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Boston U., Providence advance to NCAA title game

by Connor Mellas /

BOSTON -- Jack Eichel did it all for Boston University on Thursday.

The freshman forward scored the Terriers' first and last goals, as well as assisting on the momentum-swinging third goal in a 5-3 victory against North Dakota in the second Frozen Four semifinal game at TD Garden.

BU (28-7-5) will meet Hockey East rival Providence College for the national championship on Saturday. The Friars advanced to the title game for the first time since 1985 by defeating Nebraska-Omaha 4-1 in the first semifinal.

The Terriers, who had to hold on after North Dakota cut a 4-1 lead to 4-3 in the third period, are trying for their sixth national championship and first since 2009.

"At this time of the season you just have to find ways to win," BU coach David Quinn said. "There are all sorts of ways to win. We've been very fortunate this year, we've won games a lot of different ways; we won one tonight in a way we hadn't had to win one all year."

Eichel, who leads all Division I players with 70 points and is expected to be a top-two pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, gave the Terriers a 1-0 lead at 4:59 of the first period with a power-play goal. As North Dakota goalie Zane McIntyre flailed on the edge of the crease, San Jose Sharks prospect Danny O'Regan slipped a no-look pass to the edge of the circle. Eichel caught the puck and casually lofted a backhand shot across his body and into the top right corner of the wide-open net.

"To be honest, the puck got away from me a little bit," Eichel said. "I had seen the goalie kind of come out on [Ahti Oksanen's] move. So I just tried to get it on net quick, and [the puck] was fortunate enough to go in."

BU doubled its lead with 48 seconds left in the period by scoring again on the power play. Cason Hohmann hit freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey with a perfect pass, and Hickey, a third-round pick (No. 64) by the Calgary Flames in the 2014 NHL Draft, fired a low slap shot past McIntyre.

"I thought for the first 10 minutes we played really well," Quinn said. "I thought we were moving the puck, spent a lot of time in their end, got up 2-0. I thought they started taking the play a little bit."

After struggling to impose a physical presence in the first period, North Dakota (29-10-3) got back into the game with a power-play goal 44 seconds into the second. Sophomore forward Luke Johnson slid methodically toward the goal line and beat goaltender Matt O'Connor to the near post with a tough wrist shot. The Chicago Blackhawks chose Johnson in the fifth round (No. 123) in 2013.

BU weathered North Dakota's push for the tying goal, and at 11:20, after Quinn called for a key line change. Eichel helped the Terriers regain their two-goal lead.

"Coach kept yelling 'Eichel, Eichel, Eichel's line,' " Eichel said.

"[I] say that a lot," Quinn interrupted. "I'm doing it in my sleep"

Eichel skated down the left wing, cut inside and fed a cross-ice pass to freshman forward A.J. Greer, who was sliding toward the far edge of the faceoff circle with his stick cocked. Greer took Eichel's pass and ripped a one-timer past McIntyre to give BU a 3-1 lead.

"Tried to put it in his wheelhouse where he could hammer one," Eichel said. "He works on the shot a lot, and I wasn't surprised at all. He's got a great one-timer. It was a big goal in the game; gave us a little bit of cushion."

BU's cushion grew even bigger when defenseman Doyle Somerby, a fifth-round pick (No. 125) by the New York Islanders in 2012, scored his first goal of the season at 13:20 to send BU into the third period up 4-1.

"I wasn't expecting it," Somerby said. "I skated back to the bench to celebrate and the guys were all laughing. I woke up thinking I was going to play some defense and get the pucks out but it's really nice to score."

But BU's lead began to evaporate after the midway point of the third period.

North Dakota sophomore defenseman Troy Stecher scored a shorthanded goal at 12:10 after O'Connor mishandled the puck during a BU power play. The Terriers then took a bench minor for too many men on the ice, and Connor Gaarder scored a power-play goal at 16:17 to make it 4-3.

"You're up 4-1, seven minutes to go, eight minutes to go, and you think you go on the power play and you think everything's in good shape, and your goalie lets in a goal that he hasn't let in all year," Quinn said. "And a too many men on the ice penalty that we haven't had all year, and then it's 4-3 and we're hanging on for dear life."

But Eichel put the game away after North Dakota pulled McIntyre for an extra attacker, shooting the puck from his own zone into an empty net with 19 seconds left for his 26th goal of the season.

"I just tried to put it on net, "Eichel said. "To be honest, I thought it was going wide. I think it hit a divot in the ice and rolled in. It was a lucky play but Matt Grzelcyk and [Hohmann] made a spectacular play in the corner to ice the game."

"Kinda blacked out after realizing that we punched our ticket," Somerby said.

O'Connor made 36 saves; McIntyre, a sixth-round pick (No. 165) by the Boston Bruins in 2010, finished with 23.

"There's only two teams standing, both from Hockey East," Quinn said. "I congratulate Providence as well. It's going to be heck of a game, heck of an atmosphere. Looking forward to Saturday."

BU and Providence haven't played since splitting two games on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

In the first semifinal, Jon Gillies made 25 saves and Mark Jankowski had a goal and an assist for Providence, which advanced to the title game for the first time since losing to RPI 30 years ago in their only previous appearance.

Gillies (third round, No. 75) and Jankowski (first round, No. 21) were taken by the Flames in the 2012 NHL Draft.

Noel Acciari gave the Friars (25-13-2) a 1-0 lead when he scored at 11:02 of the second period.

Jankowski made it 2-0 at 14:58 with his seventh goal of the season.

Nebraska-Omaha (20-13-6) cut the deficit to one goal when Jake Guentzel beat Gillies at 10:46 of the third period. But Providence regained its two-goal lead 24 seconds later when Trevor Mingoia scored, and Nick Saracino, who assisted on the two second-period goals, scored into an empty net with 31 seconds remaining.

Ryan Massa made 44 saves for the Mavericks, who were making their first Frozen Four appearance.

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