With another barrage of shots, Providence shows it has more than just a strong defense

Providence swarms the Omaha net on Thursday (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — Many part-time pundits pegged Providence as a goalie-first, goalie-last team: As goes junior Jon Gillies, so goes the team. What that assessment fails to consider, however, is how much help the junior netminder gets from his underrated teammates.

Seen as an offensively stunted, steak-and-potatoes team, the Friars in fact average just shy of three goals a game (2.98) and more than 34 shots per outing. Providence peppered opponents with 40 shots or more 11 times this year, including 48 in Thursday’s 4-1 win over Omaha in the Frozen Four semifinals — and that was only the team’s third-highest total of the season.

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Perhaps the misguided observers have some justification for their perception, though: The Friars suffered through a number of high-shot, low-scoring games early in the year in which Gillies proved the difference.

“We had a lot of them in the first half of the season,” said coach Nate Leaman. “I think we won three games 1-0 in the first half. I think our team feels comfortable playing in these low-scoring games,” which is exactly what the East Regional final and national semifinal appeared to be by the games’ midpoints.

“We had to grind the first half of the season because we weren’t scoring well, but we stuck with it. We stayed with it, and now we’re getting rewarded. I thought we had a pretty good second half as far as scoring goals. When you go through rough patches, if your team takes the right focus and they battle through that adversity, they can get a lot better. It can make you multi-dimensional.”

The Friars have scored 15 goals in three NCAA games and are a better defensive team thanks to their early-season challenges.

“When we were in that rough patch, when we weren’t scoring, we had to be a great defensive team and we were,” Leaman said. “We were a really good defensive team during that time, and how we had to play is helping us now because we know we can gear down and play some good team D.”

Junior center Mark Jankowski summed it up: “The main thing was to stick with our game plan. If we were getting pucks inbound to the net, we were going to pop a few. Without getting frustrated, [by] sticking to the game plan and sticking to the process, we were able to bury a few.”

Providence’s game plan relies on an exceptional goaltender the way any other team’s would. The Friars’ success is not a product of their backstop, so much as their backbone.

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