AMHERST, Mass. — A win was the hardest thing for Providence to come by in the seasons first three months. Four games into the second half of the season the Friars are suddenly the hottest team in Hockey East.
After earning their first league win in 10 tries last Friday night against UMass Lowell and knocking off No. 2 Boston University Tuesday evening, PC defeated Massachusetts, 5-4, at the Mullins Center.
A win by any fashion counts the same in the standings, but tonights may be just what PC needs to force itself back into contention for a spot in the all-important Hockey East tournament.
One minute, 42 seconds after UMass defenseman Martin Nolet tied the game, 4-4, Kyle MacKinnon won a faceoff back to the point. Captain Matt Taormina controlled the puck at the midpoint before a quick slapshot sailed toward the UMass goal. It kicked off a UMass defenseman and through the blocker side of UMass goaltender Dan Meyers.
Its been a pretty drastic change, Taormina said of the Friars mindset in the second half. In practice, were a lot calmer. Weve put [the first half] behind us. We had a lot of time off to think about it.
[The Hockey East tournament] was never out of our minds. The first nine game just got to us, he continued. We always knew that we had a good team. Right now were just pushing through and trying to show everybody that we are a good team. Were battling back and nipping at the heels of eighth place.
Much of the story of the Friars sudden resurgence has been the play of freshman goaltender Alex Beaudry who joined the team the day before its win over UMass-Lowell last week. Despite the four goals allowed, he made 42 saves against the Minutemen. In his three starts, thus far, he is 3-0 with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
UMass took a 1-0 lead 3:18 into the first period and maintained pressure for the remainder of the period. Beaudrys 18 saves in the first 20 minutes kept the Friars in the game, despite the relentless attack by the UMass offense.
When the period ended, the score sat at 1-1. Less than a minute into the second period, PC took a 2-1 lead when Austin Mayer wristed a shot from the left face-off circle across Meyers body, beating him glove side. Seconds before Mayers score, Beaudry robbed UMass winger Chase Langeraap to protect the tie.
Aside from Beaudrys excellence in goal, the Minutemen struggled in their own zone allowing the Friars several excellent scoring chances.
Twenty-five seconds after Mayer made it 2-1, he found MacKinnon open in the slot. MacKinnons one-timer sailed over Meyers glove, doubling the PC advantage.
On Oct. 31, the Friars lost to UMass, 9-4, in Amherst after blowing a pair of two-goal leads. This evening, they managed to maintain their poise despite allowing UMass to control the tempo on occasion with their signature offensive attack driven by a strong forecheck.
We came in here earlier in the year and took a 2-0 lead and a 4-3 lead, and we relinquished them, PC coach Tim Army said. We hung tough and got up 3-1. [UMass] battled back, but we kept our poise. I thought after they tied it, [4-4], we got aggressive and Matt scored a big goal off a faceoff.
The most impressive threesome for the Minutemen again was their line of T.J. Syner, Casey Wellman and Will Ortiz. The five points they chipped in against the Friars added to their five game total of 18 — seven goals and 11 assists.
UMass is 0-2-1 since restarting Hockey East play last Friday against New Hampshire; both losses have been by single goals scored in the final minute.
[The losses] wont affect us [Saturday night against UMass Lowell, but its just a downer for now, UMass defenseman Justin Braun said. We have to put it behind us and just keep battling. We have to push it aside and keep going; we cant think about it.
Similar struggles plagued UMass in the second half of last season after difficult loss to New Hampshire early in its January schedule. Moving forward, the ultimate challenge for the Minutemen is making sure that doesnt happen again.
We cant let that happen, Meyers said. The game is more mental than physical, some would argue. We have to fight not to let that happen.
UMass heads to Lowell tomorrow night a matchup with sister school UMass Lowell. PC, on the other hand, is off until Sunday afternoon when they take on Maine at Alfond Arena.