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Notebook: Season for the record books for both Providence, Omaha

Jake Guentzel celebrates Omaha’s only goal Thursday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — Both Providence and Omaha set or tied school marks for single-season success.

Providence’s win advanced the Friars to the national title game for only the second time in school history. The 1985 PC team also made it to the championship game, losing 2-1 to Rensselaer at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Friars’ 25 wins and counting is their most since 1982-83 (33-10).

Omaha capped a season that saw the Mavericks win their first NCAA tournament games and advance to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history. The Mavericks’ .590 winning percentage was the second-highest in the history of the program.

“We’re obviously happy with what we were able to accomplish this year as a team,” said senior captain Brian O’Rourke. “Coming to the Frozen Four for the first time as a program, it puts Omaha on the map.”

Finishing strong

Providence led 2-0 after two periods and won for the 18th time in 19 tries this season when leading after two. The only time the Friars were unable to close out an opponent when leading after 40 minutes was in their first game of the season, a 5-4 overtime loss to Ohio State on Oct. 10.

In all, Nate Leaman’s Providence teams are 64-3-3 when leading after two periods.

Ahead of schedule

Omaha’s underclassmen made huge contributions this season. Including the lone UNO goal Thursday by sophomore Jake Guentzel, assisted by freshman Tyler Vesel, freshmen racked up 110 points this season, third-best in the nation. Sophomores accounted for 126 points, best among Frozen Four teams.

“I think it was a great learning experience for these guys and it was an honor to be there for them and experience it with them,” said senior goaltender Ryan Massa.

Anyone can win

Providence is trying to become the fourth first-time champion in the past five seasons and the third in a row. The only time three different teams have claimed first-time titles in three consecutive seasons was the first three years of the tournament (1948-50).

The Friars are the fourth No. 4 seed to advance to the title game. Notre Dame accomplished this in 2008 (lost to Boston College), Miami in 2009 (lost to Boston University) and Yale in 2013 (defeated Quinnipiac).

Like Yale in 2013, Providence is the 15th overall seed in the tournament and was the last at-large team to get in.

“I think it talks about the parity,” said Leaman. “We were hundredths of a point of not making it to this tournament.

“It used to be that if you could get 20 wins, you’re pretty much locked in the tournament. But this year we had 22. Bowling Green had 22. And it came down to the two of us to see who was going to get in. There’s not a lot that separates teams. And it comes down to a bounce here, bounce there, almost every night.”

“We truly believe that once you get in, that’s the hard part,” said Providence goaltender Jon Gillies. “That any team can take it. So we’re very happy to be here and very fortunate to be moving on to Saturday.”

Before Thursday’s semifinals, a familiar sea of green fills Boston

North Dakota fans made their presence felt in Boston (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — When the manager of The Greatest Bar approached the front door to prepare for a noontime opening Thursday, she was met with a surprising sight.

Surprising, at least for her.

A line of North Dakota fans, clad in their ever-present green jerseys, had already queued up for the team’s pre-party even though the bar wouldn’t open for another two hours.

“You always see that,” says North Dakota fan Rob Flaherty. “You always see the green. I’m never surprised. Really, are you ever surprised?”

Well, no.

If you’ve followed college hockey for any time at all, you’ve seen the intensity of the team’s fans. You’ve seen the sea of green jerseys, heard the national anthem end with “… home of the Sioux,” and perhaps even been unfortunate enough to disagree with the Hobey Baker Award candidacy of a North Dakota player.

Even so, with this year’s Frozen Four held in Boston University’s backyard, the consensus expectation was that the Terriers would hold an overwhelming advantage in the stands, and with Providence only an hour’s drive away, Friars fans also would squeeze out those from Omaha and the farthest team from Boston, North Dakota.

Yet a BU fan in the concourse could be heard muttering, “There’s a lot of Sioux around.”

Indeed, even if the nickname has been banished from the official NCAA lexicon.

“Every game is a home game,” says Tommy van Norman, wearing his North Dakota jersey, green beads around his neck and a bag of freshly purchased memorabilia in one hand.

And as for the fans braving lines outside The Greatest Bar for several hours, van Norman adds with a smile, “We drink really well.”

Of course, fans attending the pre-party extended also to those who drank nothing harder than a Coke, such as 10-year old Brooks Huber, his 13-year old sister, Hadley, and their father Steve. Steve Huber earned a Dad of the Year nomination for allowing his kids to miss school to see their team in the Frozen Four, getting up at 5 in the morning, catching a 7 o’clock flight into Newark, N.J., and arriving in Boston at 1 p.m.

Just in time to head to The Greatest Bar for the festivities. There, Brooks and Hadley got green beads to drape around their necks, and Brooks added green North Dakota stickers on both cheeks.

And while their father explained the devotion of the team’s fans with a wry grin and the words, “It gets you through the winter,” the Huber youngsters had the purest explanation of all.

In unison, they said, “The love of hockey.”

Eichel, Hickey score to give Boston University 2-0 lead over North Dakota after one period

Boston University scored twice in the first period against North Dakota (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — The Boston University Terriers hold a 2-0 lead over North Dakota after one period of the second national semifinal at the TD Garden.

Freshman phenom Jack Eichel, who on Friday will find out if he will be the first rookie since 1993 to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player, scored the frame’s first goal on the power play.

With his back to the net, and knowing that North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre was down and out, Eichel threw a no-look shot on net at 4:59 of the period.

Another man advantage led to a 2-0 Terriers lead when another rookie, defenseman Brandon Hickey, blasted a shot through a screen past McIntyre at 19:17.

The teams each had nine shots in the first, although BU was 2-for-2 on the power play. North Dakota did not score in its one full chance with the man advantage and will have 1:27 remaining on a power play to begin the second.

If the Terriers win, it will set up an all-Hockey East national title game on Saturday for the first time since 1999. Providence beat Omaha 4-1 in the first semifinal.

Big play: Providence finally solves Omaha’s Massa on Acciari’s goal

Providence’s Noel Acciari (24) finds the loose puck in the crease for the Friars’ first goal Thursday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — Omaha rode the exceptional performance of senior goalie Ryan Massa to reach the Frozen Four.

Through 31 minutes, it looked as if Massa had one more Herculean performance in him.

But the opening goal for Providence had far more gravity than a simple 1-0 lead would indicate — the moment had been building for some time.

The breakdown in coverage had taken place multiple times for Omaha in its defensive zone, with the Friars crashing the net and forcing a rebound.

Nick Saracino dug the puck out of a scrum at the net mouth, sliding it across to Noel Acciari on the back door for the easy tap-in, 11:21 into the second period.

It was 1-0 Friars. But it felt like a lot more. The goal felt inevitable.

Suddenly, a one-sided affair in the shots-on-goal column became a hole for the Mavericks to dig out of on the scoreboard as well.

“[Providence] came from the drop of the puck,” Massa said after the game. “Didn’t give me very much breathing room. Kept me busy pretty much all night. So hats off to them for making it difficult and banging in a couple of greasy goals.”

Just three minutes earlier, it looked like Massa may have been able to withstand the barrage. At the eight-minute mark in the second period, he made a baffling series of saves with bodies colliding into the net.

After spilling the rebound on an initial shot, Massa fell on his side and just tried to block the goal line while players in both black and white sweaters converged onto the net.

The Friars attempted a bevy of low shots, which were met with timely blocks from Omaha. Then, finally, Massa staggered around in the crease to partially cover the puck, as the net was knocked off its pegs. The sequence generated a roar from the crowd, the largest of the night.

This was the moment where things could have turned around for the Mavs, when they could have engaged the neutrals in the crowd rooting for a (theoretical) underdog, when they could have leveraged momentum from a few key saves to gain some of their footing.

“I was cheering just like our fans were,” Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “He made some spectacular saves.”

Instead, just three minutes later, it was another turnover, another rebound, and this time, Acciari found the twine.

“The main thing was just to stick with our game plan,” Friars forward Mark Jankowski said. “If we got pucks to the middle and on to the net … we could bury a few.”

“I thought Massa played a terrific game tonight,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “We could have gotten frustrated; I was pleased with our mental toughness. We stuck with it and finally got a bounce.”

The effort from Acciari’s line was prototypical for how Providence has approached the season.

“Noel’s been a horse for us,” Leaman said. “He does a lot of things well. I thought he was winning faceoffs well early. He was getting zone time and good things were happening.”

From the drop of the puck, Providence had the jump. But converting puck possession into goals has plagued the Friars in their losses — including their Hockey East quarterfinal series loss to New Hampshire.

It was not be the case Thursday.

“We’ve been focusing on ourselves,” Leaman said. “It’s the lesson we learned versus UNH in the playoffs. It’s the best thing that could have happened to us to prepare us. We played a great Game 1 in that series, but we made a few mental mistakes and they beat us. In Games 2 and 3, we were hoping a lot.”

Instead of hoping to finish their chances, the Friars took matters into their own hands and seized the moment. As a result, they get to play for a national title.

Video: Omaha’s Tyler Vesel, Brian Cooper after Frozen Four semifinal loss

BOSTON — Omaha forward Tyler Vesel and defenseman Brian Cooper react to Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Providence in the Frozen Four semifinal.

Video: Providence’s Shane Luke, Mark Adams after Frozen Four semifinal win

BOSTON — Providence forward Shane Luke and defenseman Mark Adams react to Thursday’s 4-1 win over Omaha in the Frozen Four semifinal.

Providence beats Omaha in semifinals, will play for first national championship

Providence is into the national championship game for the first time since 1985 (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — For the first time in 30 years, the Providence Friars will play for a national championship.

The Friars defeated Omaha 4-1 at the TD Garden on Thursday led by a 25-save performance by goaltender Jon Gillies, a goal and two assists by Nick Saracino and goals by Noel Acciari, Mark Jankowski and Trevor Mingoia.

Jake Guentzel scored Omaha’s lone goal.

It’s the second time the Friars have reached the national title game and first since 1985 when Providence fell to Rensselaer 2-1 in the final in Detroit.

The teams played a scoreless first period in which Providence held a decided territorial advantage, outshooting Omaha 16-9.

The Friars extended that in the second, holding a lopsided 17-7 margin in shots. That wasn’t enough to solve Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa until, uncharacteristically, the senior netminder made a mistake.

At 11:02, Acciari poked home a loose puck from the crease after linemate Brian Pinho sent a harmless looking shot on net from the right point on the rush. Massa didn’t handle the shot cleanly and, after Saracino swatted at the puck in the crease, Acciari was unmarked and poked home the game’s first goal.

At 14:58, the Friars extended the lead. Jake Walman and Saracino worked at the blue line to steal the puck and keep it in the offensive zone and then fed Mark Jankowski, who was alone in front of the net and made a move around Massa for his seventh goal of the season.

The Friars held a 33-16 advantage in shots through 40 minutes.

In the third, Omaha showed a different gear and finally solved Gillies. Tyler Vesel forced a turnover on the right half-wall and quickly centered a pass that Guentzel sniped home.

The Friars, however, responded just 26 seconds later to retake control. Jankowski forced the play behind the net and quickly found Mingoia, who fired a puck blocker side at 11:10 for a 3-1 lead.

Saracino scored into an empty net in the game’s final minute.

The Friars fired 48 shots on goal compared to just 26 for Omaha.

Providence will face the winner of Thursday’s second semifinal between Boston University and North Dakota.

Line combinations for North Dakota-Boston University

BOSTON — Here are the lines for the Frozen Four semifinal game between North Dakota and Boston University (8:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN2):

North Dakota (29-9-3)

9 Drake Caggiula-27 Luke Johnson-15 Michael Parks
28 Stephane Pattyn-8 Nick Schmaltz-7 Wade Murphy
29 Bryn Chyzyk-17 Colten St. Clair-3 Tucker Poolman
21 Brendan O’Donnell-13 Connor Gaarder-14 Austin Poganski

4 Keaton Thompson-24 Jordan Schmaltz
5 Nick Mattson-6 Paul LaDue
20 Gage Ausmus-2 Troy Stecher

31 Zane McIntyre
33 Cam Johnson
30 Matt Hrynkiw

Boston University (27-7-5)

17 Evan Rodrigues-9 Jack Eichel-10 Danny O’Regan
26 A.J. Greer-7 Cason Hohmann-2 Ahti Oksanen
13 Nikolas Olsson-21 Matt Lane-19 Robbie Baillargeon
12 Chase Phelps-11 Mike Moran-15 Nick Roberto

5 Matt Grzelcyk-16 John MacLeod
4 Brandon Hickey-25 Brandon Fortunato
27 Doyle Somerby-20 Brien Diffley

29 Matt O’Connor
30 Connor LaCouvee
1 Anthony Moccia

For North Dakota, Thompson is back in the defensive lineup after missing the West Regional final win over St. Cloud State with an illness. He replaces Andrew Panzarella.

Boston University has shuffled its second, third and fourth lines from the Northeast Regional final win over Minnesota-Duluth. Nick Roberto is in the lineup replacing J.J. Piccinich on the fourth line.

Acciari, Jankowski goals give Providence 2-0 lead over Omaha after two periods

Providence celebrates Mark Jankowski’s second-period goal (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — The Providence Friars led Omaha 2-0 after two periods in the opening national semifinal game of the 2015 Frozen Four at the TD Garden.

The teams played a scoreless first period in which Providence held a decided territorial advantage, outshooting Omaha 16-9.

The Friars extended that in the second, holding a lopsided 17-7 margin in shots. That wasn’t enough to solve Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa until, uncharacteristically, the senior netminder made a mistake.

At 11:02, Noel Acciari poked home a loose puck from the crease after linemate Brian Pinho sent harmless looking shot on net from the right point on the rush. Massa didn’t handle the shot cleanly and, after Nick Saracino swatted at the puck in the crease, Acciari was unmarked and poked home the game’s first goal.

At 14:58, the Friars extended the lead. Jake Walman and Saracino worked at the blue line to steal the puck and keep it in the offensive zone and then fed Mark Jankowski, who was alone in front of the net and made a move around Massa for his seventh goal of the season.

The Friars held a 33-16 advantage in shots through 40 minutes.

Providence outshoots Omaha 16-9, but teams are scoreless after first period

Omaha’s Brian Cooper tumbles to the ice as Providence’s Trevor Mingoia looks on in the first period Thursday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — Omaha and Providence are scoreless through one period of the opening national semifinal game at the 2015 Frozen Four at the TD Garden.

Providence controlled the opening 20 minutes but couldn’t solve Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa (16 saves). The best chances for the Friars came from the stick of left winger Trevor Mingoia.

He was left alone in the slot at 6:11 of the frame. Though trying to pick a spot, his shot resulted in what became an easy save. At 12:30, Mingoia found room on the left wing and skated in alone on Massa but couldn’t find room over the goalie’s right pad.

Brandon Tanev also hit the post for the Friars at 13:50, trying to poke home a rebound on a four-on-two rush.

Omaha had its best scoring opportunity at 18:48 when Justin Parizek broke in on the wing with a backhander and Tyler Vesel followed up with a rebound chance. Jon Gilles (nine saves) held his position on both shots.

Providence held a 16-9 lead in shots through one period.

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