Providence earned the coaches’ nod as Hockey East’s projected top team this season, and it’s easy to see why. The Friars finished third in the league last year and bring back all but one forward and two defensemen from that team.
Of course, Providence fans may not want to hear about such lofty expectations based on the last time the Friars were picked to finish first: In 2001, they eventually finished seventh.
Coach Nate Leaman plans to ignore the poll for a different reason.
“Three years ago we were picked to finish last in the league,” he says. “I didn’t put too much stock in the poll then, and I’d be a real hypocrite if I put any stock into the poll now. The game is played on the ice.
“This league is a monster. You can’t look at what you return and think that things are just going to happen for you. There’s a razor-thin line between being real successful and maybe being outside the bye in this league. Our seventh- and eighth-place teams made the NCAA tournament, which speaks about the depth of the league.”
The Friars feature a major difference-maker between the pipes in Jon Gillies.
“He’s an elite goalie,” Leaman says. “There’s a lot of elite goaltending in this league, and if you’re going to compete you better have an elite goaltender. I feel we have that in Jon.”
They also bring back their top five scorers, all of whom contributed at least 20 points: Ross Mauermann, Nick Saracino, Mark Jankowski, Noel Acciari and Shane Luke. They also bring back Niko Rufo, whose promising freshman season was cut short by injury, and add top recruit Brian Pinho.
“I don’t know if we have an elite guy that’s going to go out and produce like Johnny Gaudreau did, but I like our depth,” Leaman says. “That’s how we will play this year, using our depth.”
Arguably, the only question mark is on defense, where since-departed Steven Shamanski and Kevin Hart led the team in minutes. That said, four regular contributors return, led by John Gilmour, and freshmen Jake Walman and Logan Day can both make an immediate impact.
About the Friars
2013-14 record: 22-11-6
2013-14 conference record: 11-7-2 (third)
2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): First
Key losses: F Derek Army, D Steven Shamanski, D Kevin Hart
Key returnees: G Jon Gillies, F Ross Mauermann, F Nick Saracino, F Nick Jankowski, F Noel Acciari, F Shane Luke, D John Gilmour
Why the Friars will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: Not possible. The Friars were picked to finish first and deservedly so.
Why the Friars will finish lower than the coaches poll: Although it’s doubtful, the Friars could shrink from the mantle of being picked No. 1. Beyond that, they do depend on Gillies a lot so an injury or loss of form could send them back to the middle of the pack.