Two Bruins’ draft picks faceoff in second Frozen Four semifinal
(Photo credit, Rich Gagnon/BU Athletics)
One interesting subplot of the 2015 Frozen Four — especially for NHL and Bruins’ fans — is the future talent pool on display this weekend at TD Garden.
More than two-thirds of all 30 NHL teams have draft picks playing in both semifinal games with several other free agents and 2015 NHL Draft prospects in the mix. North Dakota leads that category with 14 drafted players; BU, Nebraska-Omaha and Providence have seven each.
The cream of the draft cast is led by recent first-round selections Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota (Chicago, No. 20, 2014), Mark Jankowski, Providence (Calgary No. 21, 2012), and Jordan Schmaltz, North Dakota (St. Louis, No. 25, 2012).
Related: NCAA Frozen Four set for TD Garden
Future picks are headed by BU freshman phenom Jack Eichel, the lights-out surefire bet to not only win the Hobey Baker Award Friday night as college hockey’s best player for 2015, but also be tabbed at No. 1 or No. 2 in June’s NHL Entry Draft. Eichel leads the nation in scoring with 24 goals and 43 assists for 67 points, best for any freshman since Maine’s Paul Kariya’s 100 points en route to winning the Hobey in 1992-93 — and the national championship.
Just under that NHL hoopla are the two Boston Bruins’ selections facing each other in Thursday’s second semifinal game between BU and North Dakota — with the Bruins’ brass likely taking note.
Either BU captain and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, a junior from a slapshot away in next-door Charlestown, or junior goaltender Zane McIntyre from Thief River Falls, Minn. will move on to the national championship game Saturday night.
Two other related subplots? McIntyre will also vie with Eichel as one of the other three Hobey Hat Trick finalists; Harvard’s Jim Vesey completes that trio. And Grzelcyk’s dad, John, is also a member of the TD “bull gang” responsible for changeovers to the Garden floor, and preparing the arena for the Frozen Four.
For Grzelcyk, taken at 85th overall in the third round in 2012, it means a fifth game this season on Garden ice where BU is undefeated at 4-0 from wins in the Beanpot and Hockey East tournaments. At 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, the 21-year-old captain brings upper-class leadership, a fluid stride, and 71 career points into the Frozen Four. He was named to the Hockey East First Team and the NCAA All-Regional Team, while tying for fourth in the nation in points per game by a defenseman with 37 overall.
A morph of Torey Krug and Don Sweeney, Grzelyck’s draft value and future is based on the evolving NHL model on the blueline: quicker, smaller guys with super skating skills and offensive talent.
“He kind of reminds me a little of Joe Sakic,” BU coach David Quinn said about his captain after Wednesday’s practice. “When he speaks, he means what he says and he backs it up. I don’t think there’s a better defenseman in college hockey. When the puck’s on his stick, he continues to make good decisions. He’s got an incredible ability to lose the first forecheck. His defensive side continues to get better and better. He’s not a big guy, but he’s physical and he gets to people quickly so bigger forwards don’t possess the puck and wear him down. His shot has improved tenfold.”
“The biggest thing is knowing when to make a play and not make a play,” Grzelcyk added. “Being a smaller guy, I try to jump in the play offensively, but know when to pick your spots. I’ve also played with some great players, so I try to feed off their energy.”
“What jumps out is how hard he works,” Eichel summed about his captain, “He’s an unbelievable player and even better person.”
McIntyre, by virtue of North Dakota’s No. 1 seed in the Frozen Four, gets to sit somewhere close to Tuukka Rask’s seat with UND assigned to the Bruins’ locker room. He also draws the assignment of slowing down BU’s prolific offense.
While McIntyre sits in a lengthy pipeline of Bruins’ pipe dwellers, his stats at North Dakota bode well for a long look en route to a possible future return to Causeway St. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound junior, taken in the sixth round in 2010 at 165th overall, owns UND’s all-time career GAA at 2.08 and save percentage at .927. He has won five of six career NCAA Tournament games with a stingy 1.26 GAA and .955 save percentage.
“Zane stops a lot of pucks,” UND head coach Dave Hakstol said after his team’s practice, “I don’t mean to make light of it. I look for presence from key players. Whether it’s off the ice away from a game day or on a game day on the ice, Zane brings that presence of a No. 1 goaltender. We talk a lot about trusting one another and our team has a lot of trust in Zane.”
Before the season began, McIntyre’s name was Zane Gothberg. He changed it to his mother’s maiden name in memory of his maternal grandmother, Suzie.
“I changed it in her memory. She was instrumental in my hockey development,” he said.
“It’s a real narrow focus; we’ve come in here for business,” McIntyre followed, avoiding comment about his future. “But it’s hard not to notice the big “B” in the middle of the floor. You cover it up [for the Frozen Four], but the focus is narrow. All my energy is for this weekend. Everything off the ice will take care of itself.”
(Bob Snow has covered the Frozen Four since 1998.)