Top Of The Heap
Having exchanged three-goal home victories two weeks ago, No. 8 Providence and No. 5 New Hampshire will take to the ice for their third and final regular-season meeting on Saturday in Hockey East’s top rivalry.
Though this won’t necessarily be the last meeting between the two teams — they are favored to face off again in the first Hockey East championship at Northeastern in March — there’s still plenty at stake on Saturday.
There are Frozen Four implications for both teams, and this game could well decide the first Hockey East regular-season champion.
“First year of Hockey East, I think the regular-season title will mean more than it ever will, in my eyes,” said Providence coach Bob Deraney.
— Providence coach Bob Deraney
The past two matchups leave few definitive clues as to who will come out on top. The home teams did win each game, as neither was able to come from behind on the road. Providence took the first meeting at Schneider 3-0, while UNH won the rematch 4-1 at Whittemore the next day.
“I thought we played fine [in the loss], but we got behind, and when you get behind on the road it’s tough,” said New Hampshire coach Brian McCloskey.
“I think the two games had opposite story lines because the home team took advantage of its opportunities,” McCloskey added. “Other than that, I don’t think the two games were that much different.”
Both schools’ coaches agree — the teams are so even that whoever wins will simply be whoever can take advantage of the other’s mistakes.
“Both teams have tremendous forwards, offensive defensemen who are impact players, and goaltending seems to be very strong,” Deraney said. “It’s about as easily matched as it gets.”
Providence enters the weekend with some momentum, having won five games in a ten-day stretch — a pair against Quinnipiac, a pair against Connecticut and a game against Brown in between. By sweeping Connecticut, the Friars avenged their only Hockey East blemish provided by a team other than UNH. That tie allowed the Wildcats to acquire the one-point league lead that persists today.
Deraney feels the scoring drought that has plagued his team might finally be over. The Friars’ power play is now up to seventh in the nation, while New Hampshire’s is 12th.
While Providence has been making strides on the offensive end, the Friars will be tested because Jen Huggon has continued to be extraordinary for New Hampshire. Huggon’s save percentage of .933 is far and away the best in the nation, and only Harvard’s Jessica Ruddock has a better goals against average.
The Friars now have the second-longest winning streak in the nation and the longest in the East. Deraney maintains the hope that if Providence wins out the rest of the season — which means closing the season with a 10-game win streak and a 14-1-1 record in the last 16 games — it’ll be enough to make the Frozen Four.
“I think we’re starting to peak at the right time,” Deraney said. “That excites me. I think our best hockey is still ahead of us.”