There was never really any doubt about who would win the 2015 Hobey Baker Award. Friday afternoon’s ceremony only made official what many already expected, as Boston University’s Jack Eichel was crowned the best player in college hockey this season. He is just the second freshman in history, along with Paul Kariya in 1993, to win the award.
While the accolade comes as no surprise, the way Eichel accomplished the feat was impressive. Before he ever set foot on collegiate ice, the college hockey world was abuzz about the idea of what he would be able to do in the NCAA ranks. The 18-year-old from North Chelmsford, Mass., is expected to go as high as No. 2 overall in this year’s NHL draft, and he is the best prospect to grace the NCAA ranks in years.
But expectations can be tough to live up to as a freshman, especially one as young as Eichel, who only turned 18 three weeks into the season.
Eichel proved from the start that he is more than capable of performing under pressure. His 70 points in 39 games played are the most in college hockey this season and are the most by any Terrier – freshman or not — since Shawn McEachern posted 82 in 1990-91.
Eichel broke the previous BU record for points by a freshman (65), which was previously held by David Silk (1976-77) and Mark Fidler (1977-78). In a pre–Frozen Four press conference, Providence coach Nate Leaman, whose team will face the Terriers for the national championship on Saturday, said Eichel was even more impressive than he ever expected.
With Eichel leading the way, BU transformed from a team that won 10 games in 2013-14 to one that finished first in Hockey East, won the conference postseason and has now earned a spot in the national championship game this season.
Through it all, Eichel has remained humble. On the ice, he blocks shots, dives to break up plays on the backcheck and chips pucks out of his own zone for a line change just as frequently as he leads charges into the offensive zone or pulls off an amazing move to score a goal.
Off the ice, he has been the consummate teammate. Despite having ample opportunity to boast about his own talent, Eichel rarely takes credit for his skill on the ice, constantly attributing it to luck or a great play by a teammate.
And he clearly appreciates the people who have supported him on every step of the way on this journey. In his acceptance speech for the Hobey Baker Award Friday, Eichel choked up when thanking his parents and sisters for all of the sacrifices they made for his hockey career.
Eichel will likely win many more awards down the road. And while he claims this season has been the most memorable of his life so far, his experience in the upcoming draft will certainly be the beginning of another great chapter.
But for now, his sights are set on the only college hockey trophy he has yet to win, that being the national championship trophy.
“We have one game left,” Eichel said at the ceremony Friday. “We didn’t dream about getting to the Frozen Four; we dreamed about winning it.”
Photo by Michelle Jay/Along the Boards