AMHERST, Mass. — Forget about the days of the traditional middle-of-the-pack finish in the Hockey East standings. This year, Providence appears ready to make a run for the league’s regular-season title.
Even though the Friars have been extremely consistent throughout the first half of the season, they proved that they still can win without their A-game on Sunday night against UMass-Amherst. Despite spotting its counterparts four first-period goals, Providence roared back over the final 40 minutes to secure an 8-5 win over the Minutemen.
A shorthanded goal from Marc Suderman at the 18:11 mark of the opening frame jumpstarted the Friars’ engine. Before UMass caught its breath, it had allowed five goals in a span of 6:52 and had fallen behind 5-4 only five minutes into the second period.
Providence never trailed again and remained into a tie for first-place with Boston College atop the Hockey East standings. The Eagles were 5-2 winners over Boston University on Sunday night.
“Before the game, I said to our coaches that we were either going to come out very confident tonight or very flat,” Providence coach Paul Pooley said. “Obviously, it was the latter. I was disappointed because I said that this was a big game for us, and I even wrote up on the board for our players that this was the most important game of the year for us.
“What I really thought was that they were afraid to be in first-place in Hockey East. I told them that after the first period, and they responded to it. To get where we want to be, we have to be able to beat quality hockey clubs. We grew a lot as a hockey team and as a program tonight.”
After an opening 20 minutes that was dominated by the Minutemen, the Friars utilized the shot in the arm that Suderman provided to jump all over the home team. Matt Libby’s wrister only 19 seconds into the middle stanza cut the UMass lead in half, yet it was only just the start of a hectic second period.
The snowball effect continued when Drew Omicoli fired a shot from the right circle that beat Minutemen goalie Mike Johnson a mere 1:07 into the frame. Providence then followed that marker up with a power-play score from Devon Rask a little over two-and-a-half minutes later to knot the game at 4.
“After [allowing] the first goal, [Johnson] had a break with the intermission,” said Omicioli, who finished with two goals and two assists. “But after we scored the second and third goals, it seemed like we were getting to his head a little bit, so we just kept peppering him with shots. He played a good game, but we just capitalized on all of our chances.”
However, the Friars weren’t done yet. Even after UMass coach Don Cahoon replaced Johnson with Markus Helanen, PC found a way to dent the twine. Omicioli finished off another shorthanded opportunity to make it 5-4 thanks mainly in part to a great breakout pass from Rask.
Jon DiSalvatore concluded the second-period onslaught with his seventh goal of the season at the 9:55 mark. He capped off another successful Providence power play by knocking in the rebound of a shot from Regan Kelly.
Although the Minutemen would trim the Friars lead to one goal at 6-5 early in the third on a tally from Tim Turner, PC (11-5-3, 7-3-1 Hockey East) tacked on two more goals for an 8-5 final. That made a winner out of Providence goaltender Nolan Schaefer, who made 18 stops in relief of starter Boyd Ballard.
“You can’t give up two shorthanded goals, two four-on-four goals and two power-play goals and expect to win,” Cahoon said. “One thing that we think that we have with this club is goaltending, and it kind of disappeared on us this weekend.”
One night after losing the front end of a weekend set by a 4-0 score in Providence, R.I., the Minutemen came out of the gate with a purpose. For the second time in as many evenings, they outplayed the Friars in the first period and seemed to be on their way to an important Hockey East victory.
Goals from Tim Turner and Scott Horvath were sandwiched around a pair from senior alternate captain Kris Wallis, and UMass-Amherst (5-13-2, 4-6 Hockey East) appeared to be in control of the game’s outcome. Pooley even called a timeout following the third goal to try and stem the tide, but the Horvath responded with his fourth goal of the season only 14 seconds after the break.
Yet leading 4-0 and in control of a two-man advantage, a careless UMA turnover resulted in Suderman’s goal that put the Friars on the board. And, just like they had in a matchup with UMass-Lowell back in November, the Minutemen eventually squandered a four-goal lead in the first period to drop to two games under .500 in Hockey East.
“Marc’s goal gave us a little bit of a boost, and we started off the second period with some confidence,” Pooley said. “We scored a couple of goals, and we put them back on their heels just like we had been in the first period. I was really happy with our performance in the second and third periods.”
Said Wallis: “Hockey is a 60-minute game, and if we only play it 20 minutes at a time, then we’ve got to put our best effort forward every 20 minutes. We did it tonight for the first 20 minutes, but if you don’t finish off a game, then you’re not going to win.”
Wallis and Tim Turner both finished the night with two goals apiece for the Minutemen, while Jeff Turner and Brad Nizwantowski each added two assists. Rask recorded two goals and an assist for the Friars, while Libby chipped in a couple of tallies.
Providence returns to action on Friday night at 7 p.m. for a non-league game with Iona. The Minutemen prepare to battle Northeastern at Matthews Arena at the same time on Friday.