MANCHESTER, N.H. — Let’s get this disclaimer out of the way now: The biggest reason Evan Rodrigues has 61 points, the second most in the country, is because he plays on a line with Jack Eichel, a once-in-a-generation talent who makes everyone around him better and who happens to lead the country with 67 points.
Rodrigues, however, is a pretty damn good player in his own right. There isn’t much that the 5-foot-11 senior left wing doesn’t do for Boston University. He’s smart defensively and serves as one of the Terriers’ top penalty-killers. He plays the point on BU’s lethal top power-play unit. And he has the skating, vision and creativity to create chances for both himself and his linemates.
Some of Rodrigues’ goals this season have been easy tap-ins off Eichel setups, and some of his assists have come from just giving the puck to Eichel and watching him go. But plenty of goals for that top line have been the product of Rodrigues’ own great plays.
Take the game-winner in Saturday’s Northeast Regional final against Minnesota-Duluth, for example. First Rodrigues drew a penalty with his work down low in the offensive zone. Then on the ensuing power play, he took a pass at the right point, walked in, made a great toe drag around a sliding defender and fired a shot through a screen that beat Kasimir Kaskisuo glove-side.
Rodrigues was a force all weekend in Manchester and was rightly named the regional’s most outstanding player. He scored two other goals in the two games there and also picked up the second assist on Danny O’Regan’s overtime winner against Yale on Friday, but you could argue that none of those were even among the top five plays he made on the weekend.
With BU on the penalty kill in the first period Friday, Rodrigues made a great play to pull up in the neutral zone and make a pass through to Cason Hohmann that resulted in a Yale penalty when Hohmann got hooked. Later in that period he made a nice 1-on-1 move around a Yale defender to set up O’Regan for a redirect that went just wide. Rodrigues also drew a late penalty in that game when he won a foot race against Rob O’Gara and forced O’Gara to take him down to prevent a scoring chance.
“He’s been electric all year,” BU captain Matt Grzelcyk said of Rodrigues. “Every time he gets the puck it seems like he’s making a play. Everybody knows that he has the skills, but not everybody knows he is one of the hardest workers on the team and he really sets the tone for the rest of the guys in the locker room.”
Thanks in large part to Rodrigues’ skill and hard work, the Terriers are heading to the Frozen Four for the first time since they won it all in 2009. So far this has been as good of a senior season as Rodrigues could’ve hoped for, both from an individual perspective and a team perspective.
Rodrigues may not have known exactly what the ceiling was for himself or the team coming into this season, but he knew he wanted this year to be much better than his first three. He and Hohmann, the only two seniors who are regularly in the lineup for BU, have been through some of the program’s most trying seasons.
Their freshman season, 2011-12, was one of the darkest times in program history. Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro were both dismissed from the team that season after getting arrested two months apart (Trivino on charges of assault and battery and trespassing that he ultimately pleaded guilty to, and Nicastro on rape charges that ended up getting dropped).
Those arrests led to widespread criticism of the team and university and the formation of a task force that looked into every aspect of the program over the next year. The fact that the Terriers actually made the NCAA tournament in that 2011-12 season was completely overshadowed, and understandably so.
The 2012-13 season, played with the task force hanging over the team’s head, was free of off-ice incidents and Rodrigues finished third on the team with 34 points, but the Terriers missed out on the NCAA tournament after losing to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East championship game. That spring featured one of the biggest changes in program history, as Jack Parker retired after 40 years behind the bench.
The 2013-14 season, the first with new coach David Quinn, saw the Terriers post one of their worst records in program history. They won just 10 games, the fewest by a BU team since 1963-64. They had very little depth and their top players all seemed to have career-worst seasons.
That included Rodrigues, who managed just five goals and 14 points. Quinn has been adamant that Rodrigues played well as a junior even though the points weren’t there. Still, Rodrigues knew he needed to do more as a senior — specifically, he needed to score more.
“After what we went through last year, coming into this year I knew I didn’t want my senior year of my career at BU to not be what I expected,” Rodrigues said. “I’ve been putting in as much work as I possibly can to make this a special season. I think I’ve just gained more and more confidence throughout this year.”
After three years of personal ups and downs, not to mention program low points that were out of his control, Rodrigues’ hard work and growing confidence has helped the Terriers get back to the level at which BU hockey is expected to be.
Rodrigues and the Terriers have already won the Beanpot and the Hockey East regular-season and tournament titles after not winning any trophies in the previous three seasons. Now they’re two wins away from winning the most important trophy of all.
“Last year was the exact opposite of what BU hockey is,” Rodrigues said. “To get back to the Garden and into the Frozen Four for our senior year, you couldn’t cap it off any better way.”