Providence, along with New Hampshire, may be off to the strongest starts in Hockey East so far this year. But on a game-by-game basis, strong starts are where the Friars have most been lacking.
“This season for whatever reason, we’ve been a traditionally slow starter, and a tremendous finisher,” said Providence coach Bob Deraney. “I don’t why, but it’s a terrible habit we’re in right now.”
The No. 7 Friars, the Hockey East preseason favorites, have done justice to their ranking at this early stage of the season. Their 5-2 victory over No. 4 Dartmouth is the conference’s only victory over a ranked team this season. Still, the Friars know they could be doing better than their current 8-3-3 mark.
In a 4-4 battle against No. 8 Brown last Tuesday for the Mayor’s Cup, Providence matched its worst start of the year, falling behind 3-0 in the first eight minutes. Deraney called timeout soon after and the team settled down. The Friars slowly chipped away at the lead until claiming a 4-3 lead in the third period.
It was a similar story for the Friars in a 2-2 tie against Connecticut on Saturday. They fell behind in both the first and third periods and found themselves playing from behind against an opponent they were favored to beat.
The one positive example where Providence did start strong was its victory over Dartmouth. After a scoreless first period, the Friars exploded to take a 3-1 lead in the second. Five different Providence players scored that day, including Hockey East Player of the Month Jenn Butsch.
“We played a tremendous team game,” Deraney said. ” We got out to a very quick start and we finished. It’s much easier to play ahead than it is from behind.”
The win over Dartmouth constrasted sharply to the Friars first meeting with the Big Green. Though Dartmouth’s roster was depleted from the Four Nations Cup, Providence fell behind 3-0 early in the first period. The Friars lost, 3-2, but outshot Dartmouth 20-3 in the third period.
Deraney knows his team needs to get over the slow-start spell to have success this weekend.
“We can’t afford to come out slow against BC or Harvard,” he said.
The Friars know more than anyone not to look past Boston College. Providence lost to the Eagles, 1-0, in the last game of its regular season last year. The Friars can’t be losing many more points to the bottom half of the league if it expects to make a serious run at the Frozen Four.
The 4 p.m. Sunday showdown between No. 1 Harvard and Providence pitches the ECAC favorites against the Hockey East favorites. The Friars might enter the game as underdogs, but they have had more success against the Crimson than any team other than Dartmouth or Minnesota-Duluth over the past four seasons. Harvard has only been shutout twice in the past five seasons. Both of those shutouts came at the hands of the Friars.
Deraney rotated three goaltenders in the past week–Amy Quinlan, Amy Thomas and freshman Jana Bugden. Bugden’s earned the majority of the minutes with 10 of the Friars’ 14 starts ever since she came up strong in the season opener versus then-No. 1 UMD. Thomas and Quinlan both earned starts this weekend as Deraney felt they had earned the playing time, though it was no knock on Bugden’s abilities.
As for Providence’s recent success against Harvard, Deraney considers it irrelevant because the Crimson are so vastly improved.
“They’re a very different team,” he said. “I think we’re catching them at a very hot time, which doesn’t look good for us. They deserve to be No. 1 the way they’re playing right now.”
Playing No. 1 in the nation is old hat this season for Providence, who opened the season with two games against Minnesota-Duluth–both two-goal defeats. Deraney holds Harvard in just as high respect.
“Right now, the way [Harvard] is playing, it’s going to take a perfect effort,” Deraney said. “We’re just going to try to compete the best we can and play Providence-style hockey and see if it’s going to be good enough, but they have some tremendously good players.”
Providence isn’t the only Hockey East squad that’ll get to test its mettle this weekend against nationally-ranked foes. Northeastern will be hitting the road against the ECAC’s toughest travel partner pair with No. 8 Brown on Friday and Harvard on Saturday.
The Huskies are at a serious disadvantage in their matchup against the Crimson. While Northeastern plays a physically draining game at Brown on Friday, Harvard gets the night off.
“We’re going to have our hands full on Friday, so coming into Saturday, we’re going to have to recover quickly,” said Northeastern coach Joy Woog. “We’re going to have to be ready right from the start.”
Northeastern has done as well as Woog expected with a 24-player roster half full of freshmen. Injuries have made matters even worse. Freshman forward Cyndy Kenyon has been out of action as has senior forward Nancy Collins.
Seniors have accounted for four of Northeastern’s top five scorers, yet the freshmen have started to contribute–most notably Rebecca Paul who now leads all Husky forwards with seven goals.
With Hockey East Goaltender of the Month Chanda Gunn in net, Woog has reason to believe Northeastern is capable of pulling an upset. Though the Huskies haven’t been winning consistently–posting a 5-7-1 record so far–Gunn ranks second in the nation in save percentage.
“We feel we have stronger goaltending than Harvard, by far,” Woog said. “And I think that clearly they have a deeper team than we do.”
One area where Woog does have the highest respect for Harvard is the power play, where the Crimson is converting at a rate of 42 percent.
“We can’t take penalties against Harvard,” Woog said. “The only problem that Harvard has is where to score on their power play. Do we score from the back door? Do we score from the point? Do we score from the side? Where do we score from-that’s the biggest question for them to answer.”
Hockey East Awards
TPS Louisville Player of the Week-Kristine Butt, Sr., F, UNH
ITECH Rookie of the Week-Kristin Blundo, Fr., F, BC
Defensive Player of the Week-Shannon Murphy, So., G, UConn
TPS Louisville Player of the Month-Jenn Butsch, Sr., F, Providence
ITECH Goaltender of the Month-Chanda Gunn, Jr., G, Northeastern
ITECH Rookie of the Month-Vicki Davis, Fr., F, New Hampshire