PROVIDENCE, R.I. — At 4-6-0 in Hockey East, Providence, picked to finish first in the conference, has been praying that the bounces would eventually go its way.
The Friars have struggled in close games, owning a dismal 2-5 record in one-goal contests. And after Merrimack (5-9-0, 1-6-0 HEA) took Friday night’s series opener, 3-2, Providence knew that its collective back was against the wall with a tough opponent coming into town to finish the series.
But in Saturday’s rubber match, the Friars finally got the bounces and were able to capitalize for a 4-1 win over Merrimack.
The Friars have been searching for something familiar to cling to this year. After a tumultuous start, the team gained a new captain in Jon DiSalvatore and lost three assistants. With the new leader in place over the past five games, Providence coach Paul Pooley has been searching for line combinations that would stick, but has had a lot of trouble trying to find the right mix.
Peter Fregoe and DiSalvatore have skated with just about any player who could fit on the left wing, including Mike Lucci at the start of the game. But with the Friars down by a goal in the second period, Peter Zingoni became the next contestant on Providence’s top-line selection show.
Zingoni received a pass from DiSalvatore at the left circle and put one on Merrimack goalie Joe Exter. The puck squirted up over Exter’s shoulder and over the goal line as a jubilant Zingoni raised his arms to the skies as if to say “finally.”
“The puck seemed to float up in the air forever,” said Fregoe. “I swear that I saw players on the bench trying to blow it into the net.”
“It was my first goal of the season,” said Zingoni. “It was also one of the first times that a loose puck found the net. We finally got a break to go our way.”
Pooley said, “Zingoni was the fresh guy on the bench and we were just coming off of a penalty kill. I decided to throw him out there and then he responded with a big goal for us.”
Zingoni said he was thankful for the opportunity to get involved.
“I was already comfortable with Jon [DiSalvatore] from playing together in juniors. Coach took a gamble on me and it paid off,” said Zingoni.
The change continued to pay dividends for the trio as they scored again in just over a minute. Fregoe’s eventual game-winner came in a similar fashion to Zingoni’s goal.
“It definitely wasn’t pretty, but we were able to get some momentum going and the bounces finally came out on our side,” said Fregoe. “That was definitely what happened with my goal. Zingoni got us fired up and really swung the tide in our favor and I just buried a bouncing puck.”
Freshman David Cacciola played strong in net for his first collegiate win. The New England Prep All-Star made 33 saves in the effort, most notably stoning Ryan Cordeiro on a penalty shot in the third period.
“I tried to play it like a regular breakaway,” said Cacciola. “He came down with a little trouble handling the puck and I just came out to cut down the angle. After giving up the goal, I had settled down with a couple of big stops in the second and I was in a groove in the third.”
Pooley said, “Getting that kind of play out of David is a huge lift for us. It’s a lot to ask a freshman to start in such a must-win situation, but he shined in goal tonight. They had better scoring chances than we did, but he had the composure of a veteran back there. The stop on the breakaway allowed us to be in a position to put the game away.”
Jason Platt added the third goal of the period on a slapshot from the point for his second of the year. DiSalvatore chipped in with two assists and an empty-net goal for Providence.
Ryan Kiley scored Merrimack’s only goal on Cacciola from the right circle late in the first period, giving Merrimack the early edge heading into the locker room.
Merrimack coach Mike Doneghey said, “I thought we played well in the first. Kiley got us the goal and we went into the locker room up by one. They came out flying in the second and capitalized on our mistakes and turnovers. They played a strong, defensive third period and their goalie did a great job of stopping any chances we created.”
Providence looks to keep the puck rolling against Quinnipiac next Friday while Merrimack returns to Hockey East action over the weekend.