It was never of question of if Jack Eichel would make an impact for Boston University this season, but just how soon the highly touted freshman would do something special.
It didn’t take long.
Eichel notched two goals and two assists in a six-goal BU third-period onslaught to lead the Terriers to an 8-1 beat down of Massachusetts in the season opener at Mullins Center Friday night.
Eichel meshed well with linemates Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen in his much-anticipated collegiate debut, and it paid major dividends in the third when the trio accounted for four of the Terriers’ six goals in the final frame.
With his team leading 2-1, the freshman started the rout one minute, 54 seconds into the period when Brandon Fortunato hit him with a slick pass coming across the middle in the offensive zone. Eichel finished the play with a wrist shot to beat UMass goaltender Steve Mastalerz for his first career goal and double BU’s lead to 3-1.
That was only the beginning.
Eichel earned his first career assist 44 seconds later when he used good vision to find a wide-open O’Regan in front for a goal to make it 4-1 Terriers. Eichel scored again at 6:02 when he wristed the puck under the pad of Mastalerz, and got a secondary assist on Cason Hohmann’s goal at 12:39 to put the Terriers up 6-1 and chase Mastalerz (29 saves) from the game.
“It felt nice to get your first goal under your belt,” Eichel said. “I think it was just a testament to my linemates.”
BU coach David Quinn had high praise his centerman after the game, pointing to his “world-class shot” as a reason for such dynamic play.
“Jack’s a special player; we all know that,” Quinn said. “He did some special things tonight.”
A.J. Greer and O’Regan added late goals to cap off the scoring.
The Terriers’ dominant play in the third period came as a surprise after the Minutemen seemingly took momentum with a goal late in the second period.
BU had dominated play through most of the first two periods to take a 2-0 lead, but UMass stayed within reach when freshman Jake Horton rocketed a slap shot from the high slot to cut the deficit in half. The Minutemen went into the third with the man advantage after John MacLeod took a roughing penalty during the goal.
The Terriers killed the penalty and never looked back, much to the credit of its first line’s play.
“It was almost like they took the game in their own hands and all of a sudden it’s 4-1,” Quinn said of his top line. “All three of those guys are great. They all do something very well.”
The two teams started 17 freshmen combined Friday night, something UMass coach John Micheletto pointed to as the reason for such a seismic shift in momentum from the end of the second period to the start of the third.
“We know full well as a coaching staff that with two young teams, momentum is going to play a factor,” Micheletto said. “When we didn’t generate enough energy off that power play early in the third, we just got swallowed up by the wave of momentum.
“I’m not happy with our reaction at that point. It’s certainly something we will work on. This is not who we are as a team, individually or collectively.”
Lost in the third-period offensive explosion was the play of BU goaltender Connor LaCouvee. The freshman, who found out at about 1 p.m. Friday that he would start in place of Matt O’Connor, who suffered a lower-body injury in practice Thursday, made 31 saves on 32 UMass shots and made a number of key stops throughout the game.
“I was excited; I wasn’t really nervous or anything, so that was good,” LaCouvee said. “It’s just hockey, right? Obviously it’s a big game, but at the end of the day it’s just a hockey game so it’s exciting.”
After dominating possession and zone time through most of the first period, the Terriers capitalized at 12:22 in when Robbie Baillargeon tapped a loose puck in at the back post to put BU up 1-0.
UMass put strong pressure on LaCouvee midway through the second period led by the line of Frank Vatrano, Dennis Kravchenko, and Troy Power, but instead of a Minutemen scoring chance, Evan Rodrigues took possession and led the Terriers on the rush. After a nice stick move to get in the clear, Rodrigues fed Nikolas Olsson with a drop pass just outside the crease and the freshman beat Mastalerz for his first collegiate goal to double BU’s advantage.