PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Perhaps it wasn’t as easy a path as Providence hoped for, but with a 3-1 victory over Holy Cross Saturday night, the Friars advanced to the championship game of the second annual Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Pot tournament.
“We know [Holy Cross is] going to give us a good game,” said Providence coach Paul Pooley, whose team advanced to the finals of its own tournament for the second consecutive year. “We had a chance to finish them at the end but couldn’t and they came back … and next thing you know we’re trying to grind this one out.”
The major story was the special teams of the Friars. Besides scoring once in only two power-play chances themselves, they also killed off all seven Holy Cross power plays. That’s something that Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl attributed as much to the Providence defense as he did to his own club’s lack of offense.
“We weren’t able to get shots through on the power play because they have some defensemen who are very good,” said Pearl, whose team is winless (0-4-2) in its last six and will face Union in Sunday’s consolation game.
The opening frame saw open skating, thanks in part to only one penalty combined for both teams, and along with that some solid scoring chances for each.
Holy Cross had the first opportunity when Andrew Weber was sent in alone at 8:20. His shot toward the top corner was denied by Providence goaltender Tyler Sims. Weber’s rebound chance also was also stopped by a right pad save.
Seconds later, it was Providence’s chance offensively, but unlike the Crusaders, the Friars made the most of it. Torry Guida isolated himself at the right post where Chris Chaput found him with a perfect cross-zone pass. The goal at 9:03 of the first game the Friars a 1-0 lead through one.
In the second, this time on the power play, Providence extended the lead. Catching the Holy Cross penalty-killers trying to change lines, Sims fired a touchdown pass to Bryan Horan that sent Horan and Jamie Carroll in on a two-on-none. Horan fed across to Carroll at the last second and Carroll had the open net to bury the puck.
At 7:38 the Friars extended their lead. Jon Rheault, just when he looked like he ran out of real estate at the right post, found exactly a puck’s width to push a shot between Quesada and the right post to give PC a 3-0 lead through two.
In the third, Holy Cross gave it a good shot, but all was too little, too late. Cal St. Denis scored his first career goal on a scrum in front with 2:17 remaining but that was all the offense the Crusaders mustered, leaving Providence with a 3-1 win.
With two goals on the game, Pooley was happy with the production of his first line, which is still playing without injured right wing Colin McDonald. Still, Pooley wasn’t set on singing praises.
“It was disappointing that they were on [the ice] for the goal against late in the game,” said Pooley. “That’s one you don’t want to see. It’s nice to get [goals] but you don’t want to give up one late to give them a spark.”
The win sets up an all-Hockey East championship game as Providence will meet Merrimack hoping to capture its first tournament title. The Warriors advanced Saturday with a shootout win over Union after the teams battled to a 4-4 tie.
The question still to be answered for the Friars will be which of Pooley’s goaltenders will start in net. Though Sims played well to earn the win Saturday, Pooley wouldn’t commit to a starter.
“I thought Tyler [Sims] played well,” said Pooley. “But we’ll evaluate and see what happens.”
Should Providence win on Sunday it will be its first tournament title since the 1999-2000 RPI Holiday Tournament. Providence has not won a tournament it hosted since 1990-91 in the USAir Hockey Classic.