Possibly the biggest question mark in Hockey East this season is the Providence Friars.
Last season, to say the team struggled would be an understatement. An early-season injury to top goaltender Ryan Simpson left the club in the lurch early. That translated to a 3-12-1 record at the break and a hill that seemingly could not be climbed.
The club made a rare midseason addition, picking up goaltender Alex Beaudry at the holiday exam break and he started like a house of fire, doubling the club’s win total from three to six in his first three starts.
The lightning in a bottle, though, couldn’t last. Fatigue took over for Beaudry and after those first three wins, the young goaltender and his Friars squad posted just one more win and that came against fellow cellar-dweller Merrimack.
So after graduating the two of the team’s top three scorers in Pierce Norton and Matt Taormina, it’s difficult to see this team recovering from the worst season in 23 years.
Even coach Tim Army seems unsure what to expect from his club this season.
“I don’t have any [expectations],” said Army. “I’ve told the kids we’re not going to quantify [expectations]. I’ve made that mistake in a couple of years and I think sometimes the expectations almost work negatively with your team.
“We’re in a little bit of a different place. We’re coming off of finishing 10th in the league. Whether people want to admit it or not, it rattles and it shakes your confidence. And I think our kids have felt that.”
So without expectations, how do you plan a season?
“We’re going forward as a coaching staff and trying to build and rebuild from last year. Some of that is re-instilling confidence and trust in all our players,” said Army. “As a team collectively we have to work to get better every day.”
A major area where improvement is necessary seems to be goaltending. Besides Beaudry’s occasional flashes of brilliance, Providence struggled to keep the puck out of its net. With experience and hopefully confidence, Beaudry entered training camp as the No. 1 goaltender but remains backed up by Justin Gates, who played the bulk of the games early last season, and Simpson, who as a senior looks to remain healthy throughout the season for the first time in his career.
“We’re a lot deeper and a lot more talented in the net,” said Army. “But we’re going to lean on Alex in the early part of the year and throughout the year.”
Army also knows well that his junior class, which represents the biggest part of his team’s starting lineup, needs to elevate their collective games if the Friars want to elevate their position in the standings.
“It’s time that our juniors, who I think have played well for us, they have to establish themselves as impact players every night in our league,” said Army. “They’ve given us good hockey, but they have to evolve and have to be better.”