Boston University senior forward Evan Rodrigues is pretty confident in the fact a team can devise a strategy to deny teammate Jack Eichel, a projected top-two pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, for only so long.
Rodrigues said he hopes that trend continues when the Terriers play against the University of North Dakota in the semifinal round of the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four at TD Garden in Boston on April 9 (8:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2).
Boston University is headed back to the Frozen Four for the first time since winning its fifth NCAA title in 2009. North Dakota advances for the seventh time in coach Dave Hakstol's 11 years as coach.
First-Round NHL Draft Picks Playing in Frozen Four
Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota (Chicago, No. 20, 2014)
Mark Jankowski, Providence (Calgary No. 21, 2012)
Jordan Schmaltz, North Dakota (St. Louis, No. 25, 2012)
The earlier semifinal will have the University of Nebraska-Omaha against Providence College at TD Garden (5:00 p.m. ET; ESPN2). Nebraska-Omaha is making its first trip to the Frozen Four while Providence is making its fourth appearance and first since 1985. The winners will play for the national championship two days later at TD Garden (7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN).
Of the four remaining schools, Boston University coach David Quinn has the youngest roster (average age of 20 years, 10 months). Providence offers the oldest (22 years, one month). The challenge for Quinn is providing a game plan to outsmart a North Dakota lineup that includes plenty of leadership and 14 players already drafted by NHL teams.
Still, the Terriers have four 20-goal scorers in the lineup; no other team has more than two. Among those goal producers are their top line of Eichel (24 goals) centering Rodrigues (21 goals) and Danny O'Regan (22 goals). Eichel, No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, leads the nation with 67 points and was named MVP of the Hockey East tournament after scoring 11 points in four games.
"Jack is a such a special player that he can kind of fight through [being shadowed]," Rodrigues said. "For me and Danny it gives us more time and space to use our ability and skill and if we get open, no matter how many guys Jack has on him, he seems to be able to find us. So our job is to be open and to be supporting him. We have full faith he can fight through whatever the opposing team puts on him."
Providence coach Nate Leaman said he hasn't been surprised how Boston University has turned things around after finishing 10-21-4 last season. What has been surprising to him is the impact Eichel has made as a freshman.
"I think the one thing that maybe caught all was what a giant impact Eichel was going to have," Leaman said. "I'm very impressed with him coming in as a freshman and playing the way he has and if you notice, he hasn't hit a wall at all. He's continuing to be a very dynamic player throughout the season even though he didn't get a break in playing at the World Junior Championship [for the United States]."
Quinn said he has come to expect the best from Eichel every game.
"He's handled the pressure incredibly well; he's an 18-year-old but he's got the strength of a 25-year-old," Quinn said. "It certainly allows him to have success at our level. That being said, the great thing about college hockey is that the game holds players like Jack accountable, and if you don't play the right way you're not going to have the success that you're capable of having. He's been a marked man, but he's competitive, withstood an awful lot and handled it about as well as anybody could."
NCAA Frozen Four schedule
(All games at TD Garden, Boston)
Boston University vs. North Dakota, 8:30
Nebraska-Omaha vs. Providence, 5:00
Hakstol said he knows his team has its work cut out but he's confident they will be well prepared.
"I've watched a little bit [of Eichel] on tape but I won't base my opinions on a little bit of video tape," Hakstol said. "Obviously Jack's had a phenomenal career, not just this season, but throughout. He's got a special path in front of him. To do the things he's done, you have to be an extremely talented and hard-working individual. I'm sure he'd be the first to thank the players around him and that's one of the challenges with this BU team. They have excellent players throughout their roster, excellent chemistry."
Here's a look at each team in the NCAA Frozen Four:
Boston University (27-7-5)
Coach: David Quinn
How they got here: Defeated Yale University 3-2 (OT); Defeated University of Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
NHL prospects: Forwards: Daniel O'Regan (San Jose Sharks, 2012); Robert Baillargeon (Ottawa Senators, 2012); John Piccinich (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2014). Defensemen: Brandon Hickey (Calgary Flames, 2014); Matthew Grzelcyk (Boston Bruins, 2012); Johnathan MacLeod (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2014); Doyle Somerby (New York Islanders, 2012).
NHL Central Scouting 2015 draft-eligible players: Defenseman: Brien Diffley (139). Forwards Jack Eichel (2); Anthony-John (AJ) Greer (71).
Quote from coach: "I've been [a hockey coach in some capacity] for 20 years and I don't know if I've enjoyed coaching a team more. Obviously we have talent but one of the main reasons we're in the situation we're in is because we have a true team. We're obviously a team that has some star power but we wouldn't be in this situation if we didn't have everyone pulling in the same direction. There's a resiliency and resolve to us that has gotten us to this point. From the goal-on-out, everyone has bought in. We know how difficult it is to get here and appreciate this opportunity." -- Boston University coach David Quinn
University of North Dakota (29-9-3)
Coach: Dave Hakstol
How they got here: Defeated Quinnipiac University 4-1; Defeated St. Cloud State University 4-1
NHL prospects: Goalie: Zane McIntyre (Boston Bruins, 2010). Defensemen: Tucker Poolman (Winnipeg Jets, 2013); Keaton Thompson (Anaheim Ducks, 2013); Nick Mattson (Chicago Blackhawks, 2010); Paul Ladue (Los Angeles Kings, 2012); Gage Ausmus (San Jose Sharks, 2013); Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues, 2012). Forwards: Wade Murphy (Nashville Predators, 2013); Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks, 2014); Austin Poganski (St. Louis Blues, 2014); Michael Parks (Philadelphia Flyers, 2010); Mark MacMillan (Montreal Canadiens, 2010); Brendan O'Donnell (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2010); Luke Johnson (Chicago Blackhawks, 2013).
Quote from coach: "I'll assume it'll be a great crowd and home-ice advantage for [Boston University at TD Garden], but that's hockey. Our group will have a good mindset and perspective, and we'll be well prepared for that entire scenario. It's a big challenge for our group and one that we'll work hard to prepare for." -- North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol
Providence College (23-13-3)
Coach: Nate Leaman
How they got here: Defeated Miami University (Ohio) 7-5; Defeated University of Denver 4-1
NHL prospects: Goalie: Jon Gillies (Calgary Flames, 2012); Defensemen: John Gilmour (Calgary Flames, 2013); Mark Adams (Buffalo Sabres, 2009); Anthony Florentino (Buffalo Sabres, 2013); Jake Walman (St. Louis Blues, 2014). Forwards: Mark Jankowski (Calgary Flames, 2012); Brian Pinho (Washington Capitals, 2013).
Quote from coach: "The bottom line is if you want to win this tournament you have to beat great teams and the other three teams making it to Boston are great teams. We had a tough non-conference schedule to start off the season and we managed to keep getting better throughout the year. We thought we had a terrific regional and knew we had to beat two very good teams to get to this point and that has helped us. We feel like we're battle-tested and really excited to get to Boston." -- Providence coach Nate Leaman
University of Nebraska-Omaha (20-12-6)
Coach: Dean Blais
How they got here: Defeated Harvard 4-1; Defeated Rochester Institute of Technology 4-0
NHL prospects: Defensemen: Brian Cooper (Anaheim Ducks, 2012); Luc Snuggerud (Chicago Blackhawks, 2014). Forwards: Avery Peterson (Minnesota Wild, 2013); Tyler Vesel (Edmonton Oilers, 2014); David Pope (Detroit Red Wings, 2013); Tanner Lane (Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, 2010); Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh Penguins, 2013).
Quote from coach: "[Vice chancellor of Athletics] Trev Alberts wants hockey to be a big thing in Omaha; we know how big football is. We're building a new arena just off campus and it'll be ready for next year, but it all starts with winning. There is nothing you can do more for advertising or promotion than winning. The radio and television stations are blasting us with what we've done to this point and now going to the Frozen Four. If we win, it would be another feather in the cap for the program." -- Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais