Providence coach Nate Leaman inherited a team last year that had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons. However, he turned things around much faster than anyone expected, guiding the Friars not only to the playoffs but to a semifinal appearance at the Garden.
Whether the Friars take another step forward rides to a significant extent on the goaltender position. There’s no returning experience unless you count senior Russ Stein’s 20 minutes as a sophomore. Incoming freshman Jon Gillies, a third-round draft pick and invitee to the U.S. World Junior camp, will be the one to watch.
“He had two very good seasons in the USHL so he has a lot of experience in some good pressure situations,” Leaman says. “Russ Stein hasn’t seen a lot of action but put in a tremendous summer. What we’re hoping is that between the two guys they can battle and push each other to a high level and to a consistent level.”
On the blue line, the Friars will be led again by senior captain Myles Harvey along with Kevin Hart and Steven Shamanski. Freshman Tom Parisi will be delayed a bit in making his expected impact due to a broken hand.
“Between Myles, Kevin, and Steven, I like what we have in pillars there,” Leaman says. “Steven had a great summer. I’m expecting a step up from him this year and probably getting him a little bit more involved in things offensively.
“We have Alex Velischek and Mark Adams, too, that are upperclassmen who should be able to make our defensive corps pretty solid.”
Up front, the Friars return Tim Schaller, Ross Mauermann and Derek Army, all of whom recorded double-digits in goals last year. (Army, however, is recuperating from summer shoulder surgery.) Leaman also expects freshmen Mark Jankowski, Nick Saracino and Paul de Jersey to contribute.
“I like our depth at forward,” Leaman says. “We have a couple pillars [in Schaller and Mauermann] and then we’re going to ask some young guys to step in and make an impact with us.”
Can the Friars take the next step within Hockey East?
“We were 1-5 against BC and BU last year and it was pretty clear when we were playing those teams that there was a lot of work to be done within our program,” Leaman says. “I like the direction we’re going, but I think our league this year can be extremely competitive. Every game, every point, is going to be extremely tough.
“So we’re looking to make sure that we’re improving. I think we’ll be a more complete team. I thought last year we really struggled with our depth. This year we have more depth. Now it’s up to us to play a complete game, to get our younger guys integrated and learning what it takes to compete at this level.”
About the Friars
2011-12 overall record: 14-20-4
2011-12 Hockey East record: 10-14-3 (seventh)
2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: sixth; Dave: sixth
Key losses: G Alex Beaudry, F Matt Bergland, D Daniel New, D David Brown
Players to watch: F Tim Schaller, F Ross Mauermann, F Derek Army, D Myles Harvey
Impact rookie: G Jon Gillies
Why the Friars will finish higher than predicted: Coach Nate Leaman’s Union teams typically made gradual year-by-year improvements en route from the bottom of the ECAC to the top. He’s brought in 14 freshmen despite losing only seven seniors so there’ll be extra competition. Don’t bet against Leaman seeing the same progress with the Friars.
Why the Friars will finish lower than predicted: They won’t catch teams by surprise like they did early last year. (The Friars defeated Boston University and Massachusetts on the first weekend of the season.) They also will be playing the ultimate wild card: goaltenders with no collegiate experience.