PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Providence Colleges newly potent power play could only be held down for so long.
Kyle Laughlins goal 2:01 into the third period relieved the Friars frustrations with the man advantage Friday and Providence went on to finish off a 5-2 victory over visiting Union College at Schneider Arena.
Laughlins wrist shot over the right shoulder of Dutchmen goalie Justin Mrazek snapped Providences 0-for-5 drought on the power play in the game and Jon Rheault added a breakaway goal 1:38 later to give the Friars some immediate breathing room.
Providence improved to 5-1-1 in its last seven games and has now clawed all the way back to the .500 mark with the win at 6-6-2, easing the pain of its 0-4 start heading into a three-week break in the schedule. The Friars will return to action against No. 3 Michigan in the opener of the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 28 in Detroit.
I think our group is coming together, Providence head coach Tim Army said. I think they understand the little nuances and the things they need to do to be a good team, play together and be successful together.
Weve worked hard all year, all preseason, all season, Laughlin said. Its nice to be rewarded for all the hard work weve done so far.
Laughlins breakthrough came just in time to rescue the Friars from what would have been a disappointing finish to the opening half of their schedule. Providence outshot Union (3-7-2) by a 22-3 count in the second period alone, 12 of those coming on the power play, but Mrazek (career-high 43 saves) and his defense (12 blocked shots through the first two periods) were able to hold Providence at bay until Laughlin walked out of the left corner and whipped a shot just under the crossbar.
Power plays are always the springboard for your offense, Army said. Good power plays score big goals on the power play. That was a big goal.
The Friars wasted little time doubling their lead, beating Mrazek again when Cody Wilds tape-to-tape pass from his own end hit Rheault in stride at the Union blue line. The senior sniper made no mistake with his finish, shifting to the backhand and lifting the puck into the roof of the net for his eighth of the season at 3:39.
Those are things that we work on — trying to make plays, splitting some seams, Army said. Jon found it, got behind their (defense) and it was a great pass. He made a great move getting in.
Wild and Nick Mazzolini each added empty-net goals to Providences total inside the final five minutes, widening the winning margin, but Union was on the power play in each case and Dutchmen head coach Nate Leaman felt he had to do something drastic to cut into his teams 3-1 deficit with time running out.
I thought that our power play needed to penetrate a little more and I thought the extra guy would give it to us, Leaman said. They chipped (the puck) up the wall and we watched. I thought we were watching a lot tonight.
The Dutchmen were able to short-circuit Providences power play to stay in the game, killing off four Friar chances with the man advantage in the second period alone. Providence entered Friday with a 25.9 percent success rate, tops in Hockey East and third in the nation, and was 15-for-38 in its last nine games.
The Friars were just 1-for-6 against Union despite 16 shots on goal, but Mrazek was on his way to bettering his previous high of 41 stops that he set while shutting out Ferris State, 2-0, in Unions season opener last year.
We didnt turn around and pick (Mrazek) up, Leaman said. Every time that he would help us out with a big kill wed turn around and take another penalty.
Providence opened the scoring 9:33 into the first period thanks to some hard work behind the Union net by Austin Mayer. The freshman winger fought off a pair of Dutchmen to win possession of the puck and his pass up the slot set up defenseman Trevor Ludwig for a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that went over Mrazeks outstretched glove.
Union recovered quickly, tying the game just 1:04 later and snapping Providence goalie Tyler Sims lengthy shutout streak in the process. The Friars were whistled for a high stick in the neutral zone and lost the ensuing draw in their own right circle, allowing Mario Valery-Trabucco to clean up a rebound on Mike Harrs shot from the left point to make it 1-1.
Valery-Trabuccos goal was the first Sims had allowed in 130:37, as the senior netminder entered the game fresh off back-to-back shutouts of Vermont and in-state rival Brown University. Sims was almost perfect from there, making a handful of solid stops during an opening period in which Union outshot Providence, 13-11, and had the better of the scoring chances.
Hes probably playing the best Ive ever seen him play, Laughlin said. Hes a huge part of this team. If he keeps going the way he is were going to be very successful down the road.
He made some key saves that kept it at 1-1, Army said. That kept us in the game, gave us a chance to get on track and get the big goal by Kyle.