BOSTON — For the second game in a row, the Providence Friars began play knowing that a loss would end their season.
They must enjoy the feeling.
Five days after ousting Boston University in a double-overtime thriller to win the rubber match of their best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series, the Friars played with heart and hunger in the semifinals. In front of 14,733 fans at the FleetCenter, Stephen Wood’s third-period goal helped the Friars to a come-from-behind victory over Maine.
The win solidifies Providence’s hopes for a berth in the NCAA tournament and sets the stage for a date with Boston College in the Hockey East final on Saturday night.
After a snakebitten weekend against BU, Peter Fregoe led the Friars (22-11-5) with a goal and an assist Friday, while Tom Reimann notched a pair of lamplighters for the Black Bears (19-11-7), who did not need the win to clinch an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
“It was like that game against BU: Our will took over,” Friar coach Paul Pooley said. “I saw it in the guys’ eyes that once we got a little sniff, once we started playing well, once we got the lead, it was our hockey game.”
The victory was especially sweet for the seniors in the team, who once again proved that rumors of the team’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Knowing that this could be their final collegiate game turned out to be a major positive for the Friars.
“When you have your back against the wall, and it’s the last game of your senior year, and you love the 26 guys you play with, it’s obviously a huge factor,” senior co-captain Jay Leach said. “There’s nothing else better in the world than those 26 guys and how they’re feeling now.
“We wanted it,” Leach added. “Libbs [senior co-captain Matt Libby] and I have always talked about it: We’ve always been a middle-of-the-pack team. And we thought if we worked a little harder and had a little more confidence, things would go our way.”
“I thought it was a case of one team that had to win and one team that didn’t have to win, and I really applaud Providence’s hunger,” Maine coach Shawn Walsh said. “You could just see their hunger in loose-puck battles. It’s the first time since January that we really didn’t have our way territorially.”
“I told Paul it reminded me of a racquetball game where you keep playing the same guy all winter,” Walsh added. “You start getting closer and closer to each other, and it’s just going to be whoever makes a break or makes that great shot. And they made that great shot.”
The Black Bears had the early edge in shot total and on the scoreboard. At 5:24, they struck first when Lucas Lawson crossed a pass to Tom Reimann on the left wing. Reimann seemed to freeze Friar goalie Nolan Schaefer with a faked shot before finally letting one loose low in the faceoff circle. Despite the tough angle, Reimann’s shot surprisingly beat the goalie short side for the 1-0 lead.
The tenacious Friars dug in their heels and got the goal back thanks to a little serendipity in the form of Maine forward Niko Dimitrakos. Friar right wing Jon DiSalvatore raced in on the off-wing before attempting a backhanded dish to freshman John Luszcz on his right. Dimitrakos was hustling on the backcheck and attempted to break up the crossing attempt, only to knock the puck through his own goalie’s five-hole.
If this were a South American soccer game, Dimitrakos would have had to fear for his life. Instead, he and his teammates held the fort while Providence rode out the inevitable momentum boost, tallying some shots but no more goals for the period.
The Black Bears even added an important late-period power-play goal to take a 2-1 lead. Once again, Reimann lit the lamp. Defenseman Doug Janik threw a quick pass from the left point to Reimann on the outside perimeter of the right-wing faceoff circle. Reimann nailed a beautiful one-timer that hit the net before Schaefer managed to slide over to follow the pass.
After just three goals in 35 previous games played this season, Reimann’s two first-period goals were certainly an eyebrow-raiser.
The pace picked up in the second period, which featured fast-paced action going both ways. As Maine weathered a PC power play, Reimann come remarkably close to notching a hat trick before the game was half over. Shorthanded, Reimann raced in on the left wing and deked around Schaefer as the goalie went down, but the forward only managed to slide the puck through the crease instead of across the goal line.
With just two seconds remaining in that man advantage, the Friars tied the game 2-2 at 8:23. Freshman Regan Kelly blasted a left-point slapshot that caromed off the boards behind the net and bounced out to Peter Fregoe on the other side of the net. Maine goalie Matt Yeats appeared to be screened by traffic in front, and the low 15-footer by Fregoe found the net.
Undeterred, Maine promptly regained the lead 70 seconds later, thanks to a great effort by freshman Todd Jackson. The former member of the U.S. National Development Team dove to make a backhanded pass from the right-wing faceoff circle to Robert Liscak crashing the far side of the net. Licsak tapped it home before getting buried to make it 3-2 Maine.
Both teams had their chances over the next several minutes of play, but this time it was the Friars’ turn to pick up a momentum-lifting goal late in the period. Some nifty tic-tac-toe passing from Peter Fregoe to Cody Loughlean to Devin Rask confounded the Black Bears, as Rask converted the last pass right on the doorstep, flipping a shot just over Yeats’ extended leg with only 1:14 left in the period.
“I thought we started to take control of the hockey game at that point,” Pooley said.
Maine pulled some razzle-dazzle out of their pockets early in the third period, providing some entertaining chances but no goals. Michael Schutte pulled a flashy spin-o-rama coming into the Friar zone, then spun around the opposite way to pass, but nothing came of it. Martin Kariya tossed a backhanded behind-the-back pass to Schutte shortly thereafter, but Schutte couldn’t capitalize.
Meanwhile, the Friars plugged away with less glitz, but their work ethic eventually paid off. At 8:27, they took their first lead of the game when Matt Libby crossed the puck to big freshman Stephen Wood cruising in from the left point. Wood took his time, cut some distance, then fired a shot that beat Yeats high glove side.
“I think two Maine guys got sucked to me, and I just slid the puck over to Woody, and he had the whole left side to walk in,” Libby said. “He made a great wrist shot past Yeats.”
“They’ve had a great year, and they deserve to be in the NCAA tournament, and they got themselves in it tonight,” Walsh said.
The third-seeded Friars will be considered the underdog once again tomorrow against the top seed, second-ranked Boston College.