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BU's Oettinger Returns From World Juniors and Gets Back to Business
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
BOSTON Playing for Boston University this season has turned Jake Oettinger into a spectator on more than one occasion. His Terriers rank among the nation's most dominant, most talented teams. With that comes the occasional stretch of inactivity, just watching while his teammates torture yet another hapless opponent.
Over the last few weeks, Oettinger once again played spectator, serving as the third goalie for the United States during the IIHF World Junior Championships. Sitting third behind Tyler Parsons of the OHL's London Knights and Boston College's Joe Woll, Oettinger did what he could to contribute.
"I went into that tournament wanting to be the No. 1," Oettinger said. "It wasn't something I could control. For me, it was just about staying positive and trying to enjoy the moment and enjoy being a part of that team. I lent a helping hand where ever I could and tried to enjoy being on the team."
"He was one of the best team guys we had, one of the highest character guys we had," BU sophomore Charlie McAvoy, who served as an alternate captain for the U.S. at World Juniors, said of Oettinger's role for the Americans. "He obviously didn't have the big impact on the ice like Tyler Parsons did. He worked hard every single day in practice. He's a great guy to be around. That's something we know. Anyone who knows him personally would say the same thing."
On the U.S. team with Oettinger were five of his BU teammates, including fellow freshmen Clayton Keller, Patrick Harper and Kieffer Bellows, as well as sophomores Jordan Greenway and McAvoy. The group was reunited with its fellow BU teammates last Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park in Boston where the Terriers began the second half of their Hockey East schedule with a 5-3 win over Massachusetts in the first game of a Hockey East doubleheader at the storied ballpark.
"He did a lot of things he'd been doing all year long," Quinn said. "That's why he was on the World Junior team and why he's had the freshman year he's had. He makes timely saves. He makes it look easy. He's big. He's composed. One of the things that makes him special is, not only does he have the physical tools to be special, he's mentally tough and composed. I thought he was all of that tonight."
Oettinger calmly steered 26 UMass shots aside, including seven on the penalty kill. His emergence as BU's No. 1 goaltender hasn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. Getting there as smoothly as he has, though, has answered one of the larger question marks for the Terriers. As the grueling second half of his freshman year begins, the challenges will only grow stiffer just as the stakes grow higher and the margins for error dwindle entirely.
"Focusing on the little things that make me successful on the ice is a big part of it and trying to not get caught up in the intensity of the big games that we play," Oettinger said. "I have to keep focusing on what makes me successful and not getting caught up in all of the outside noise."
Everything Quinn has seen gives him no reason to anticipate any regression or problems between the ears.
The aspects of Oettinger's personality that drew the BU coaching staff to him suit this time of year perfectly. The first thing any team looks for is talent. There's plenty of that in Oettinger. The size is there just as well. It's the approach to goaltending and preparation that often turn a promising prospect into an average college goalie or, conversely, a good one into a champion. It also enables Oettinger to remain focused even as his team builds multi-goal leads.
"He made some big saves. It's 3-0, and it looks like we're controlling play. But it's a game of bounces," Quinn said.
"(UMass) makes it 3-2. When it was 3-1, the first two shifts of the third period, they get some good chances, and he stonewalls them. I'm proud of his effort. I know it's been awhile since he played a game. … It's nice to get back to some normalcy."
Oettinger has proven these are personal strengths since he arrived at BU. For the nation's third youngest player — he turned 18 four days into camp with the U.S. team — it's among his most impressive attributes.
"I think (maturity has) always been a part of my game," Oettinger said. "As a goalie, it's my job to keep the other guys comfortable and calm when I'm in net so they can play better."
Next up for Oettinger is his first taste of BU's ancient rivalry with Boston College. The Terriers and Eagles play Friday night at Agganis Arena and Monday night at Conte Forum. A third meeting awaits Feb. 6 at TD Garden in the Beanpot semifinal.
For this BU team, the goals have been about championships since this season began. Oettinger has passed every test to this point. They only get more difficult as the season gets older. Aside from the meetings with BC, the Terriers have two games remaining with UMass-Lowell and Notre Dame. BU enters the weekend tied for fifth in Hockey East, seven points back of BC but with two games in hand.
Championships are often won and lost by goaltending. Great teams are undone by average netminders, middling teams become champions when their goalies take steps forward. Jaaaake Oettinger's freshman season backstopping one of the nation's best teams has revealed his ability to become one of the nation's best goaltenders.
Sunday afternoon, he faced a bit more pressure than anticipated after his tournament-long stretch as a spectator. Nothing fazed him. He faced the occasional pressure and a late surge by UMass calmly and simply, stopping the shots and steering them to safety. It was just another game for Jaaaake Oettinger. The setting didn't matter. Neither did the opponent, its late push or his layoff. BU defeated UMass at Fenway Park Sunday afternoon. This time around, Jake Oettinger was hardly a spectator.