BOSTON — Nursing a one-goal lead after an even first period, the potent Providence offense exploded for 19 shots and four goals in the second period and the Friars cruised to win, 7-0.
Asked about the second period, Connecticut coach Heather Linstad said, “It was a nightmare.”
Providence coach Bob Deraney had a different view of the frame. “That second period was just an awesome display by our team. That second period put the game away and allowed us to rest up for tomorrow.” Sunday the Friars play New Hampshire for the inaugural Hockey East tournament title.
The Providence offense was keyed by a defenseman, junior Kelli Halcisak. Halcisak assisted on the first four Providence goals, and finished the game with five points, matching her career high. She was the Friars’ lone representative among the 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, presented each year to the most outstanding player in women’s college hockey.
“To be able to contribute in this kind of game, it means a lot more,” said Halcisak. “But a hockey game is a hockey game, and you go out there and try to do your best.”
PC’s second goal, at just 2:43 of the second, set the tone for the entire period. After an evenly-played first period, Hilary Greaves took a clearing pass from Halcisak at center ice, then went right around UConn defender Stephanie Snow, sending a puck between her legs. Greaves took a shot over the shoulder of Connecticut goalie Kaitlyn Shain for the goal.
“The coach said to shoot it high, so I shot it high,” explained Greaves.
Providence threatened to blow open the game, peppering Shain with shots but with little success. PC nearly made it 3-0 with Ashley Payton all alone in front of the net, but Shain made a nice sliding save to keep the Huskies close.
But the pressure continued, and eventually UConn folded. The third Providence goal opened the floodgates, as Danielle Culgin took a quick shot that bounced in and out of the net so fast it appeared to be yet another save for Shain, but the goal light went on and the referee signaled a goal.
The Friars added on another two goals in quick succession, at 15:41 when Sarah Youlen sent a Halcisak pass sliding into the net from the blue line, and again in the final moments of the period at 19:23 when Jenn Butsch one-timed the puck past Shain.
“We played very poorly. We weren’t mentally ready,” said Linstad. “We made a lot of mistakes, and Providence capitalized on them.”
Deraney concurred. “It’s hard to defend when you’ve got scoring coming from everyone.”
The game looked like it might be a blowout in the first, when Providence took advantage of some early pressure to score a goal-scorer’s goal just 1:29 into the game. Halcisak stick-handled the puck into the UConn zone and back behind the goal, then dished it to Rush Zimmerman who one-timed it into the net.
“I was coming around the side, and I just kind of threw it,” explained Halcisak, “backhanded it out to [Zimmerman] around the net, and she put it in.”
“She says she just threw it to the front, she didn’t throw it to the front,” clarified Deraney. “Rush is calling for it, she puts it on the tape and in.”
But Connecticut held steady, and there was no further scoring in the period, with attempts being even at 13 apiece.
“We had our opportunities to score, and we didn’t score. That weighs on your mind after awhile,” said Linstad. “We could have gone in [the second period] 1-1. We didn’t do anything to help our momentum change.”
In the anti-climactic third period, the Friars added two goals, the first on Darlene Stephenson’s rebound goal of a Halcisak shot, and the second on a power-play tally by Greaves, her second of the night.
“When you’re killing a penalty and your D jumps up and gives a breakaway to one of the best players in the league, you’re going to get beat,” said Linstad.
Providence moves on to face New Hampshire in tomorrow’s championship game, marking the fourth time this season the two teams have met, with the tournament championship and possibly a berth to the national tournament on the line.
“We’re really looking forward to playing them,” said Halcisak. “We’ve played three games against them; we’ve won two and they’ve won one. The fourth game is the most important of the season, since it is for the first ever Hockey East championship.
“We want to prove ourselves. They’re not the team that should be going [to the tournament]. Provided if we do end up winning, that’s all we can do. It’s out of our hands.”