PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A seven-minute stretch of the second period was all it took for Providence to break free against No. 10 Massachusetts on Friday night.
The Friars poured in three straight goals, courtesy of three different players, to hand the Minutemen their third straight defeat, a 3-2 setback at Schneider Arena that saw the hosts build a comfortable lead and fend off a desperate comeback attempt by the visitors in the final three minutes.
Greg Collins’ shorthanded breakaway goal 9:57 of the middle period proved to be the difference, allowing the Friars to bounce back from their painful 3-2 overtime loss against No. 15 Mass.-Lowell on Saturday night. Providence surrendered the winning goal with 1.3 seconds to play in that game and looked in danger of doing the same thing on Friday after Brett Watson and Chris Davis each found the net for the Minutemen long after the game appeared to have been decided. The Friars were able to hang on in the face of Massachusetts desperate final push.
“We saw it through, we took care of business and we came out with two points,” Collins said. “It was huge.”
Massachusetts fell victim to a critical lapse for the third straight game, costing the Minutemen the chance to rebound from their home-and-home sweep at the hands of No. 5 New Hampshire last weekend.
“We had a few guys that played very well, but too many guys that played less than sufficient,” Massachusetts’ coach Don Cahoon said. “Until we get everybody on the same page and everybody back to where they need to be and playing with a sense of urgency, these struggles will continue.”
Providence coach Tim Army took Friday’s match-up with the Minutemen so seriously that he removed his players from their dormitories and sequestered his team in an area hotel, taking them off the Friars’ campus on the first weekend that students returned from Winter Break. Army was hoping to shake off the disappointing loss to the River Hawks and keep his players focused on the task at hand, deciding to take a course of action that he effectively used before the Friars’ 8-0 shellacking of Brown University earlier this season.
“The group has to really feed off each other,” Army said. “I think we maintained that bonding, that togetherness, that getting to know one another where you really go the extra little bit for your teammate. We got them away and got them really focused on hockey.”
“It really shows us that he cares about this weekend and he cares about this team,” Collins said. “He wants us to do the best we can. He got us together as a team and we were really able to bond well. It really helped today.”
Providence was coasting to a three-goal win and goalie Tyler Sims looked ready to add to his program record of seven career shutouts when Massachusetts flashed the form that brought the team all the way to the No. 5 ranking during the first two weeks of 2008. Watson beat Sims from the slot and Davis tipped home Mike Kostka’s shot from the left point just 75 seconds later and it was suddenly 3-2 with 1:40 to play, sending the Friars reeling for a brief moment and giving the Minutemen a glimmer of hope.
Providence settled down and finished off the victory behind a couple of big stops by Sims and some powerful play around the crease by defenseman Mark Fayne.
“I said to them after that these are the games that we have to win to become a really good team,” Army said. “When you get into late January, February, March and beyond, you’re going to have to win like this. It’s not going to be pretty.”
Providence (9-8-2, 6-4-2 Hockey East) snapped its season-opening four-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over Massachusetts on Oct. 26 and now it’s the Minutemen who find themselves in a bit of a tailspin. Massachusetts (9-6-5, 4-5-4 HE) has tasted nothing but defeat since capturing the Lightning College Hockey Classic with consecutive victories over No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 3 Colorado College on December 29 and Dec. 30.
“(We need) attention to detail, all-out effort, and, obviously, to try to instill some confidence, so that they believe in what they’re doing and they execute a whole lot better than they’re doing right now,” Cahoon said.
Providence enjoyed an 11-4 edge in shots on goal through one period and broke the scoreless tie early in the second when John Cavanagh one-timed Jordan Kremyr’s feed off the left boards past Massachusetts goalie Paul Dainton at 3:03. The Friars made it 2-0 on freshman center Matt Germain’s first career goal, a one-timer from the right circle off a pretty pass by classmate Joe Lavin, and added the clincher just before the 10-minute mark when Collins blocked a shot from the point and beat Dainton inside the left post on the ensuing breakaway.
Providence had it on cruise control in the third period and was well in command before a sickening feeling of dj vu created an entertaining finish for the 2,213 in attendance.
“It’s tough, especially after last weekend, not to think about the worst,” Collins said. “You’ve got to think positive, see it through and be confident in the way we’re playing.”