BOSTON – Jack Eichel has brought a lot of press to Boston University’s hockey program this season, and his linemates, Danny O’Regan and Evan Rodrigues, have done their share by forming the best trio in the nation (176 points).
But one big reason why the Terriers have reached the Frozen Four for the first time since they won the national title in 2009 has been their defense, backboned by goaltender Matt O’Connor.
A 6-foot-5 junior from Toronto, O’Connor has played his way on to the radars of a number of NHL clubs, with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames pursuing the undrafted free agent.
O’Connor started 33 games for BU this season, going 24-3-4 with a 2.10 goals against average and .928 save percentage. Between O’Connor and the Terriers’ defense, they’ve limited opponents to 2.26 goals per game, even as the team’s wide-open style helped rank them 29th in shots allowed (29.95 per game).
“I think OC has been the backbone to our team all year long, and he plays with his own confidence,” said junior captain Matt Grzelcyk. “And I think, especially speaking for the D, it really puts us at ease back there knowing that we have a guy back there we can rely on in case we make a few mistakes along the season. I know that stuff is going to happen, especially with four freshmen, but he's played unbelievable. We've definitely relied on him, especially the second half of the season.”
BU head coach David Quinn couldn’t be happier to see O’Connor grab the No. 1 job and run with it after a 2013-14 season where there was no clear-cut starter on the team.
“I just felt that knowing him and knowing the situation, I felt like this was going to allow him to emerge as the goalie we all knew he could be,” Quinn told the Boston Globe last month. “I think he was excited about the opportunity. I think there was a mental peace with him.”
BU has won 15 of their last 18 games, a second half that’s helped guide them to another shot at a national title, this time not far from campus at TD Garden. On the way there, O’Connor saved his best for the postseason, recording a .935 save percentage as the Terriers beat Merrimack, New Hampshire, UMass-Lowell, Yale and Minnesota-Duluth to get to the Frozen Four.
One thing that O’Connor has improved upon has been rebound control, a big reason why his save percentage went up from .920 and his goal-against average went down from 2.89 a year ago.
“[A] lot of times when a goalie makes a save, it goes unnoticed whether or not he could have prevented some of those saves with good rebound controls,” O’Connor said. “I think getting my stick on low shots, putting into the corner and really eating up anything, especially in the playoff push here, getting whistles even is huge for us to get our legs back and get some match‑ups.”
North Dakota poses a big test for BU in Thursday night’s second semifinal. They bring an offense that’s averaged 3.29 goals per game this season, seventh best in the nation, and 31.63 shots per game. If UND head coach Dave Hakstol’s approach goes as planned, O’Connor and the Terrier defense will be busy.
“[I] think just working on rebound control is something every goalie can work on,” O’Connor said, “and I'm hoping to eat up a lot of pucks [Thursday] night and put everything in the corner, especially with a lot of good shooters on North Dakota.
“They'll be putting a lot of rubber on net, maybe from bad angles, so I've got to be alert, get to my spots quick, and hopefully make things easier for my D."
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