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Frozen Four: Bruins prospect Matt Grzelcyk leads young BU team on, off ice 04.08.15 at 7:55 pm ET
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Matt Grzelcyk and BU take on North Dakota in the Frozen Four Thursday night. (WEEI.com)

Matt Grzelcyk and BU take on North Dakota in the Frozen Four Thursday night. (WEEI.com)

When coaches have their players vote for the next season’€™s captains, they usually have an idea of how they would like to see the vote go. Boston University coach David Quinn thought Matt Grzelcyk would be a great captain for the Terriers this season — even though he’€™s only a junior — so he was thrilled to see that Grzelcyk was his players’€™ choice for captain last spring.

“Sometimes it’€™s a popularity contest. Sometimes they look to the best players,” Quinn said. “I thought our team fully understood what a captain needed to be. There was no mystery why Matt Grzelcyk was named our captain last year.”

The Terriers needed good leadership coming off last season. They finished the year with just 10 wins, the fewest by a BU team since 1963-64. They had enough talent coming in — led by Jack Eichel — to be a much better team than last year, but that talent was also very young.

BU plays eight freshmen most nights and four of them are on defense. Another defenseman, Doyle Somerby, is a sophomore, leaving Grzelcyk as the lone upperclassman on the blue line. So not only is Grzelcyk the captain of the team, but he’€™s also the clear leader of a talented defense corps that has been a huge reason for BU’€™s turnaround.

Somerby said Grzelcyk was already a leader of the defense last year, despite being a sophomore and despite missing the second half of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

“Last year, my first year, was obviously a tough season, but Matt was always there for me even though he was a sophomore,” Somerby said. “He was one of those guys who could really take hold of the locker room. It was pretty special to see him do that as an underclassman. He kind of brought me through a lot of stuff last year where I learned from him a lot and tried to pick up traits that he had.”

Grzelcyk, a 2012 Bruins draft pick from Charlestown, has led this year’€™s freshmen as well, and not just the defensemen. He has been vocal when needed, but what really stands out to his coaches and teammates is his work ethic.

“He’€™s got a great personality but he’€™s not loud,” Quinn said. “But when he speaks he means what he says. And not only does he say it, he backs it up.

“Nobody practices harder and nobody is a better example for a group of 10 freshmen coming into college hockey and trying to figure their way through their first season. If there was a question on how to handle a situation, they didn’€™t have to look too far to find the right way to do it.”

Grzelcyk’€™s leadership has helped the young Terriers reach the Frozen Four, where they’€™ll take on North Dakota Thursday night, and his hard work has paid off with a great individual season as well. Grzelcyk ranks fourth nationally among defensemen with 37 points in 39 games and he was named a Hockey East First Team All-Star.

He has become more consistent, he has improved his defensive play and, perhaps most noticeably, he has greatly improved his shot, a feat that’s even more impressive coming off shoulder surgery.

It was that shot that shined on the TD Garden ice back in February when Grzelcyk scored two goals, including the overtime winner, in the Beanpot championship game against Northeastern. The first goal came on a hard slap shot from the point and the winner came on a nice wrister after he took a couple strides into the high slot.

“Right when the season started he would always grab me after practice, and I’€™d say I’€™d feed him 100, 150 one-timers from all different angles on the ice,” Somerby said. “Him being on the power play and being as mobile as he is, he really works on shooting from all different spots. He makes sure to be comfortable wherever he is. His shot and the goals that he’€™s scored in big times are really no fluke if you see how hard he works.”

A lot of the credit for BU’€™s turnaround has gone to Eichel and his classmates, and deservedly so. Eichel is the best player in the country and BU’€™s four freshman defensemen are all very talented. But one of the first people they all give credit to is Grzelcyk.

“Coming into the summer he kind of took the reins of the whole team,” Eichel said. “We had 10 freshmen, totally new to the whole college scene, on campus, workouts, whatever it was, and he was the guy running everything.

“But a leader can’€™t tell people to do stuff if he’€™s not doing it himself. That’€™s one thing that’€™s jumped out at me with Gryz, is how hard he works. He expects a lot out of himself and he’€™s definitely hard on himself, but he’€™s an unbelievable player and he’€™s an even better person. I’€™m really happy to call him my captain.”

Frozen Four: Jon Gillies’ belief in Nate Leaman, Providence continues to pay dividends 04.08.15 at 6:05 pm ET
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Jon Gillies and the Friars take on Nebraska-Omaha in the national semifinals on Thursday. (WEEI.com)

Jon Gillies and the Friars take on Nebraska-Omaha in the national semifinals on Thursday. (WEEI.com)

Jon Gillies believed in Providence and he believed in Nate Leaman.

When the highly-touted goalie from South Portland, Maine, was trying to decide where to play after decommitting from Northeastern back in the spring of 2012, it came as a little bit of a surprise that one of the places he was seriously considering was Providence.

Sure, things appeared to be looking up after Nate Leaman’€™s first season as the Friars’€™ head coach. They had reached the Hockey East semfinals for the first time since 2001, but the Friars were still just two years removed from a stretch that saw them miss the Hockey East playoffs three years in a row, and it had taken a pretty big upset over UMass-Lowell to reach the semis. There was a chance that it was going to take more than a couple years before Providence would really become a top program.

Gillies’€™ other options included Notre Dame, a team that had reached the Frozen Four just one year earlier, and the Quebec Remparts, who had been one of the best teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for several years and whose coach at the time was Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy.

Either one of those would have been a good choice, but Gillies picked Providence. He believed the Friars were ready to win right away and Leaman was the biggest reason he believed that.

“€œI think confidence is a big part of it, and Coach Leaman’€™s confidence in where this program was headed was really evident when my family and I sat down with him,” Gillies said. “There were a lot of factors that went into it, but Coach Leaman, definitely his intensity and his attention to detail and all those things that everyone already knows just came to the forefront. I couldn’€™t be happier with my decision.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: BU continues to crush it with Jack Eichel Hobey Baker campaign 04.07.15 at 3:48 pm ET
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Jack Eichel doesn’t really need help from any sort of marketing campaign to win the Hobey Baker Award. Leading the country in points as a freshman and helping Boston University reach the Frozen Four should be more than enough to get the job done.

Still, these brilliant videos from BU’s athletic department can’t hurt. The campaign started with “I Like Eich” buttons and the video below, recalling Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 presidential campaign.

Now, just two days before the Terriers take on North Dakota in the national semifinals and three days before the Hobey is presented, BU has dropped another video, this one in the mold of Michael Jordan‘s famous “Be Like Mike” Gatorade commercial.

Anyways, Hobey Baker campaigns are the best.

Frozen Four Preview: How they got here, reasons to believe, reasons to be skeptical 04.05.15 at 8:47 pm ET
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Matt Grzelcyk and BU have already won two titles at TD Garden this season. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Matt Grzelcyk and BU have already won two titles at TD Garden this season. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

In case you haven’€™t heard, the Frozen Four is in Boston this year. It gets started Thursday at 5 p.m. at TD Garden, with Providence taking on Nebraska-Omaha in the first national semifinal, followed by Boston University vs. North Dakota in the second. Both semifinal games can be heard on WEEI 850 AM, and Saturday’s championship game will be on 93.7 FM. Here’€™s a look at each of the four teams.

Boston University (27-7-5)

How they got here: The Terriers won the Hockey East regular-season title and then outscored their opponents 20-6 in four Hockey East tournament games to win that title as well. They beat Yale 3-2 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament, with Danny O’€™Regan scoring the game-winner. Then they beat Minnesota-Duluth by the same score in the regional final the next night, with Evan Rodrigues scoring the go-ahead goal on the power play with 2:24 left in the game.

Reasons to believe: They have the best line in the country and they dominate third periods. BU’€™s top line of Hobey Baker favorite Jack Eichel between Rodrigues and O’€™Regan has combined for 41 goals and 67 assists in the 21 games they’€™ve been together. They have 67, 61 and 48 points, respectively, on the season — good for first, second and ninth nationally. For the sake of comparison, the highest scorer on any of the other three Frozen Four teams is Nebraska-Omaha’€™s Jake Guentzel at 38 points. Even in a regional weekend in which Eichel picked up just one point in two games, the line still scored four goals.

In part because that line possesses the puck so much and wears down opponents, the Terriers have outscored opponents 68-25 in the third period this season. They’€™re great at closing out wins (they’€™re 18-0-0 when leading after two periods), and they’€™re also pretty damn good at coming back if they need to (of the 16 games in which they’€™ve trailed after two periods, they’€™ve won or forced overtime 10 times).

Reason to be skeptical: They have a bad habit of getting off to slow starts. They’€™ve gotten better in that respect in the second half of the season, but the problem has still cropped up in some of their bigger games (both Beanpot games, Hockey East semifinals vs. New Hampshire, NCAA opener vs. Yale), something that could be attributed to youthful nerves. BU is the youngest team in the country, after all. Whatever the reason, it obviously hasn’€™t cost the Terriers yet — being able to dominate third periods certainly helps them avoid that. If they start slow on Thursday, though, North Dakota might be good enough to put them in a deeper hole than other teams have been able to. Read the rest of this entry »

BU’s Jack Eichel, Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey, Bruins prospect Zane McIntyre named to Hobey Hat Trick 04.02.15 at 12:22 pm ET
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This year’s Hobey Baker Award presentation will have a decidedly Boston feel to it. Not only will it take place at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena (at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 10), but the three finalists all have Boston ties.

Boston University freshman forward Jack Eichel (a North Chelmsford native) and Harvard junior forward Jimmy Vesey (a North Reading native) were both named to the Hobey Hat Trick on Thursday, as was Bruins prospect and North Dakota goalie Zane McIntyre.

Eichel, who will likely go second overall in this summer’€™s NHL draft, leads the country with 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) and 1.76 points per game. He is looking to become just the second freshman ever to win the Hobey (Maine’€™s Paul Kariya won it in 1993).

Vesey, a third-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2012, leads the country in goals (32) and is second in points per game (1.57). He announced earlier this week that he will return to Harvard for his senior season rather than sign with the Predators.

McIntyre, whom the Bruins drafted in the sixth round in 2010, is tied for sixth in the country with a .931 save percentage and leads the country with 29 wins. If he wins the award, he would become the first goalie to do so since Michigan State‘s Ryan Miller in 2001.

One of Eichel or McIntyre will get to play for the national championship at TD Garden on Saturday, April 11, as their teams face off in the national semifinals on Thursday, April 9, at 8:30 p.m. Vesey led the Crimson to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006, but they lost to Nebraska-Omaha in the first round.

Jimmy Vesey to return to Harvard for senior season 03.31.15 at 9:26 pm ET
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College hockey’s top goal-scorer will be back at Harvard for his senior season. Jimmy Vesey announced on Twitter that he will return to the Crimson for one more year rather than sign with the Nashville Predators.

The Predators drafted Vesey, a North Reading native, in the third round (66th overall) in 2012. Their general manager, David Poile, has gone on record saying he thinks Vesey could help Nashville now.

Vesey is a 6-foot-1 left wing who leads college hockey with 32 goals this season. His 1.57 points per game rank second nationally, trailing only Boston University freshman Jack Eichel (1.76). Vesey is one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award and will likely be one of the three who comprise the Hobey Hat Trick.

Vesey registered nine goals and four assists in seven ECAC tournament games to lead Harvard to its first ECAC title since 2006 and first NCAA tournament appearance since that same year. He also scored Harvard’s lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Vesey’s return is a great sign for a Harvard squad that is set to return the vast majority of this year’s team. The departures of top defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Steve Michalek, both seniors, are significant, but all of the Crimson’s regular forwards should be back, barring any unforeseen departures.

Providence beats Denver to reach Frozen Four for first time since 1985 03.29.15 at 8:02 pm ET
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For the first time since 1985, Providence is heading to the Frozen Four. Tom Parisi gave the Friars a 2-1 lead on a power-play goal with 5:01 left in the game and Brandon Tanev and Kevin Rooney added a pair of empty-netters to close out a 4-1 win over Denver in the East Regional final at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.

The Friars will take on the winner of Sunday night’s Midwest Regional final between Nebraska-Omaha and RIT in the first national semifinal at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, at TD Garden. Boston University and North Dakota will meet in the other semifinal at 8:30 p.m. This marks the first time Hockey East has had two teams in the Frozen Four since BU and Vermont both made it in 2009.

After a scoreless first period, Providence took a 1-0 lead 14:22 into the second when Noel Acciari sneaked a backhander through Tanner Jaillet for a power-play goal. Denver tied it 7:52 into the third with a power-play goal of its own when Joey LaLeggia fired a shot that bounced off the glass behind the net, off the top of net, off the back of Jon Gillies and in.

The game’s turning point came with 9:23 to go when LaLeggia, a Hobey Baker finalist and Denver’s best player, was ejected for a hit to the head of Steven McParland at center ice. The call probably won’t go over well in Denver, but on replay it looked like the right ruling.

The Pioneers killed the first four minutes of LaLeggia’s five-minute major, but then Parisi struck with a great, patient play. The junior defenseman got the puck at center point and faked the shot twice as he walked in before finally getting a lane he liked and firing a shot blocker-side.

For Providence, the Frozen Four berth is yet another step in the program’s turnaround under fourth-year coach Nate Leaman. The Friars had finished ninth or 10th in Hockey East in each of the three seasons before Leaman arrived, but he got them to the Hockey East semifinals in each of his first three seasons behind the bench. Last year he got them back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.

The Friars finished second in Hockey East this season, but got upset by New Hampshire in the conference quarterfinals. Their regular-season body of work was just enough to get them back to NCAAs, as they wound up being the last at-large team in the 16-team field.

Providence beat top-seeded Miami (Ohio) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. The Friars built up a commanding 6-2 lead, but Miami pulled its goalie with 13 minutes left in the game and scored three extra-attacker goals to cut the lead to 6-5 before Tanev finally sealed the 7-5 win with a late empty-netter.

BU forward Evan Rodrigues’ special senior season continues with big regional weekend 03.29.15 at 2:27 am ET
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MANCHESTER, N.H. — Let’€™s get this disclaimer out of the way now: The biggest reason Evan Rodrigues has 61 points, the second most in the country, is because he plays on a line with Jack Eichel, a once-in-a-generation talent who makes everyone around him better and who happens to lead the country with 67 points.

Rodrigues, however, is a pretty damn good player in his own right. There isn’€™t much that the 5-foot-11 senior left wing doesn’€™t do for Boston University. He’€™s smart defensively and serves as one of the Terriers’€™ top penalty-killers. He plays the point on BU’€™s lethal top power-play unit. And he has the skating, vision and creativity to create chances for both himself and his linemates.

Some of Rodrigues’€™ goals this season have been easy tap-ins off Eichel setups, and some of his assists have come from just giving the puck to Eichel and watching him go. But plenty of goals for that top line have been the product of Rodrigues’€™ own great plays.

Take the game-winner in Saturday’€™s Northeast Regional final against Minnesota-Duluth, for example. First Rodrigues drew a penalty with his work down low in the offensive zone. Then on the ensuing power play, he took a pass at the right point, walked in, made a great toe drag around a sliding defender and fired a shot through a screen that beat Kasimir Kaskisuo glove-side.

Rodrigues was a force all weekend in Manchester and was rightly named the regional’€™s most outstanding player. He scored two other goals in the two games there and also picked up the second assist on Danny O’€™Regan’€™s overtime winner against Yale on Friday, but you could argue that none of those were even among the top five plays he made on the weekend.

With BU on the penalty kill in the first period Friday, Rodrigues made a great play to pull up in the neutral zone and make a pass through to Cason Hohmann that resulted in a Yale penalty when Hohmann got hooked. Later in that period he made a nice 1-on-1 move around a Yale defender to set up O’€™Regan for a redirect that went just wide. Rodrigues also drew a late penalty in that game when he won a foot race against Rob O’€™Gara and forced O’€™Gara to take him down to prevent a scoring chance.

“He’€™s been electric all year,”€ BU captain Matt Grzelcyk said of Rodrigues. “€œEvery time he gets the puck it seems like he’€™s making a play. Everybody knows that he has the skills, but not everybody knows he is one of the hardest workers on the team and he really sets the tone for the rest of the guys in the locker room.”

Thanks in large part to Rodrigues’€™ skill and hard work, the Terriers are heading to the Frozen Four for the first time since they won it all in 2009. So far this has been as good of a senior season as Rodrigues could’€™ve hoped for, both from an individual perspective and a team perspective.

Rodrigues may not have known exactly what the ceiling was for himself or the team coming into this season, but he knew he wanted this year to be much better than his first three. He and Hohmann, the only two seniors who are regularly in the lineup for BU, have been through some of the program’€™s most trying seasons.

Their freshman season, 2011-12, was one of the darkest times in program history. Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro were both dismissed from the team that season after getting arrested two months apart (Trivino on charges of assault and battery and trespassing that he ultimately pleaded guilty to, and Nicastro on rape charges that ended up getting dropped).

Those arrests led to widespread criticism of the team and university and the formation of a task force that looked into every aspect of the program over the next year. The fact that the Terriers actually made the NCAA tournament in that 2011-12 season was completely overshadowed, and understandably so.

The 2012-13 season, played with the task force hanging over the team’€™s head, was free of off-ice incidents and Rodrigues finished third on the team with 34 points, but the Terriers missed out on the NCAA tournament after losing to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East championship game. That spring featured one of the biggest changes in program history, as Jack Parker retired after 40 years behind the bench.

The 2013-14 season, the first with new coach David Quinn, saw the Terriers post one of their worst records in program history. They won just 10 games, the fewest by a BU team since 1963-64. They had very little depth and their top players all seemed to have career-worst seasons.

That included Rodrigues, who managed just five goals and 14 points. Quinn has been adamant that Rodrigues played well as a junior even though the points weren’€™t there. Still, Rodrigues knew he needed to do more as a senior — specifically, he needed to score more.

“After what we went through last year, coming into this year I knew I didn’€™t want my senior year of my career at BU to not be what I expected,”€ Rodrigues said. “I’€™ve been putting in as much work as I possibly can to make this a special season. I think I’€™ve just gained more and more confidence throughout this year.”

After three years of personal ups and downs, not to mention program low points that were out of his control, Rodrigues’€™ hard work and growing confidence has helped the Terriers get back to the level at which BU hockey is expected to be.

Rodrigues and the Terriers have already won the Beanpot and the Hockey East regular-season and tournament titles after not winning any trophies in the previous three seasons. Now they’€™re two wins away from winning the most important trophy of all.

“€œLast year was the exact opposite of what BU hockey is,”€ Rodrigues said. “To get back to the Garden and into the Frozen Four for our senior year, you couldn’€™t cap it off any better way.”

Evan Rodrigues’ late power-play goal lifts BU past Minnesota-Duluth and into Frozen Four 03.28.15 at 8:11 pm ET
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MANCHESTER, N.H. — Boston University’€™s power play had been oh for its first seven tries in the Northeast Regional. It ended up 1-for-8, and the one sent them to the Frozen Four.

With 4:23 left in Saturday’€™s regional final against Minnesota-Duluth, the Terriers went on the man advantage. They created a number of good looks, but it appeared as though they may not capitalize on this one either. But then with time winding down on the power play, Matt Grzelcyk slid the puck over to Evan Rodrigues, who made a great toe drag around a sliding defender before firing through an Ahti Oksanen screen to give BU a 3-2 lead it wouldn’€™t relinquish.

The Terriers now head to the Frozen Four for the first time since they won the national championship in 2009. They’€™ll get to play in a building they’€™re familiar with, as this year’€™s Frozen Four is at the TD Garden. BU has already won the Beanpot and the Hockey East tournament on that ice this season.

After starting slow against Yale on Friday, the Terriers came out flying Saturday and took a 1-0 lead 7:17 into the game. Brandon Fortunato won a foot race to make a nice keep-in at the left point and chipped the puck toward the slot in the process. The puck landed perfectly for Evan Rodrigues, who whacked it past Kasimir Kaskisuo for his 20th goal of the season.

UMD started to get the better of play in the middle part of the first period, but Matt O’€™Connor made some nice saves to keep BU in the lead. His best save actually came about a minute before BU’€™s goal when Dominic Toninato found himself with a golden look from the slot after a BU turnover. O’€™Connor got his glove on the shot as he slid across the crease, though, and then Toninato put the rebound wide.

The Bulldogs got the better of the Terriers in the second period, outshooting them 13-6 in the frame. UMD tied the game at 1-1 just 37 seconds into the period when Willie Corrin’€™s drive to the net resulted in a massive pile-up in the crease. The puck eventually popped out to Willie Raskob, who ripped a slap shot into the yawning net before O’€™Connor could recover.

The Terriers retook the lead three minutes later, though. Chase Phelps, J.J. Piccinich and Matt Lane combined for a great forecheck and Piccinich ended up making a nice behind-the-back pass out front to Lane, who cut across the crease and slipped the puck inside the left post.

The lead lasted just four minutes, though, as UMD tied it at 2-2 on a goal O’€™Connor would love to have back. Kyle Osterberg sent a soft wrist shot toward the net from above the right circle and O’€™Connor badly misplayed it, as the puck bounced off his glove and trickled over the line.

After BU took the late 3-2 lead, UMD had some chances. The best came with 23 seconds left when Adam Krause fired from the lower right circle, but O’Connor came up with a huge save in traffic.

BC falls to Denver in NCAA tournament opener 03.28.15 at 5:33 pm ET
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Boston College will not get to play in the Frozen Four in its home city. In a rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament opener (a 6-2 BC win), the Eagles saw the tables turned on them as Denver earned a 5-2 win in the East Regional opener in Providence, Rhode Island, ending the Eagles’ season.

Joey LaLeggia opened the scored for Denver with a power-play goal 4:48 into the game. BC tied the game with 3:09 left in the first when Michael Matheson ripped a slap shot into the top corner from the point.

Denver stole momentum back just before the end of the first, though, when Trevor Moore wristed a shot past a sliding Thatcher Demko with 6.9 seconds left in the period. The play was reviewed because Demko knocked the net off its moorings as he was sliding across, but the goal was upheld.

Neither team scored in the second period, but the Pioneers scored two goals just 59 seconds apart midway through the third to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Ryan Fitzgerald scored a power-play goal with 5:09 left in the game to cut the lead to 4-2, but that was as close as BC would get. Grant Arnold added an empty-netter for Denver with 1:13 to go, his second goal of the game.

The Eagles finish the season 21-14-3. Denver advances to Sunday’s East Regional final, where it will take on the winner of Saturday night’s game between Providence and Miami (Ohio).

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