During Team USA’s gold medal winning performance in the World Junior Championship, Boston University goaltender Jake Oettinger served as the apprentice.
Tonight he looked more like a master craftsman.
The freshman from Lakeville, Minnesota, made 32 saves —- including 12 in a third period where the Terriers were back on their heels —- to lead No. 5 BU to its first home win since 2012 against arch-rival No. 8 Boston College.
It was Oettinger’s first foray in the storied rivalry.
“It was really fun,” Oettinger said. “Obviously, I know a lot of guys on that team, and I know it means a lot to both fan bases. Coming out on top tonight was fun, but I know we’re all getting ready for Monday night, and we’re going to try to get the sweep.”
Before this evening’s matchup between BU and BC, the Terriers honored the 12 players from both rosters who competed in the prestigious Under-20 tournament in Canada. Oettinger, who just turned 18 a few weeks ago, was the No. 3 netminder for the U.S. team, so he didn’t play a single minute. He merely got a good feel for the tournament with an eye toward more playing time next year.
“I was lucky to be a part of that team, and I was really excited for the guys when we won gold because they all deserved it,” he said. “Obviously, I want to play every game whenever I’m on a team, so I wasn’t too thrilled with that, but handling it like a pro and being there for my teammates was what my role was, and I did that to the best of my abilities.”
Oettinger has handled everything this year like a pro. Many people associated with the program described him as the most mature 17-year-old they had ever met when the season started. As of this writing, he’s fifth in the nation with a 1.88 goals-against average and tied for fourth with three shutouts. He recently had a 134:14 shutout streak.
But if Oettinger has been the heart of BU’s solid defense this season, you’d have to say it’s a steady, slow-beating heart. Strength and conditioning coach Kyle Czech monitors each player’s heart rate during games, and he discovered that Oettinger’s pulse is unusually steady. In fact, when facing a penalty shot against Sacred Heart earlier this season, his heart rate did not elevate at all.
“He’s just calm and cool and collected, I guess,” BU trainer Larry Venis said. “He’s the kind of kid who doesn’t seem to get too rattled by anything.”
The story spread around the team and made an impression.
“Makes us feel confident, hearing that kind of stuff,” BU captain Doyle Somerby said. “These games get pretty chaotic at times. He just looks confident, and it instills confidence in us. … If he lets in a goal, it’s just a next-shot mentality, which is really special for a goalie.”
“Goaltending is obviously as mental as it is physical,” BU coach David Quinn said. “It’s just a testament to how mentally strong he is. He thrives under pressure, and I think you saw that again tonight. We’re not playing great in the third; he stands tall, and we get two valuable points in the league.”
Oettinger himself hadn’t heard this story about his heart rate and wasn’t sure what to make of it. Predictably, though, he seemed unfazed by the news.
“Honestly, I don’t really know. I just try to stick to the little things that make me successful. I’m not trying to let the crowd or the point of the game affect anything I do.”
The freshman’s biggest save of the night came about five minutes into the third period, when he thwarted a point-blank shot from Austin Cangelosi with a last-second pad save.
“They were trying to get pucks from the point on net all night. The shot was kind of a weird deflection. I saw the guy peel off from the front of the net and had a chance on the far side, so I tried to get my leg out and tried to take away the lower half of the net. Luckily I saved it.
“It’s been my job to be there for the guys, and I think that was a turning point in the game.”
The Eagles have had the better of the BU-BC matchups since the Terriers won it all in 2009, but with Oettinger in net, BU fans will be that much more inclined to keep their finger on the pulse of this rivalry.
Hockey East roundup
No. 12 Vermont 4, at Providence 3
The Catamounts were outshot 23-13 in the first two periods, but outscored the host Friars 4-1 regardless. The shot differential became even more lopsided in the final frame, where Providence enjoyed a 10-1 shot advantage and scored twice, only to have the rally come up short in a 4-3 loss. Trey Phillips had a goal, an assist, and a team best plus-3 for the Catamounts. Vermont goalie Stefanos Lekkas made 30 saves and is now 13-3-2.
No. 13 Notre Dame 2, at Merrimack 1
Despite giving up the first goal on the road at Merrimack and failing to capitalize on four power-play opportunities, Notre Dame scored a goal in the second and a goal in the third to pull out a 2-1 win. Junior Anders Bjork scored his 15th goal of the season for the Fighting Irish and is now tied for fourth in that category nationwide. It was the ninth time this season that Notre Dame goalie Cal Peterson gave up one goal or less.