By Bill Keefe
Jack Eichel has been places through hockey. He is in a very good place in hockey. But there are places he still wants to go — starting with the scarlet and white end of Commonwealth Avenue as opposed to north of the border — and he’s not about to sit still.
NEHJ first featured the center from North Chelmsford, Mass., in 2012 when he was 15, averaging 2.3 points per game for the Junior Bruins Empire League team, and big things were being predicted for his future.
Now 17, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Eichel is coming off one of the most successful tenures in the history of the U.S. National Team Development Program, has signed his letter of intent to play for Boston University this fall, and even bigger things are being predicted for his future, such as being mentioned as a strong candidate for the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NHL draft.
“Even if you were an alien from a spaceship who had never seen hockey, and you watched this kid, you would say, ‘Good Lord, that’s a talented athlete,’ “ Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke (Providence, R.I.) told USA Today.
What hasn’t changed at all during Eichel’s continued climb to the top is his attitude and approach.
NEHJ, January 2012: “If you stop working for one second, someone will go past you.”
NEHJ, today: “If you take your foot off the gas pedal for a second, someone else will catch you.”
January 2012: “I’m grateful for everything that’s happened to me. I come from a humble family. I don’t like a cocky person; my friends wouldn’t like me if I was that. They like me for who I am. I don’t look at myself as big shot. I worked so hard for everything that has happened.”
Today: “My parents said to keep a level head and remember where you came from. You don’t have time to admire what you’ve done so far. You’re happy with the success you’ve had, but everyone has more goals to achieve, and I have plenty more. I have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be.”
Eichel talks about his family and teammates, giving thanks and credit to both. He talks about work ethic and resiliency, leaving no doubt there is more to his game than natural talent. He might be as good off the ice as he is on it.
Since he was selected in the first round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft in 2012, there have been non-stop Canadian news reports about efforts to woo Eichel north and rampant speculation about his interest in going. The hot talk this spring was that Eichel would go to the Ontario Hockey League, fueled by the chance to play against Connor McDavid, a center for the Erie Otters and another contender for the No. 1 selection in 2015.
Eichel said he moves into BU at the end of June to take a few classes over the summer and begin workouts. His roommate will be his U.S. Under-18 teammate Johnathan MacLeod (Dracut, Mass.).
“I know what the truth is,” Eichel said. “If anyone wants to know, they can just ask me. Someone’s got to write something. Who knows if it’s right or wrong?”
Eichel netted 87 points in 53 games this year, the fourth-highest total in NTDP history, up there with the likes of Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Colin Wilson (Greenwich, Conn.). His 138 points over two years is fifth best all time, in the company of the same players.
This season, Eichel was the rare 17-year-old who made the U.S. roster for the World Junior Championship in Sweden, creating the potential to be only the 22nd American to play in three world juniors. This year, Eichel had a goal and four assists in five games as the U.S. lost in the quarterfinals.
When asked his favorite memory of his two years with the NTDP, Eichel’s takeaway is team oriented — winning the Under-18 World Championship in Finland.
“We went through so much adversity and sacrificed so much,” Eichel said. “In the program, everything is geared to winning this tournament. We had a tough year the first year and all had one goal in mind coming back. It’s a great feeling. I’ve never been closer to a group of guys than them. It topped off an amazing two years. Everything we went through was worth it.”
BU is on the immediate horizon, and Eichel said he is excited for the next chapter, but, like it or not, the 2015 draft is a thing, and it is a constant thing. All the hoopla that surrounds being one of two very highly regarded players in what is considered a deep draft is not going to go away.
“I think about it,” Eichel said. “It’s something I wanted since I was young. It’s a dream becoming more of a reality, but it’s still a long way away. It’s something I always wanted. It’s an exciting part of my life and for my family and my friends. I want to enjoy the ride and keep having fun and working hard.”
Brian Pinho (North Andover, Mass., right) picked a low corner to score the winning goal with just over two minutes remaining in the decisive fifth game to give the Indiana Ice a 3-2 Clark Cup championship victory over Waterloo.
Pinho also had an assist on the Ice’s first goal in the first period to help the Ice secure the USHL title.
He tied for third on the Ice in playoff scoring with 2-4-6. Among others at six points was Sam Kurker (Reading, Mass.), who posted 3-3-6. Jason Salvaggio (Hanson, Mass.), who also hoisted the Cup for the Ice, was scoreless in five playoff games.
Liam Pecararo (Canton, Mass.) had 4-10-14 playoff numbers for Waterloo, which tied him for third on both the team and in the league. Zach Sanford (Auburn, N.H.) was fifth on the team and in the league with 5-7-12. …
Not too long after the Ice claimed the championship, they were disbanded and the players dispersed in a draft as the club was granted a one-year hiatus to focus on developing a new facility and permanent home.
Kurker’s rights went to Sioux City with the 14th pick, Pinho’s rights went to Omaha at 31 and Salvaggio to Muskegon at 39. Pinho is slated for Providence College this fall while Salvaggio will join UNH. Kurker is expected to play in the USHL next season. …
Two players committed to New England schools were named to both the first and second All-USHL teams.
On the first team was Omaha goalie Hayden Hawkey, a Providence recruit who led the league with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage to earn Goaltender of the Year, and Waterloo defenseman Brand Montour, the USHL Player and Defenseman of the Year after a 62-point season, who is committed to UMass-Amherst.
On the second team is U.S. Under-18 forward and BU recruit Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.), who scored 45 points in just 24 USHL games, and Dubuque defenseman Alexx Privitera, bound for Vermont after finishing second among blueliners with 44 points. …
The Providence Capitals have joined the USPHL Junior Elite and Under-16 divisions next year, while the Springfield Pics and Rochester Junior Americans have joined the Premier Division.
This article originally appeared in the June edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.