By: Dave Souza
BOSTON — On June 23, Jake Oettinger was seated in the United Center in Chicago, Ill. wearing an ice-blue suit with a checkered shirt and a gray and blue striped tie. He would have been overdressed for a Blackhawks game, but fit right in for the occasion: the 2017 NHL Draft.
As the first round neared its close, Oettinger finally heard his name called when the Dallas Stars selected him 26th overall. Yet, despite his high selection – he was the first of 21 goalies to be drafted, and the only one to go in the first round – Oettinger knew that he would be back at Boston University in the fall for his sophomore season.
“I don’t think I ever even thought about leaving [BU],” said Oettinger. “I love it here and I plan to be here for a long time. I think this is the best place for me to grow and to continue to get better as a goalie and there’s a lot of unfinished business for me here.”
Oettinger captivated all of college hockey as a freshman a season ago, backstopping his team in 35 of 39 games while earning a .927 save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average – good for 10th and 12th best in the country, respectively. In Hockey East, the young net minder paced the league in goals against and winning percentage (.675), earning All-Rookie honors at the season’s end.
Now it’s a new year and a new challenge for Oettinger. Returning as one of the best goaltenders in the nation brings added pressure, while his sophomore status means he can no longer claim inexperience if faced with adversity.
“Obviously last year being my first year, there was a lot of learning experiences and if there was mistake you could kind of use the excuse that I was young,” Oettinger said. “I played a lot of games last year and I know that I’m going to have to be a leader, and step up every night, and I’m going to have to be at my best every night. Last year was a little more about learning and growing and this year is about performance.”
“He’s done a really good job, so far, in practice, he’s come back in great shape,” said Quinn. “He’s gotten even bigger, believe it or not; he looks lean […] I just think he’s ready to take his game to another level. And that’s saying an awful lot.”
With expectations being heaped onto him across the nation, Oettinger maintains his composure by focusing on what he can control. Shrugging off the hype surrounding both him and his No. 2 Terriers, Oettinger continues to zero in on stopping the puck and being consistent between the pipes.
That laser-sharp resolve combined with his confidence in his abilities makes Oettinger one of the most shutdown goaltenders in college hockey. That pedigree is not lost on his teammates either. In fact, Oettinger’s skill in net allows the defense in front of him to play more relaxed, and his big saves give his team an added energy boost on an almost nightly basis.
“You kind of see a back-door pass and think, ‘Oh, that’s going to go in,’ and then he makes a huge save and that picks everyone up,” said senior Captain Brandon Hickey.
“He’s like a brick wall in net and it helps you relax a little bit […] the demeanor of your goalie is going to rub off on your defensemen. If he’s calm in net and confident in his skills then you’re calm, you’re confident, and you’re just playing your game.”
Giving his team a needed jolt is an old habit for Oettinger, as the Lakeville, Minn. native has repeatedly backstopped his teams during championship runs. His bio is littered with stellar statistics from National Development teams of years past, winning a gold and a bronze medal along the way. He even backstopped his high school team to the State Championship game as a freshman in 2014. Since coming to college, his big games have grown into monumental ones.
A year ago, he brought the Terriers a goal away from the Frozen Four, and was a member of the goaltending trio that won gold with Team USA in the 2017 World Junior Championships. Highlighting his stellar playoff run last season was a 56-save performance against defending National Champion North Dakota in the West Regional Semifinal – a contest that was played in hostile territory just over an hour away from the Fighting Hawks’ campus.
In 2017-2018, Oettinger will look to add to his already polished résumé with even more hardware. The Terriers fell just short in all three of their biggest tournaments a year ago: falling in the Beanpot title game, dropping the Hockey East semifinal to their Comm Ave rivals, and being bested in overtime to eventual runner-up Minnesota-Duluth in the West Regional Final. With the opportunity to grab a Beanpot, a conference and a national title certainly within the Terriers’ grasp this season, Oettinger knows that he needs to be even better than the jaw-dropping freshman who captured the nation’s attention a year ago.
“There’s a lot of different things about my game,” Oettinger said. “But I think the biggest thing for me is just going to be consistency; and I’m just going to have to be a leader out there.”