Providence coach Bob Deraney doesn’t want to look at 2002-03 as a whole new season but rather a continuation of the last one.
And who can blame him? Providence closed out last season with a run through the ECAC East tournament that included an upset of eventual Frozen Four participant Niagara, followed by a 1-0 victory over Northeastern in the championship. The Huskies had outscored the Friars 14-6 during the regular season but were limited to just 10 shots on goal in the final.
“At the end of the season, basically I was along for the ride,” Deraney said. “Our kids basically understood what we were trying to accomplish and they made it our No. 1 priority as a group. I think that was evident in both games we played in the championships.”
Because women’s hockey has no automatic tournament bids, Providence’s Cinderella season ended with the ECAC East tournament. The continuation has to come this season.
The Friars are a well-balanced team that plays everyone and spreads out its scoring. Nine different players and eight returning players on the team had double-digits in goals and assists last season. None had more than Jen Butsch’s 31 points.
“We’re solid all-around,” said senior defenseman Melanie Ruzzi. “It’s the whole team game. Everyone plays both sides of the puck very well.”
Senior forward Danielle Culgin was the team’s second-leading scorer, and she netted Providence’s biggest goal of the season — the double-overtime game-winner against Providence. Culgin believes the Friars’ closeness separates them from the rest of the league.
“We’re a close-knit team compared to other teams,” Culgin said. “It’s more like a family than anywhere else. There’s something special going on when you walk into the locker room.”
Another rising player for Providence is Rush Zimmerman, who led all Friar freshmen in scoring last season, and also earned a spot on the U.S. Under-22 select team this summer along with Butsch.
The Friar blueliners are led by Kelli Halcisak, an All-League defenseman with a fierce slapshot. Halcisak scored 28 points for the Friars her sophomore year, her first with the team. Halcisak led Ohio State, her former team, in scoring during her freshman campaign.
Providence’s all-Amy netminding combination of Quinlan and Thomas is well-seasoned in goal, but that won’t prevent freshman Jana Budgen, a 2001 Hockey Night in Boston most outstanding goaltender, from competing for the starting job right away.
For the second year in a row, Providence chose to start its season with defending national champions Minnesota-Duluth.
“I don’t know what I was thinking to do it two years in a row,” Deraney said jokingly.
But Deraney doesn’t play the nation’s toughest opponent right away without a purpose. History has been kind to teams that play Minnesota-Duluth to open the season. When St. Lawrence did it two years ago, the Saints ended up as the Bulldogs’ unexpected opponent in the first NCAA championship game. It wouldn’t be too farfetched for the Friars to expect the same.
“It’s good to play [Minnesota-Duluth] at the beginning of the year because we’ll find where our strengths are and where our weaknesses are,” Deraney said. “Hopefully we’ll see them again in the final game of the year.”