MANCHESTER, N.H. — Evan Rodrigues had just 14 points in 31 games last season as a junior, during which Boston University only had 10 wins under first-year coach David Quinn.
Quinn joked that Rodrigues led the nation in missing the net, but there was no doubt he believed in the player’s talent.
Flash forward to Saturday at Verizon Wireless Arena with the Terriers battling Minnesota-Duluth for a spot in the 2015 Frozen Four at TD Garden.
Rodrigues potted a pair of goals, including the winner with 2 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in regulation and one second left on a power play, to lift BU (27-7-5) to a 3-2 victory over Duluth in the NCAA Northeast Regional final.
Rodrigues, with three goals and an assist during victories over Yale and UMD, was named most outstanding player of the region.
BU returns to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2009, when the school won it all. The Terriers already have won two championships at the Garden this season — the Beanpot on Feb. 23 and the Hockey East title on March 21.
“I knew he was a great player last year and I know his stats obviously didn’t reflect that,” said Quinn of Rodrigues. “Nobody’s stats reflected that last year. But boy, this kid, he has a lot of ability. He has big-time skill, which he showed tonight. He’s tough, he’s hockey tough, he has a great release, and he is incredibly intelligent. I couldn’t be happier for him. He is having a monster senior season.”
Rodrigues has 61 points, 21 of them goals, in 39 games and is second only to linemate Jack Eichel (67) in the national scoring race.
But as Quinn pointed out, it took an entire team effort to beat the Bulldogs, who didn’t stop fighting despite trailing twice by a goal.
BU took the lead at 7:17 of the opening period. After freshman defenseman Brandon Fortunato kept the puck in on the left side of the blue line, Rodrigues took over. He got the puck in the left circle and golfed it past freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo (27 saves).
UMD pulled even just 37 seconds into the second with the teams skating four a side. Willie Raskob fired a shot from the right point and BU junior goaltender Matt O’Connor (27 saves) got tangled up with Rodrigues and it was 1-1.
BU regained the lead at 3:32 on a terrific play by junior center Matt Lane.
Freshman J.J. Piccinich had the puck behind the UMD net and fed it out to Lane in front. As junior defenseman Willie Corrin was dragging him down from behind, Lane skated right to left across the top of the crease and, while falling down, slid the puck inside the left post for his eighth tally of the year.
The Bulldogs pulled even again at 7:31. Sophomore left wing Kyle Osterberg, who was positioned atop the right circle, blasted a shot that rode up the shaft of the stick of BU defenseman Brandon Hickey, nicked off the glove of O’Connor, and sailed into the net.
In the early part of the third, BU looked strong. Particularly as the period reached the halfway mark, the Terriers managed to pin the Bulldogs in their end for a long stretch.
UMD had a chance to score with 5:35 remaining when senior right wing Adam Krause had the puck just outside the left post. Krause swatted at it and it hit off O’Connor’s stick and landed on top of the net.
That set the stage for the third-period heroics as Rodrigues potted the winner and increased his scoring streak to nine games (with 18 points in that span).
UMD came close to tying it during a scramble in front with 23.2 ticks on the clock, but O’Connor kept it out.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin seemed less than pleased with the penalty to Andy Welinski (drawn by Rodrigues) at 15:37 that led to the winning tally.
“There are things you can‘t control,” said Sandelin. “All we can control is trying to kill it and we almost did. They ended up making a great play and scoring the winning goal.
“It’s frustrating sometimes . . . We tried to keep it 2-2 and keep the game going and try to win it in regulation or get to overtime.”
For the Bulldogs, though, their time is up and BU is headed home to Boston.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.