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Boston U. freshman Eichel wins Hobey Baker

by Connor Mellas

BOSTON -- As clips of Boston University freshman Jack Eichel played on the video board at Matthews Arena, Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey turned to Eichel and laughed, shaking his head.

With the way Eichel scores goals, sometimes that's only appropriate response.

"That goal he scored against Wisconsin, it was pretty hilarious," Vesey said. "It was just a highlight-reel goal. He's just such a good skater and he uses edges so well there, and his reach and then the shot."

"He's a great player, and giving him the Hobey Baker is very well-deserved. He's been the most dominant player in college hockey."

Eichel won the 2015 Hobey Baker Award on Friday, becoming the second freshman to earn the award and the first since Paul Kariya led the University of Maine to the national championship in 1992-93. The award is given annually to the top player in NCAA men's hockey. It's named after Baker, a hockey and football standout at Princeton University who died test piloting a plane for the Army Air Service at the end of World War I. It's the highest individual honor in men's college hockey, the equivalent of college football's Heisman Trophy.

"It was really nice to hear my name," Eichel said. "My mom and dad are sitting there in the front row. I got choked up there for a minute talking, just because I looked down and saw my mom, and she was crying, so it choked me up for a minute just because of how important my parents are and everything they've done for me."

Not many college hockey players in recent memory have generated and lived up to the kind of hype and media attention as Eichel. The 18-year-old center leads all Division I players with 70 points, the most by a freshman since Kariya's 100-point season 22 years ago. He has 26 goals and a plus-51 rating that's also the best in the nation.

Hope for Eichel was always high, but he's blown away almost all expectations, including his father's.

"Our goal was like, 'If he gets 30 points in college hockey, it's going to be a great year,' " Bob Eichel said. " 'If BU challenges for the division, it's going to be a great year; if they win a Beanpot, it's going to be an unbelievable year.' Now I'm shocked with everything that's happened. It's been a great run."

The last freshman finalist before Eichel was Zach Parise in 2003. Eichel joins Matt Gilroy (2009) and Chris Drury (1998) as the third Terrier to win the award. NHL Central Scouting projects Eichel will be the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft; he's second only to Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.

For now, Eichel is remaining tight-lipped about his plans for next year.

"I'm sure when the season is over I'll sit down with the people that are close to me and be able to make a decision," he said.

The native of North Chelmsford, Mass., has collected an impressive set of honors in just one season. In addition to the Hobey Baker, Eichel was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year, Hockey East player of the Year and Hockey East Tournament MVP. He also won the Tim Taylor Award, given to the nation's outstanding freshman, and was selected as an All-American.

Eichel scored two goals and had an assist against North Dakota in BU's 5-3 victory in the Frozen Four. He'll have the chance to hoist yet another trophy when BU faces Providence College in the national championship game on Saturday at TD Garden.

"It's going to be a great game," Eichel said. "To be able to play the national championship only 30 minutes from my home, my freshman year of college, it's truly been a dream-come-true season and probably the most memorable I've ever had."

The other members of the Hobey Hat Trick, the finalists for the award, were Vesey and North Dakota goalie Zane McIntyre.

Vesey, the Nashville Predators' third-round pick (No. 66) in 2012, led Division I with 32 goals and finished with 58 points. Harvard lost 4-1 to Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Vesey, a junior and All-American, recently said he intends to return to Harvard for his senior season.

"Obviously he would have had an opportunity to go to Nashville and play right away, but he's got a great chance to get a degree from Harvard, which not a lot of people have, so I don't blame him at all," Eichel said. "Jimmy will play hockey for a long time after college. A lot of people have given me advice that I'm sure Jimmy got as well, and there's no rush to go anywhere."

Earlier Friday, McIntyre won the Mike Richter Award, which is given to the outstanding goaltender in college hockey. The junior led the nation with 29 wins and finished the season with a .929 save percentage and a 2.05 goals against average. McIntyre is North Dakota's all-time leader in career save percentage and GAA. The Boston Bruins picked him in the sixth round (No. 165) in 2010.

McIntyre has yet to make a decision about turning pro.

"Everything's really new and really fresh with what happened last night, and I don't think it would be fair to myself, my family, my current teammates as well, to really just make a decision that quickly," McIntyre said at the Richter Award presentation.

The 2015 Hockey Humanitarian Award, which recognizes "college hockey student athletes, Division I or III, male or female, who make significant, lasting contributions to their communities in true humanitarian spirit," was given to senior forward Brittany Ammerman of Wisconsin. Ammerman traveled to rural Kenya and founded the Nikumbuke Women's Soccer League, and has collected more than $30,000 to pay for uniforms, shoes, and equipment for the league which features teams from seven remote Kenyan villages.

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