Providence made huge strides last year but fell just a little short. The Friars came within one game of winning the Hockey East regular season. They came within a period of advancing to the Hockey East tournament championship game.
Their subpar performance in nonconference games proved fatal in their quest of a first NCAA tournament berth since 2001. Despite posting a 13-8-6 Hockey East record, they managed only a 4-6-1 mark outside of the league.
Last weekend, however, they took a huge first step in correcting that last shortcoming. Hosting then-11th-ranked Minnesota State, Providence swept the Mavericks 5-1 and 3-0. That performance reversed last year’s outcome of getting swept, which combined with losing at home to Quinnipiac and getting only a tie in two games against Miami kept the Friars out of the national tournament.
“Put them all together and we didn’t perform well enough [in] nonconference last year,” Providence coach Nate Leaman says. “To make the NCAA tournament you have to perform well in conference and you have to perform well [in] nonconference.”
That importance grew with the additional importance placed this season in the NCAA selection criteria on road wins and home losses.
“We talked about that emphasis with our team,” Leaman says. “And we talked about how every Hockey East game is going to be extremely important also.
“We’re just happy to get off to a good start. Now we have to make sure that we continue to improve every game.”
In what should be a surprise to no one, goaltender Jon Gillies was a difference-maker in the series, stopping 63 of 64 shots.
“Jonny played terrific, particularly the second game,” Leaman says. “We took four really bad penalties to start the game, so for the first eight to 10 minutes they were on the power play, including a five-on-three. Jonny came up with three or four huge saves during that time. We could have easily been down 3-0.
“That’s the difference a goaltender like Jonny Gillies makes.”
Another sophomore, defenseman John Gilmour, could be primed to join Gillies in the elite class at his position, at least based on last weekend. He scored two goals and added an assist in the opener.
“John looked terrific,” Leaman says. “He was doing a really good job managing the puck, doing a good job looking for the holes to get up in the offense when he could.
“He’s a guy that only played one year of junior hockey, came in and played every game last year for us and a lot of key minutes. We’re hoping for another jump [to the next level] for him.”
Since the Friars are loaded with 20 freshmen and sophomores on their roster, it’ll be important for the rest of the sophomore class to continue to progress, augmented by some of the freshmen. Last weekend, sophomore Mark Jankowski scored twice (as did junior Ross Mauermann) and freshmen Anthony Florentino and Conor MacPhee recorded their first goals.
“I thought they played pretty well this weekend,” Leaman says. “We got two freshman goals on Saturday night. That was really good for those guys to get goals early and kind of get their confidence going. I thought Niko Rufo played really well as a freshman in both games over the weekend. I’m encouraged about that.
“There are some areas that we need to improve, one being that we have to continue to learn the game and execute. But if you have [just] one week of practice and then you play two games, you know there are going to be a lot of mistakes made.
“We just feel real fortunate to have two W’s right now and be moving forward.”
Notre Dame and travel
After Notre Dame became the only team within Hockey East that isn’t located in New England, many concluded that the Fighting Irish would face a disadvantage based on all the extra travel. Fighting Irish coach Jeff Jackson isn’t so sure.
“It’s going to be air travel as opposed to bus travel, similar to the teams that are in Boston traveling to their games,” he says. “We’re going to have to come in the night before, but I think it’s going to actually be less time missed in class because we’re going to fly.
“It’s going to be easier to go to the airport and have a three-hour trip than sitting on a bus for eight hours in the past.”
The passion at Maine
In the USCHO Maine season preview, new coach Red Gendron spoke about the passion within the Black Bears fan base. Before the first game of the season, he quipped, he could probably run for governor because he hadn’t yet lost a game. Lose a few, and he’d get impeached.
“There were 10 people who walked into my office this summer and said, ‘Is the new coach here? I’d like to meet him,'” Gendron said during Hockey East media day. “If you asked all the other coaches in this league if people just dropped by to say hello, it doesn’t happen, or certainly not very often.
“That’s Maine. The people love it.”
After two losses to St. Lawrence last week, Gendron might be skipping the impeachment one-liners.
Fun with ‘coach-speak’
The following exchange did not happen at the Hockey East media day, but those who’ve heard enough “coach-speak” may get a chuckle out of this imagined conversation with Gendron.
“Coach, how are you going to replace Joey Diamond’s 147 penalty minutes?” I might ask.
“Well, Dave,” Gendron might say, “no one player is going to be able to replace all those minutes. We’re going to have to ask each player to take a boneheaded cheap shot here or there. A few guys will need to add an out-of-control game misconduct, kind taking one for the team so to speak.”
He might continue: “It won’t be easy but every player has bought into this so I’m confident we’ll be every bit as self-destructive this year as last.”
Congrats to Dan Parkhurst
Big-time congratulations to Dan Parkhurst for winning the Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award. Parkhurst broadcasts New Hampshire games on TV and radio and runs the Hockey East website. He’s a great guy and an ardent supporter of college hockey.
A tip of the fedora to Dan.