PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Take two tough, hard-checking hockey teams fighting for a top slot in Hockey East, add 69 minutes of penalties and you would get Friday night’s skirmish at Schneider Arena between the Northeastern Huskies and the Providence Friars.
Both the Huskies and Friars have surprised many pundits to date with their fine play, and proved to be two evenly-matched squads both deserving of being placed in Hockey East’s top tier from their effort Friday.
The difference, however, came in the Friars’ strong play during the final 20 minutes, where PC outshot and outhustled the Huskies en route to a 3-1 victory.
The near-three hour game featured terrific goaltending at both ends of the ice by PC’s Nolan Schaefer and NU’s Mike Gilhooly, plus an abundance of hard hits that must have confounded official Jeff Bunyon in much the same way the “butterfly ballot” did to certain Floridians in the last two weeks.
Bunyon’s penalty calls slowed the pace of the game and drew the ire of both PC and NU fans in the rowdy Schneider crowd of 2,758, as well as both Friar coach Paul Pooley and NU’s Bruce Crowder, who took turns vocalizing their displeasure at Bunyon throughout the game.
After a scoreless first period where shots were few (an 8-6 Husky advantage) and scoring opportunities even harder to come by, the Friars came up with an offensive flurry that caught the Huskies with their guard down in the second.
PC’s Peter Fregoe scored his third of the season from Devin Rask and Jon DiSalvatore at 4:15, getting the Friars on the board. Off a nice 2-on-1 rush, Fregoe deposited the shot down low and past Gilhooly, opening the scoring at 1-0 PC.
The Friars swarmed the Husky zone shortly thereafter, and proved that the old adage “throw it at the net and see if it goes in” can often prove effective.
Regan Kelly and Marc Suderman cycled the puck deep in the NU end before Kelly took a shot from the left point. The puck bounced off J.J. Picinic and past Gilhooly up high on the deflection, giving the Friars a 2-0 lead just over a minute later at 5:20.
Despite the two-goal lead, the end of the period was anything but routine for the Friars. Northeastern picked up their play and had a series of scoring chances on PC netminder Schaefer, who again showed the fine form he has displayed throughout the early course of the season.
The Huskies, which outshot PC 13-7 in the second period, finally got on the board at 11:25 on their own 2-on-1 rush.
Trevor Reschny sent a pass ahead to Joe Mastronardi, who opted to take the shot from the right point. The shot wasn’t too hard but appeared to catch Schaefer off-guard as it slipped through the five-hole and got NU on the board, trailing 2-1 at 11:25 of the second.
The Huskies then put most of the pressure on PC and began spending a fair amount of time on the power-play as the period progressed.
NU’s best opportunity came when Friar standout Devin Rask received a questionable butt-ending five-minute major — a costly penalty since it disqualifies Rask from Saturday’s rematch at Matthews Arena.
The major was greeted with indignation from a hot Pooley and a stunned Providence bench, but the Huskies couldn’t take advantage of the call as the period drew to a close.
In fact, the Huskies were quickly whistled for a relatively benign high-sticking call when Willie Levesque went into the box at 1:12 of the third, evening up the action and reducing a large slice of the Husky power-play. (Both teams went 0-for-8 on their respective power plays on the night).
The Friars, which have been a strong and — to date — unbeatable team at home this season, then rallied with a superb third period in which they outshot NU by a substantial 19-8 margin.
After Gilhooly stymied the Friars on several chances down low, PC finally broke through for an insurance goal at 15:02 when Jay Leach and Jon DiSalvatore found an open Peter Fregoe on the left side.
Fregoe streaked in and netted his second goal of the night on a pretty shift to the forehand that eluded Gilhooly and secured the 3-1 PC victory.
The win lifts the young, surprising Friars to a 6-2-1 mark, and a 3-1-1 league mark, good for second place in Hockey East for the time being. Northeastern’s loss drops the Huskies to 5-3-1 (2-2-1 league). PC remains undefeated at home (6-0-1).