PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Minus the offense of Drew Omicioli and Jon DiSalvatore, the Providence Friars knew they would need a collective team effort to battle with the Boston College Eagles in their third and final regular-season meeting Friday at Schneider Arena.
Having been outscored 8-2 in a two-game BC weekend sweep in January, the Friars necessitated better play from their young defensemen and several members of the offense to step it up a notch to even think of pulling the upset against an Eagle squad that has manhandled Providence several times over the last few seasons.
But the motto “no Omicioli, no DiSalvatore, no problem” turned out to be the Friar anthem as PC posted a strong showing in a 5-3 win — the Friars’ biggest victory of the season to date, and one that places them in solid position in the upper-echelon of the crowded Hockey East standings.
“Going into tonight’s game, without DiSalvatore and Omicoli — two of our skill guys — the only way we were going to beat them was by playing good defensively and outworking them, being physical,” Providence coach Paul Pooley said. “The thing with BC is that if you give them an opening, they’ll score. You can’t let up for a second. But we held them off at the end and we were fortunate to beat them.”
Certainly the PC defense was vastly superior in Friday’s contest to the group that allowed BC’s Brian Gionta free rein to skate unchecked in the two BC victories (4-0 at Conte, 4-2 at Schneider) just a month ago.
The PC defensive play was more physical and grinding, and kept Gionta off the scoreboard on a night when PC wanted to show the country it deserved the respect of fans and pollsters observing a team, expected to finish in the lower-tier of the league, instead contend for second place in Hockey East.
And, unlike both previous contests last month, the Friars got off to a strong start.
Off a BC turnover at the PC blue line (a play that would haunt the Eagles several times Friday), Heath Gordon passed the puck ahead to Doug Wright at center ice.
Wright broke in all alone on BC netminder Scott Clemmensen, and sent one between Clemmensen’s pads to give the Friars a 1-0 lead at 8:50.
Play was even between the two squads throughout the first period, with the teams equal in shots (9-9). However, the superb BC power play broke through to knot the score before the period’s close.
Off a faceoff to the left of PC netminder Nolan Schaefer, Chuck Kobasew scored on a rebound of a Bobby Allen shot down low to tie the score 1-1 at 17:00. The goal, Kobasew’s 17th, came just nine seconds after official Jeff Bunyon sent PC’s Peter Zingoni to the penalty box for a questionable roughing call.
The Friars, though, got the better of the Eagles right off the bat in the second period.
While the loss of forwards Omicioli and DiSalvatore might have hurt the Friars’ offense, PC welcomed the return of sophomore Sean Weiman to the defensive ranks Friday night. Weiman, who has been battling injuries throughout the season, wasted little time in celebrating his return.
This time, Heath Gordon (who tallied three assists Friday) and Doug Wright set up Weiman in the left faceoff circle. The defensemen sent a shot from a tough angle that found its way past Clemmensen, giving the Friars a 2-1 lead just 55 seconds into the second period.
With the Eagles pressing to open up the play, BC began taking more chances on offense as the second stanza progressed. This tactic resulted in the Eagles getting more shots on net (for an 11-5 advantage in the period), but also compromising a bit on defense.
The Friars took advantage of the helter-skelter play when Devin Rask and Peter Fregoe broke up ice. This time, Fregoe wristed one from the right faceoff circle that sailed over Clemmensen’s left shoulder, enabling PC to take a 3-1 lead at 9:02.
The goal, Fregoe’s ninth of the season, seemed to anger the first-place Eagles, who noticeably raised their intensity in an effort to bridge the gap before the period closed.
Friar netminder Nolan Schaefer — who hadn’t displayed the same form in his two losses to BC last month that he has throughout the majority of the season — responded to the call and made several strong saves down low to keep the PC lead at 3-1 after 40 minutes of play.
However, the Eagles came out strong in the third period and, after Regan Kelly was called for cross-checking at 2:52, would benefit again from excellent work by their power-play unit.
This time, Ben Eaves put home a shot down-low to Schaefer’s left, drawing the Eagles to within 3-2 at 3:47 of the third. The goal, Eaves’ eighth of the season, came after pinpoint passing by the BC special teams unit.
BC outshot PC 11-4 in the third period (31-18 on the night), but the Friars tallied what proved to be the game-winning goal off yet another BC turnover at the PC blue line.
This time, Gordon and Cody Loughlean pried the puck away from BC defenseman J.D. Forrest, who looked like he might have been offside as he attempted to keep the puck in the offensive end.
No call, however, was made by the linesmen, and after Gordon hit Forrest, Loughlean was able to skate in on another Friar breakaway.
The PC freshman then wristed another shot between the pads of Clemmensen for his fourth of the year, giving the Friars a 4-2 lead at 9:45.
“It seemed like a harmless play and all of a sudden, he’s got a clean breakaway. I couldn’t see it that well from the bench but I’m going to have to watch the film on that one,” said BC coach Jerry York.
The Eagles, though, quickly brought the game back to a one-goal deficit when Ales Dolinar scored wristed a shot upstairs on Schaefer at 11:01.
Assists went to Brooks Orpik and Mike Lephart on Dolinar’s seventh of the season.
But the Eagles would never find the equalizer. Even after the Eagles had a chance to tie the game on the power play after Cole Gendreau was called for boarding at 12:51, the Friars netted yet another breakaway when Peter Fregoe broke out shorthanded. Marty Hughes had no choice but to take a penalty for hooking Fregoe at 13:28, putting the kibosh on the BC man-advantage.
BC skated 6-on-5 with Clemmensen pulled and over 90 seconds remaining, but never had a clean, unobstructed chance on Schaefer.
Peter Fregoe then picked up the puck after Marty Hughes couldn’t contain a pass at the blue line, and skated in alone for an empty-netter at 19:44.
“We didn’t generate enough scoring chances until the third period. We played well defensively in that we didn’t give them a whole lot of chances, but the two breakaway goals we gave up were turnovers we gave away at the offensive blue line,” York said. “It was a catch-up situation for us all night, and we never could get back to a tie game.
“I give them credit. They played a good, solid defensive game. They were playing more defense than offense and they capitalized on a couple of our turnovers at the blue line. I still thought we were going to catch them at the end and I thought we had some good chances with the goaltender pulled, but I think the bottom line is that we didn’t have enough quality chances on Schaefer.”
The win keeps the Friars in sole possession of second place and raised their record to 16-7-4 (10-5-2 Hockey East). The Eagles dropped to 21-7-1 (13-4-1 league).
PC skates at UNH on Saturday while BC prepares for its Beanpot tilt with BU on Monday at the Fleet Center.