Beginning in 1996-97, Providence has earned home ice every other season. Flip the calendar and if the playoffs are in an odd-numbered year, then we’ll see you at Schneider Arena in March. Unfortunately for Friar fans, however, this is the 2003-04 season. Which means, for the non-math majors in the crowd, that PC is due for a down year.
Of course, such coincidences are mere novelties that mean nothing. The Friars are longshots for a home ice berth not because the year ends in an even digit but because there’s a hole in the forwards’ depth chart big enough to drive a truck through.
Jon DiSalvatore, Peter Fregoe and Devin Rask are all gone. Collectively, they accounted for 60 goals and 84 assists, 48 and 40 percent, respectively, of PC’s totals.
“[The team] expected those three to [dominate] and they did, but the other players almost didn’t give themselves enough credit,” coach Paul Pooley says. “I see a lot of kids on our team this year that are going to rise to the occasion, that are excited about the opportunity and are going to shine when they get the opportunity.
“I have no fear about offense for our team. It will be by committee with everybody contributing. It certainly is going to be a balanced attack. I see us having four good lines that will be able to contribute.”
Peter Zingoni, Chris Chaput, Jonathan Goodwin and Cody Loughlean lead the returning forwards and should benefit from moving into more prominent roles.
“If one guy got four goals last year, he’ll get seven,” Pooley says. “Our freshmen are going to have an impact because they’ll have an opportunity to play in many situations.”
Pooley also looks to fill some of the scoring void from the blue line. All but Shawn Weiman return, including Stephen Wood, who already ranked as one of the more offensively prolific defensemen in the league, scoring nine goals with 20 assists last year.
“We want to create more offense from our defensive position,” Pooley says. “We want to get another person in on the rush more and make that something that they have to do and give them green lights to get doing that.
“Our D are fairly mobile and handle the puck fairly well. We’re going to try to play that type of game. Getting them in on the play creates problems.”
Pooley also sees another source of more offense: the power play. Despite the presence of the three howitzers, the Friar man advantage displayed modest results. Perhaps this year’s combinations will be more effective.
“It was 18 percent for the year, but at times it struggled,” Pooley says. “Our power play needs to be better. If it is, that’ll give us an extra goal a game.”
Although Nolan Schaefer’s departure from the Providence crease does leave a void, sophomore Bobby Goepfert should fill it quite nicely. Schaefer did get all the action down the stretch, but Goepfert recorded stats on par with anyone: a 2.39 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
“I think goaltending is going to be one of our strong suits and could be among the best in the league,” Pooley says. “Bobby was very mature in sitting out the last 10 games of the year, knowing that Nolan was hot. He handled it very well, but now he wants to be The Guy.
“David Cacciola has sat for two years, but now he wants to prove what he can do. He’s champing at the bit.”
With strength on the blue line and in goal, the Friars will go as far as their offense takes them. If offense-by-committee works, then the year-in-and-year-out home ice see-saw could end with a playoff series at Schneider Arena.
“We’re not picked very high, but that doesn’t matter,” Pooley says. “I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead of us and I know the guys are, too.
“I like our team. I really do. I like our commitment over the summer. I like our makeup. I don’t know, I just get around them and it feels right.”