BOSTON — One sign at Agganis Arena tonight depicted the “Eichel Tower” – a drawing of the Paris landmark with the head of BU freshman Jack Eichel atop it.
Another sign harkened back to the slogan of President Dwight Eisenhower – “I like Eich.”
There’s no question that Eichelmania is in full force for the Boston University faithful these days, and the freshman phenom didn’t let them down in tonight’s dramatic come-from-behind win.
Expected to be the first or second pick overall in the NHL Draft in June, Eichel was instrumental in two of the three goals as BU overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third period to beat Maine 3-2 in overtime.
Eichel made a terrific pass to set up BU’s badly-needed first goal five minutes into the third period, and then the 18-year-old centerman made an end-to-end rush on an overtime power play before beating freshman goalie Sean Romeo with a shot from the left wing. That goal gave Eichel 17 points in his first nine collegiate games while boosting the third-ranked Terriers to a 7-1-1 record.
“Let’s tell the truth: It’s my humble opinion that Jack Eichel, if were old enough, would be playing in the National Hockey League right now,” Maine coach Red Gendron said. “There were times in Orono [last weekend] and time’s tonight when he was pretty tough to stop, and that’s why people are talking about him potentially being the first or maybe the second player in the draft.”
Meanwhile, BU coach David Quinn is enjoying Eichel’s time in a Terrier uniform.
“I think Jack Eichel is one hell of a hockey player,” Quinn said. “I’m glad he’s playing at BU right now.”
Maine kept Eichel and the Terriers off the scoresheet for almost 45 minutes. Maine had the better of play for much of the first period, and the Black Bears took the lead at 7:33. Maine simply had too many chances in a row, and Ben Hutton finally buried a second rebound attempt.
BU regained momentum late in the period, only to lose it again by surrendering a shorthanded goal in the opening minute of period. With a great individual effort, Connor Leen won a puck battle and wove around two BU defenders before beating Matt O’Connor with a low shot while falling down.
BU’s Danny O’Regan almost got that won back less than a minute later, only to see his shot bounce off the lower part of the crossbar during a power play. After that, it was all Maine for a good while, thanks to three consecutive power plays.
O’Connor and the Terriers weathered that storm, and BU finally got on the scoreboard at 4:50 of the third with a highlight-reel goal. O’Regan led Eichel with a pass up the left wing, and Eichel found Ahti Oksanen in the slot with a great backhanded cross. Oksanen buried the puck low stick side.
“We’ve seen that movie before, off to a sluggish start,” Quinn said. “Not easy beating a twice in a row, and we weren’t ready to match their intensity and grit at the start of the game, but I thought we played a great third period.”
Buoyed by that first goal, BU tied it up just over four minutes later. The line of A.J. Greer, Matt Lane and Nick Roberto pressured Maine, and Roberto ultimately sent a blind backhanded pass through the slot to Lane, who worked the puck around Romeo low on the stick side to tie it.
“Great goal by the Lane line,” Quinn said. “Those guys were hemming in a little bit, really making Maine defend.”
Maine had some good chances on another power play, but the game went to overtime. Just 16 seconds into the overtime, Leen was called for a five-minute major for hitting BU captain Matt Grzelzyk into the boards from behind, giving BU a man advantage for the rest of the night.
At 2:40, Eichel ended it with an end-to-end rush before burying a shot from about 25 feet out on the left wing.
“I tried to pick up the puck with speed, and I saw their team was changing, tried to build a little momentum, and they kind of backed off of me,” Eichel said. “Tried to use the defenseman as a screen and luckily, beat the goalie.”
For the second week in a row, Maine saw an early lead against BU dissipate and end up in a loss.
“I thought our team played pretty well for two periods, and it’s not like we played poorly in the third,” Gendron said. “They made some plays, and we broke down slightly, but we played a pretty good hockey game overall. Nobody’s tougher on my kids than me, and I can’t fault them for the effort, but we still have to get that much better, that much more precise.”
Maine (3-8-1, 2-4-0 Hockey East) travels down Commonwealth Avenue for a game against Boston College tomorrow night, while BU (7-1-1, 5-1-1) plays Connecticut in Hartford on Saturday afternoon.