PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Fueled by a three-point game from Drew Omicioli and another solid performance from goalie Nolan Schaefer, the Providence Friars finally ended their recent futility against the UMass-Amherst Minutemen in a 4-0 shutout Saturday at Schneider Arena.
Coming into the game, the Friars had lost five straight to UMass, with the Friars’ last win coming almost two years ago in February 1999. This season, PC was snakebitten by solid goaltending from UMass’ Markus Helanen in dropping a 3-1 decision to the Minutemen on Dec. 8 at Schneider.
Helanen, a long-time nemesis of the Friars, was back on Saturday, but despite his mere appearance in net — and PC shorthanded offensively with forward Jon DiSalvatore yet to return from the World Junior Championships — PC still capatilized on its chances and gained a victory in a game filled with penalties and, later on, quite a bit of rough-housing.
UMass, coming off a 4-1 win over Brown last Tuesday, looked sharp from the outset, however. The Minutemen garnered a series of chances on the sophomore PC goaltender, yet Schaefer was equal to the task and turned aside several screen shots in keeping the game scoreless.
It took nearly the entire first half of the period for the Friars to even generate a shot on net, but PC looked stronger as the opening 20 minutes wore on.
Finally, the Friars got on the board when Drew Omicioli swept in front of the UMass net and re-directed a Peter Fregoe pass home for a 1-0 PC lead at 14:13.
The Friars had just four shots on Helanen during the first period, but ended up with a .500 scoring percentage when PC lit the lamp again a short time later on the power play.
With UMass’ Jeff Turner off for hooking, the Friars did a good job cycling the puck in the Minutemen zone. Fregoe and Matt Libby set up Michael Lucci, camped out in front of Helanen, for his fifth goal of the season. Lucci slid a pass under the UMass netminder, giving PC a 2-0 lead at 17:42.
Although the first period was a relatively clean, crisp affair, the second stanza was anything but for both teams. Offsides, icings, and neutral-zone skirmishes made for an ugly affair that took almost twice as long to play as the opening period did.
The two teams, which combined for 10 minutes in penalties in the first period, collaborated for some 20 minutes in infractions in the second, with the majority of penalties doled out by referee Tim Benedetto falling under the roughing category. UMass’ Turner, Joey Culgin, and Luke Duplessis all sat in the box early in the second period after a melee broke out, with John Luszcz and Cody Loughlean joining them for the Friars at 3:01.
After the smoke cleared for the time being, the Friars picked up the pace and scored a pair of goals early and late in the period to preserve the win.
Fregoe and Omicoli collaborated on a sensational two-on-one rush, with the two forwards passing the puck from the blue line back and forth. Finally, with Helanen committed to the right side, Omicoli slid the puck over to Fregoe, who netted his fifth of the season at 4:05, upping the Friar lead to 3-0.
Unlike the first period, PC had a clear edge on the Minutemen in shots (11-8), and UMass’ uneven play in its own end wound up costing it late in the period.
A turnover at the blue line led Devin Rask and Omicoli to put another odd-man rush on Helanen. Rask passed the puck down low to Omicoli, who chipped away at the loose puck to Helanen’s left, ultimately sliding in his second of the night at 19:13, enabling the Friars to take a 4-0 lead into the third period.
In the third, PC outplayed the Minutemen, keeping the puck in the UMass zone for long periods of time and outshooting UMass, 16-6. If it were not for the fine play of UMass goaltender Mike Johnson, who came into relieve Helanen for the third period, the final score could have easily been more heavily tilted in PC’s favor than the ultimate 4-0 count.
Both teams played faster and looser in the third, but in keeping with the escalation in penalties from one period to the next, Benedetto and the officiating crew wound up blowing 42 minutes in total penalties in the third period alone — with two entire lines of players whistled for double-minors at 18:42 after a decent skirmish erupted in the Friar end.
With the win, the Friars raised their record to 6-3-1 in Hockey East (10-5-3 overall), good enough for a tie with UNH and BC for first place in the league. PC is also now 10-0-2 when it has scored more than one goal in a game.
UMass dropped to 4-5 in the league, 5-12-2 overall.