PROVIDENCE — It’s the type of defensive snarl that’s been a signature of Nate Leaman’s team this season. Even without Myles Harvey on the blue line, Providence College controlled the boards and out-muscled Northeastern University on Friday night, as the Friars pounded the Huskies, 6-2, at Schneider Arena.
From the outset, the Friars were content to grind in the corners, and by finishing virtually every check and winning key battles along the walls, they suffocated any chance for Northeastern to get a rhythm going on offense.
“One of our main focuses was to get in on the forecheck, and we finished our hits, got the puck, and took it to the net,” noted Providence sophomore Stefan Demopoulos, who scored two goals on the night. “It’s one of our game plans going into every game: finish hits, create turnovers.”
“We just thought that every hit is going to count,” Friars coach Nate Leaman said. “I thought it was a physical game, both ways.”
The Friars jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first when Derek Army picked up his 13th goal of the season, as he redirected a feed from a faceoff in the offensive zone through Bryan Mountain’s five-hole.
Demopoulos doubled the lead at 14:14 with a weak backhand shot from in-between the circles that froze Mountain (28 saves), who was unable to make the save.
One of the few offensive bright spots for Northeastern was defenseman Josh Manson. Twice in the second period, Manson led end-to-end rushes. On the first one, he was stopped by Jon Gillies (35 saves), who made a sprawling left-pad save, but at 9:34, Zak Stone found Manson alone walking in from the blue line, and Manson summarily ripped the wrister over Gillies’ left shoulder to bring the Huskies within one goal.
“He’s emerged as a leader for us on the blue line,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. “He’s an intimidating force back there. I think people are looking over their shoulders; defensively, he’s bearing down on them. On top of that, he’s jumping in on offense. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him.”
The quick success for Manson in transition opened up the game, leading to three rapid-fire goals in 92 seconds, two for the Friars, one for the Huskies. The change in pace hinted that the Huskies had created an opening to execute their transition game, but it wasn’t to be.
“Both [Huskies] goals were off two really bad line changes by us, and we can’t have that,” Leaman said. “Fortunately, we answered back each time. I thought that was big. We showed some maturity and answered back right away.”
To the Friars’ credit, that tempo settled down in the third period, even as the Huskies became increasingly belligerent on the forecheck. Despite spending more time in the defensive zone, the Friars did not yield much space in the corners. They outlasted the Huskies in battles along the boards and counterpunched, eventually netting the back-breaking fifth goal — the second on the night for Demopoulos.
“We showed our youthfulness on the back side tonight at certain points,” Madigan said, referring to his all-underclassmen defensive corps. “[The Friars] play fast and they play hard, and they forced us a bit outside our comfort zone.”
The two teams will conclude their season series tomorrow night in Boston, with the Friars looking for a clean sweep, having outscored the Huskies 12-2 in their two meetings so far.