When David Quinn accepted the job as head coach of the Boston University men’s hockey team in March of 2013, one of his first orders of business was to contact Jack Eichel and his family and make sure the prized recruit was still planning to become a Terrier.
“Without question, I knew when he got back from Ann Arbor [where the US Development program is headquartered] we were going to meet shortly thereafter,” said Quinn. “We met the next day for two hours and when he left the office, I felt very good about him coming to BU.”
Despite BU getting only five wins in league play in the 2013-14 season for a record of 10-21-4 overall, everyone inside the program knew Eichel was bringing outstanding skills to the table for his freshman year in 2014-15.
He certainly didn’t disappoint. Heading into BU’s best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series against Merrimack at Agganis Arena that starts Friday, Eichel is leading the nation in scoring with 55 points in 32 games. He is expected to be one of the top two players selected in the NHL Draft in June.
It is widely believed Eichel, who grew up in North Chelmsford, will turn pro after the draft but both he and Quinn said that decision has yet to be made.
“In this day and age, when you get a great player at this level, you never know how long they’re going to stay,” said Quinn. “At this point in the season, you don’t really think that much about that because you’re so caught up in the now. We talked once when he got back from the World Juniors. He didn’t strike me as someone who was racing out of here.”
Eichel said as aware as he is that he and Canadian Connor McDavid are being talked about as the top two prospects, he is focused on what is happening with BU right now.
“It’s definitely in the back of your mind,” Eichel said. “With the type of tasks that we have at hand right now, it’s tough to put real thought into it. I’m sure when the time comes and I have to make a decision, I’ll be able to do it with the help of my parents and coaches. Right now there is no reason to make a decision. I have plenty of time.”
It hasn’t always been enjoyable to be under such a bright spotlight. After the World Junior tournament that ended in early January, when Eichel was quizzed regularly by the Montreal and Toronto media, Quinn gave Eichel time off from dealing with the press for almost two months.
“I think it kind of got a little overwhelming up in Canada at the World Juniors because I think there were issues up there with his family getting harassed, which really bothered him because he is really close to them,” said Quinn. “But he has handled it very well. I think that is one of the reasons he is so well thought of in the locker room by his peers. He is very mature about it.
“There is nobody in the history of college hockey who has been under the spotlight like him. In this day and age, no one has come to college hockey with all the fanfare and expectations that he came to BU with and no one has dealt with this type of media attention in college hockey ever and no one has met and exceeded the expectations the way he has.”
Eichel said he appreciated the time off. Quinn also recommended the player disconnect from social media for a while to alleviate any distractions. Eichel said it helped.
“I think it was really nice,” said Eichel. “I went through a lot in the World Junior tournament. He wanted to give me a break to wind down mentally and take one stress off of me. It seems like everyone has something to say, whether it’s right or wrong, people are going to read it. It was Coach Quinn’s idea to take Twitter and things like that off my phone.”
But as many people learn, social media can be a double-edged sword. Eichel found that out when a video surfaced of him chugging something out of a can and telling Buffalo he was “coming for ya.” Small potatoes, all things being equal, but it was a wake-up call nonetheless.
“People lose sight of [the fact he is 18] a lot with him because of the attention and the spotlight,” said Quinn. “The last thing anybody can do is question this kid’s character and commitment. He won the Beanpot. Thank God they weren’t filming all the other Beanpot champions over the last 60-plus years and what their antics were after a Beanpot win.
“You can’t change the expectations for Jack Eichel just because he’s a great hockey player. He’s 18. Hold him to the same standards you would every other 18-year-old in a lot of ways. He has a little bit more of a responsibility to himself because of the ramifications of him doing what other 18-year-olds will do and he’s learning that. But Joe Public should leave the kid alone.”
Quinn did have a bit of advice for all of his players though. He said when they make a decision to do something, pretend the coach is standing right behind them and if they wouldn’t do it with Quinn behind them, they just shouldn’t do it. Quinn said Eichel was rattled by the backlash, but moved on from it.
“It bothered me for a little bit,” said Eichel. “You never want people to say bad things about you. But as always, the coaches and people around me were super supportive. Obviously, it shouldn’t have happened and I learned my lesson about being careful around cameras and things like that. I wish it didn’t get out, but it is college and I definitely learned a good lesson from it.”
Living the dream
On the ice, Eichel is home. He and linemates Evan Rodrigues and Danny O’Regan have been on fire, combining for 145 points, and are a threat during every shift.
Eichel said it is as much fun as he has ever had playing hockey.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Eichel. “Both players are super skilled and they work so hard. When you put those two things together, it makes it pretty easy. I have really enjoyed it. We have had some success and I just hope we can bring it to the playoffs.”
Merrimack won’t make it easy. Count on the Warriors bringing the same “pack-it-in” game plan that helped them sweep Northeastern in the opening round.
“You’ve got to match their grit and aggression,” said Quinn. “You’ve got to be the aggressor offensively. Peter Forsberg is an example, he was more aggressive on offense than he was on defense. We’ve got to have that type of mentality.”
If it turns out to be only a one-year stint, Eichel will leave his mark on BU hockey. Winning a Beanpot championship was a goal since he was a kid and playing in Hockey East was another. Now the goals are far more lofty with the 2015 Frozen Four being held at TD Garden.
“I was always coming here in awe and dreaming of playing in this league,” said Eichel. “Now that I was able to do it, it was a dream come true every night. You don’t want to look too far ahead but it’s definitely extra incentive. We really want to give these seniors a good going away [gift], they deserve it. They are one of the main reasons we’ve had success.”
And no matter how long he stays at BU, he said the lessons he learned at the school he will take with him wherever he goes next, particularly those from Quinn.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said Eichel. “He is definitely one of the main reasons for my success. [He gave me] advice off the ice, if I was struggling socially, or on the ice, he has been super supportive. He has coached at all different levels and he has a lot of experiences of his own so he has been able to pass it on to me. He has given me some very good advice.”Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.