BU freshman Jake Oettinger already has played on big stage
His name is pronounced Aughttinger. As in aught. A cipher. Zero. Jake Oettinger, Boston University’s parsimonious freshman goaltender, already has posted four shutouts, third most in the nation. Nobody scored on him at Agganis Arena for the first 204 minutes of the home season. Until Merrimack broke through Oettinger went more than 273 minutes without conceding an even-strength goal.
That’s what the imposing Minnesota native is prepared to have to do on Monday night at TD Garden, where the Terriers will take on defending champion Boston College in the opening round of the 65th Beanpot Tournament.
“Playing internationally and against colleges the last couple of years has prepared me really well to face pressure and adversity that you face when you play in big-time games,” says Oettinger, who performed for the US Under-18 and Under-17 teams. “So going into Monday’s game I’m confident and prepared. When you get into tournaments like this the margin of error is so small, so you always need to be at the top of your game. It’s something that I’ve learned the hard way sometimes.”
Conceding even one goal against the Eagles can be fatal, as BU discovered last year when BC prevailed in overtime in the championship game in the only 1-0 result in tournament history. The Terriers exacted payback last month as Oettinger blanked the Eagles at Conte Forum after holding them to one goal at Agganis, stopping 66 of 67 shots while capping BU’s first conference sweep of its archrival in 15 years.
That was what the Terriers were looking for when they recruited him out of the Twin Cities suburbs, knowing that Matt O’Connor and Sean Maguire were scheduled to graduate.
“It wasn’t like we had solidified goalies — that was the selling point,” says coach David Quinn. “[Oettinger] knew all the players we had coming in and thought we were going to be really good. We were recruiting him as a junior and we had two junior goalies. So it was lined up that he was going to come in with an opportunity to compete for the job.”
Quinn had thought that Oettinger, who’d been pursued by Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, and North Dakota, might prefer to stay close to home. But Oettinger was lured eastward.
“I wanted to be in a big city and Boston obviously is a hockey hotbed with all the college teams here,” he says. “When I came for my visit I fell in love and knew that this is where I wanted to be. The combination of BU’s historic winning tradition and the coaching staff was one of the things I was most impressed with. It’s an awesome campus and the facilities here are second to none.”
Playing on Causeway Street in February was an attraction, too. “Growing up in Minnesota my thing was the WCHA Final Five,” Oettinger says. “But as I got more educated about hockey out East the Beanpot was obviously one of the coolest tournaments and was one of the reasons why I picked BU. So Monday is going to be a dream come true to play in my first Beanpot game.”
Oettinger, the first American to start between BU’s pipes since Brett Bennett in 2008, was only 17 when he turned up on Commonwealth Avenue as the youngest member of the country’s youngest varsity. But his tenure with the national teams, which brought him to Russia, Finland, and Switzerland, exposed him early to the fast lane.
“I’ll never forget going to watch him for the first time,” recalls Quinn. “He was playing in Ann Arbor for the Under-17 team against Russia. When he came in they’re losing, 3-2, and in the first four minutes he makes six bell-ringer saves. I thought, for a kid to come in and play that well after sitting on the bench for a period and a half talks about the mental aspect of it.”
Oettinger, who stands 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 205 pounds, has big-time size. “He walks into a room and you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ ” says Quinn.
But he also has uncommon sangfroid. “I’m confident in myself and my abilities and if I didn’t think I was capable of that I wouldn’t have been playing in the USHL,” Oettinger says. “I knew that the training and the work that I put in the last two years prepared me to be able to step in and make a difference this season.”
That was why he left Lakeville North after one year for the National Team Development Program. “I was fortunate enough to play with some of my best friends,” says Oettinger, who led his squad to the state Class 2A final. “It was a whirlwind of a tournament. A lot of fun, a lot of good memories.”
Leaving, he said, was “probably the toughest decision I’ve made in my life,” particularly since the Panthers went unbeaten the following year and won their first Minnesota crown. “I had a great situation at Lakeville North but I knew that if I wanted to reach my ultimate goal, which is to play in the National Hockey League, that the National Team Development Program was the best way . . . Looking back on it now I have zero regrets.”
Oettinger’s global exposure — he split duties with BC goalie Joe Woll on the Under-18 team that won the world bronze medal — was priceless preparation for the charged atmosphere that BU faces every night on the road. “We’ve played in some hostile environments, on some big stages,” says Quinn. “We went out to Denver for two, we played at Michigan for two. We go to Maine and Vermont and the atmosphere is electric. Pressure situations. But he was used to that even before getting here.”
How long Oettinger, who’s projected to be a second-round choice in June’s NHL draft, will wear scarlet is the question. “Obviously, right now I’m not drafted, so my plan is to be here for four years,” he says. “If I were to be drafted the NHL team would have some input on that . . . I know that if I’m playing to my abilities, all the rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”
■ Monday, 5 p.m.: Harvard vs. Northeastern
■ Monday, 8 p.m.: Boston University vs. Boston College