Jack Eichel came to TD Garden on Saturday night for the first time as a professional hockey player. The 19-year-old NHL rookie from North Chelmsford lived out a childhood dream, scoring a pair of goals and adding two assists as his Buffalo Sabres defeated the Bruins, 6-3.
It was the first 4-point game for Eichel, who has 11 goals and nine assists in the first 35 games, fourth in rookie scoring.
“There’s times this year where I could have had points in games and I didn’t and today I think I just got the bounces,’’ Eichel said. “Sometimes the bounces come to you and you get that luck and it’s nice to get it in this building.”
Only a year ago Eichel was a freshman at Boston University. The last time he was at TD Garden was during BU’s devastating 4-3 loss to Providence in the NCAA title game final April 11. That’s a memory he’ll gladly replace with Saturday’s victory.
“That was the last time I ever put a BU jersey on and that was a special team,’’ said Eichel, who turned the college hockey world on its ear when he led the nation in scoring with 26 goals and 45 assists in 40 games, helped BU to the Beanpot and Hockey East titles, and picked up the Hobey Baker Award. “But I have a lot of really good memories in here, too. So I think those ones overtake that one bad memory and this is another great memory that I’ll never forget.”
Earlier in the day, Eichel addressed the gambling story that has bubbled around BU this week. The school revealed that junior forward Nick Roberto was under investigation for gambling and had been suspended from the team for the remainder of the 2015-16 season by the NCAA. There have been rumors that other players on the 2014-15 BU roster also gambled and, in some cases, incurred significant debt.
Eichel handled a question about the gambling story as deftly as he does the puck.
“Those guys are my family,’’ Eichel said, “so I don’t think — those guys all of them, every single guy on that team — is my family, so I don’t know if it‘s really right for me to address the situation. I think that’s probably it.”
It only took a moment for Eichel to turn what had been a somewhat pedestrian game into a triumph. In the second period, he caught a Bruin turnover at the blue line and passed the puck ahead to Tyler Ennis, who connected with Evander Kane for a goal to give Buffalo the lead. But then he was on the ice for two of Boston’s three goals as the Bruins forged ahead, 3-1.
After Ryan O’Reilly got the Sabres within a goal at 10:21 of the third, Eichel scored at 11:00 to draw the Sabres even. Eichel got the puck at the right circle, held it for a heartbeat, and then fired at the net, where Kane and Kevan Miller was tussling. The puck caromed in.
“I just saw Kaner on the back door and I saw the goalie kind of overcommit to me on the side,’’ said Eichel, “so I tried to go back across the crease to him, and, good bounce.’’
After that the Sabres just got better while the Bruins blundered. Jamie McGinn got the go-ahead goal on a backhander at 14:24, and Eichel and O’Reilly added empty-net scores.
“I was a little bit nervous jumping on the ice for warm-ups,’’ said Eichel. “But just an exciting game throughout. Made some mistakes but at the end of the day it’s a huge win and it’s a super-nice way to start the next segment for us. Just exciting to get a win and do it in the fashion we did in front of so many friends and family.’’
It hasn’t been a seamless transition to the NHL for Eichel, who wasn’t producing points the way he has been accustomed to and who said the last few months have been overwhelming at times. Before Saturday, he had but one goal and 4 points in the previous 11 games.
“It’s nice to score,’’ Eichel admitted, “and it’s nice to get a win in the fashion we did. I got some fortunate bounces tonight and I’ll take those.’’
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma also was glad to see Eichel turn nervous energy into big numbers.
“I think he’s gone through some ups and downs,’’ said Bylsma.
“He’s an excellent, dynamic player, and that’s where he’s got to be night in and night out for us.”