Providence’s improvement plan moves to boosting offense

Providence enters the 2010-11 season as the perceived doormat.

The once-powerhouse program that twice has won Hockey East tournament titles (though none since 1996) has inconceivably missed the playoffs for two straight seasons. This year, the Friars were picked for 10th in the preseason coaches’ poll.

Though this might seem like a tailspin to the outside observer, coach Tim Army actually sees his team as an improved one heading into the season.

Army admits that two seasons ago, his club was a mess, top to bottom. The team struggled to find consistency in net, gave up way too many scoring chances to the opposition and had a tough time scoring.

Last year, then, taking the “Rome wasn’t built in a day” approach, Army and his team focused on improving one area only: defense.

“We were really bad in 08-09,” Army said. “Every number was bad. Last year, we needed to get our defensive house in order. I think we did a lot of good things. We were fifth in the league in team defense and second in penalty killing.”

Translation: Defense is now better, so it’s time to score goals.

“We have to maintain the same defensive structure, but we’ve got to produce,” Army said. “The challenge is that we have guys who have the ability to do it. Guys have to continue to evolve and we have some incoming freshman who I hope can add an offensive spark to our team.”

The good news offensively is that the Friars return their two top scorers from a year ago. Kyle McKinnon (12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points) enters his final season in Providence while junior Matt Bergland (12-11–23) will be called upon to increase his production.

Beyond that, though, the Friars will have to have significant improvements if they want to escape the basement. That may begin with the power play, where Providence ranked dead last a year ago with a paltry 15.7 percent efficiency.

“We need to find a way to score more goals. … Our power play has to be better,” Army said. “It had improved from ’08-09 but it has to produce some more. We have to be able to draw more penalties and produce more on the power play.”

When asked ultimately what his goal is entering this season, then, Army was pretty straightforward. In a school with a deep hockey tradition, mediocrity — or worse — isn’t acceptable.

“We have to be better than where we’ve been the past two years,” Army said.