The men’s NCAA college hockey season came to a close on Saturday night as Providence College defeated Boston University at the TD Garden in Boston. Even though BU had a slight home rink advantage over their New England neighbors, Providence won the thriller 4-3 mainly off the Herculean efforts made by Providence’s junior goalkeeper Jon Gillies.
Gillies made 49 stops in the Frozen Four Final and easily won the championship game’s most outstanding player award. The career high number of saves was mainly a result of Providence’s defensive strategy that focused on protecting the ice in front of the goal while allowing a barrage of less accurate outside shots.
Even though Gillies and his team will return to Rhode Island with the championship trophy, it is actually BU’s junior goalie, Matt O’Connor, who will be the most remembered player from Saturday’s game. With 8:36 left on the clock and the championship within reach for the BU Terriers, O’Connor stopped a slow-moving, clearing pass put on cage by Providence junior Tom Parisi as the Briars tried to make time to sub. But Providence got more than they bargained for when O’Connor fumbled the pass off his glove and allowed an accidental goal. With the game tied at 3-3, Providence, ignited with energy, scored again 2 minutes later to take the lead. The goal scored off a quick lefty finish by junior Brandon Tanev would prove to be the game winner. With 2 minutes left and BU a man up with a pulled goalie, Gillies made a diving save to maintain the lead and ensure the championship. All in all, both goalies played well and O’Connor stopped 39 shots to Gllies’ 49, but Saturday’s game displayed that NCAA hockey moves so quickly that one moment can make the difference between victory and defeat.
The championship is the first for Providence hockey and their most recent appearance in the finals since 1985. Led by juniors Tanev, Kevin Rooney, and Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player, Gillies, Providence has a great chance of dominating again next year and contending for another championship. That is only if the team’s leading players choose to return for another year instead of entering the NHL and playing professionally. Gillies has already been claimed by the Calgary Flames and could begin his NHL career. BU star freshman Jack Eichel faces the same difficult choice as the NHL Entry Draft’s June 26th date quickly approaches. Even though Eichel missed out on the NCAA championship, the phenomenal forward was awarded the Hobey Baker Award last Friday.
The Hobey Baker Award is college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the country’s best player. But unlike the Heisman, the Hobey doesn’t posses a bias towards offensive players, and frequently defensive men and even goalies win the award. This year, in addition to Eichel, North Dakota University’s junior goalie Zane McIntyre and Harvard University’s junior forward Jimmy Vesey were also nominated for the award. Many speculate that Vesey will return to Harvard for his senior year, but it is extremely possible that McIntrye and Eichel could be playing in the NHL next year.
Unlike the NBA and NFL draft system, in the NHL draft players can be selected but continue to play at the collegiate levels while certain pro teams maintain the rights to sign the player once they choose to shed their collegiate amateur status. McIntyre has been recognized as the nation’s best goalie and received this year’s Mike Richter Award, and if he chooses to commit to the NHL next year he would add even more talent to the Boston Bruin’s already strong corral of goalies led by Tuukka Rask. Eichel on the other hand has yet to be claimed by the NHL but as a freshman he could take part in a one-and-done jump to the pros,
Even though early April is typically dominated by the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Frozen Four games such as the one we saw on Saturday, rival the excitement of any March Madness bracket breaker.