PROVIDENCE, R.I. — See also: Semifinal Notebook
For one night, at least, the Providence Friars avoided disaster.
Playing host to the inaugural Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Pot Tournament at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in downtown Providence, the Friars twice overcame one-goal third-period deficits before rookie Bill McCreary finished a perfect two-on-one pass from captain Stephen Wood with 4:59 remaining as Providence defeated Clarkson, 4-3, to advance to the championship game.
The Friars will face St. Cloud State, a 6-4 winner over Harvard in the tournament opener, Sunday night.
The game winner developed on what looked like a harmless rush into the Clarkson zone. Wood carried the puck down the right side and drew a Golden Knight defender as he turned on the jets. Seeing McCreary streaking to the net, Wood fired a perfect pass that hit the rookie on the tape, giving him an open net to send 4,305 partisan Friar fans into pandemonium.
“It was a great play by Stephen Wood,” said McCreary of the Friars captain, who finished the game with a goal and two assists. “He saw me backdoor, wide open, and I just put it in the empty net.”
The goal capped a wild and wooly third period that saw Providence net three goals to Clarkson’s one.
“I thought we ran out of gas,” said Clarkson coach George Roll, talking about the 21-day span for the holiday break since Clarkson’s last game. “You can skate all you want but it’s not the same as being in game shape. We weren’t in game shape and it showed.”
For the Friars, the holiday layoff was even longer due to the postponement of PC’s game on December 6 due to snow. PC hadn’t played a game in 32 days since a 1-1 tie against Brown on November 25, and the Friars hadn’t registered a win since a 7-4 decision over New Hampshire on November 14.
A balanced first period saw some grade ‘A’ scoring chances. Providence controlled the majority of those as both Cody Loughlean and Colin McDonald were stopped on breakaways in the early going. Still, it was Clarkson that struck first.
Junior winger Chris Blight scored his 10th goal of the season when Providence goaltender Bobby Goepfert (25 saves) mishandled a Mac Faulkner shot from below the goal line, leaving the rebound at the right post for Blight to push home giving Clarkson a 1-0 lead at 6:49
In the second, the Friars answered. After a Providence penalty for too many men on the ice expired, Chase Watson, exiting the box after serving the minor, he joined Torry Gajda on a 2-on-1 rush. Gajda took the shot, but the rebound sat for Watson to lift into the goal at 6:47.
The Golden Knights, though, answered before the intermission. Though Goepfert stopped a Lyon Porter breakaway, two other Knights had whacks at the puck before linemate John Sullivan’s shot roofed over the fallen netminder for the 2-1 Clarkson lead.
The Knights nearly extended the lead before the second intermission, but metal stood in the way. Tristan Lush stole the puck at his offensive blue line, walked in a fired a bullet that beat Goepfert cleanly only to smack off the right post and keep the game at 2-1 heading to the third.
Then came the crazy third.
Providence evened the game early when Wood’s shot from the left point bounced off the glove of Clarkson netminder Dustin Traylen and hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity before landing behind the goal line to knot the score at two at 3:18.
Six minutes later, the Knights answered with a strange goal of their own. Jay Latulippe fired a harmless shot from below the right faceoff dot on the power play that somehow eluded Goepfert short-side, and trickled over the goal line for the 3-2 lead.
That, feared Pooley, could have been a backbreaker.
“We had the tie and we were going good, but we didn’t go after it,” said Pooley. “We’ve got to get the lead and keep going ’til we score again.”
Luckily for them, the Friars answered on a power play of their own. McDonald ended up getting credit for yet another goal that seemed to enter the net in super-slo-mo when his centering pass with Traylen out of position deflected and slowly rolled over the goal line in the corner near the left post. That goal came at 13:13 and set up McCreary’s heroics 1:48 later.
“I just like the character of our guys for winning that game,” said Pooley. “Clarkson played a tough game and that should help us for tomorrow night against St. Cloud.”
As the Friars move on to the title game, the Golden Knights will be forced to the consolation against ECAC rival Harvard.
“It’s tough to get ready for a consolation game, especially against a league opponent,” said Roll. “We’ll just have to bounce back and be ready to play tomorrow.”