It may have been a meaningless game in the record book, but for Jack Eichel, Monday night’s Prospect Challenge finale in Buffalo was the perfect way to end a weekend of hockey with training camp set to open this week.
The 18-year old Boston native tallied an assist and scored the game-winning goal in Monday’s 3-2 victory over the prospects of the Boston Bruins in front of fans at First Niagara Center. The win gave Buffalo a 2-0 record in the challenge, securing a first place finish.
Eichel, who wore 41 because he’s adamant about not wearing 15 until he officially makes the Sabres roster, finished the event with a goal and two assists.
Right before scoring the winning goal with just 37 seconds left in overtime, Eichel stated that he was asked if he could go one more shift despite being on the ice for most of the three-on-three overtime period with fellow second-overall draft pick Sam Reinhart.
“I was just trying to protect it down the ice,” he said. “I was able to get a shot off, and luckily it went in.”
Protecting the puck could be viewed as somewhat of an understatement. What Eichel did was burst down the right wall, leaving Bruins defender Anton Blidh in the dust before beating Zane McIntyre with a picture perfect shot. And it had to be a perfect shot because McIntyre made a number of huge saves for Boston. Of his 35 saves, a good dozen of them came on high quality scoring opportunities by Buffalo.
The goal didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Every time the puck was on his stick, the crowd of 3,537 fans were on the edge of their seats waiting for something to happen. What does impress those around him, especially coach Randy Cunneyworth, is how he does what he does on the ice.
“There’s calm. There’s poise,” he said. “It’s thought out beforehand. It’s pure ability.”
With the mini tournament hosted by the Sabres at an end, Eichel reflected on the experience as a whole before camp begins.
“It’s nice to have something like this in Buffalo,” Eichel said. “We’re in our own facilities, we’re comfortable with it and we’re really close to the rink. It was really good. It was a great experience, and I think all of the guys bonded together really well.”
Now, Eichel has his sights set on training camp later this week with the professionals where fans will expect to see even more of what they did on Monday night.