from the Northeast Regional, four of them defenseman, and another, superstar forward Jack Eichel.

It adds up to BU fielding the youngest team in the country against a largely veteran North Dakota squad, which by the way, has all that extra NCAA tournament experience.

“So far it hasn’t been a problem,” Quinn said with a laugh. “We have a big body of work that has said that these freshmen can play at a high level and in pressure situations.

“One of the things our team has shown is that there is a resolve and a resiliency and I use the word swagger throughout the season. There’s a belief that not only each player has in himself, but each player has in each other. I think that maybe alleviates some of our youth.

“We’ve got great senior leadership, we’ve got great leadership through our junior class and our sophomores have certainly done a great job in assuming some leadership responsibility as well.

“At this time of the year, it may say freshman next to their name, but when you’ve got 40 games under your belt in college hockey, you’re a seasoned freshman.”

About the Terriers

Coach: David Quinn, second season at Boston University and overall

Record: 27-7-5 (14-5-3 Hockey East, first)

How they got to the Frozen Four: Defeated Yale 3-2 in overtime and Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 to win the Northeast Regional

Regional seed: First

Last Frozen Four appearance: 2009

Best NCAA finish: Champions, 2009, 1995, 1978, 1972, 1971

Why they’ll win the national championship: BU has the No. 2 offense and power play in the country, both triggered by the best player in college hockey, Jack Eichel, along with perhaps the most underrated one, Evan Rodrigues (second in scoring only to Eichel). Don’t forget second-liner Ahti Oksanen and his 24 goals, blueliner Matt Grzelcyk and unsung goaltender Matt O’Connor.

Why they won’t win the national championship: This is the youngest team in the country and one almost totally bereft of NCAA tournament experience before this year.

— David H. Hendrickson

There have, however, been some early game jitters, a likely byproduct of the team’s youth.

No one can quibble with the end results, but the Terriers have developed a penchant for digging themselves a first-period hole they then have to crawl out of. Witness the Northeast Regional game against Yale when they didn’t really seem to relax and play their game until they were down 1-0.

They’ve certainly shown the ability to put the pedal to the metal in the third period, where they’ve outscored teams 65-28.

But in all likelihood, they’d best not depend on comebacks against an opponent as tough as North Dakota. Skip the early jitters and the first-period hole digging.

“It’s something we’re going to have to continue to overcome,” Quinn said. “We’ve been less nervous as we go through these situations.

“Saturday night against Minnesota-Duluth, we got off to a great start; there weren’t the nerves that were there against Yale.

“The Yale game was a different situation. Even though it was a similar setup where you’re playing in a semifinal and final, it was the first time we were playing in a situation where if we lost, the season was over.

“In the Beanpot semifinals and the Hockey East semifinals, our season was going to continue, win or lose. Against Yale, that wasn’t the case, and I thought that was really part of the problem with our nerves.

“But now that we’ve been through it and we’re in the Frozen Four, I don’t think it’s going to be as much of an issue.”