Massachusetts Minutemen (1-0-1, 0-0-1 Hockey East)
Providence Friars (1-0-0, 1-0-0 Hockey East)
Last night, the eighth-ranked Boston University Terriers discovered that the Providence Friars are no joke. Or at least they weren’t for one game. Yes those lowly basement dwellers, that team that was so bad it inspired this to be written about it near the end of the 2009-2010 season, the pushovers of yesteryear (pretty much every yesteryear) proved they could play some puck last night. Much to my amusement, Kieran Millan was forced to fish the biscuit out of the back of his own net five times. The Terriers were outshot in every period, except the third where both teams recorded 11 shots on net. The most impressive part of last night’s Friar win was that it was a full team effort. The five goals were put in by five different guys (Drew Brown, Matt Montesano, Stefan Demopoulos, Myles Harvey, and Ross Mauermann) and eleven skaters picked up points. Only three Friars were on the wrong side of the plus/minus rating for the night. Even when the team’s former best player, goalie Alex Beaudry, tried to blow the game by letting a 3-0 advantage slip away, the Friars found away to recompose themselves and put two more behind Millan to earn the W.
If last night’s game is any indicator, this is a much stronger squad under new head coach Nate Leaman than it was under Tim Army. We do, however, have to consider the possibility that this game was an aberration. Last year’s team went 4-16-7 in Hockey East play earning it ninth place (one point behind your beloved Minutemen). The Friars have not reached the postseason since my freshman year, the 2007-08 season. Last year’s top three scorers, who were not exactly setting the hockey world on fire anyway, have graduated. The team’s top returning point scorer, Tim Schaller, had all of five goals last season. Providence’s most remarkable returning freshman is Derek Army, son of the former coach. He managed to put up six goals and 13 points last year. Last year’s Friars scored just 1.96 goals per game in conference, and netminder Beaudry’s .901 save% was nowhere near good enough to carry the team.
In fact, if we’re talking about the Friars, we might as well forget about the upper class altogether. It’s all about the youth movement now in Providence. Four of last night’s five Friar goals were scored by freshmen. The exception was Myles Harvey’s powerplay game-winner. Harvey is a junior defenseman. It was his first career goal. That means that Providence had five first-time goal scorers last night. Pretty nifty feat there. Still, one game is a very small sample size and the Minutemen are unlikely to overlook the Friars as the Huskies may have. The Friars are a bit of an enigma right now. If nor overlooked, can the freshmen really continue to carry this team? And will Alex Beaudry return to his sophomore form (he posted a solid .914 save% that year without much help from the rest of the team) or will he be the reason the Friar’s lose games instead of the reason they eek out wins?
Okay, so let’s not forget this is Providence, the college whose only notable accomplishment is having Death as an alumnus. They grabbed a win last night but so did the Minutemen. The top line looked PHENOMENAL out there and Danny Hobbs, Franchise Pereira, and TJ Syner managed to rack up 10 points between themselves. The Mass Attack blasted 46 shots on Bentley goalie Branden Komm, plus one on an empty net. What was a slightly bit concerning was that such a high percentage of the production came from the top. Other than a goal scored by Brendan Gracel on a fantastical feed from Troy Power, the goals came exclusively from the top line. Also concerning was the penalty kill, which let in two goals on five chances. Although, to be fair, one of those goals came on a five minute opportunity after Adam Phillips received a five-and-game for contact to the head midway through the third period. (Thankfully, no further discipline will be imposed on Phillips for the hit.) Freshman Kevin Boyle… did not have his best night in net. Although Boyle is good on the first shot, it is becoming apparent that his rebound control and recovery are not up to par, at least not yet. I expect to see Jeff Teglia make his first start of the year in net tonight, but, honestly, he was probably already penciled into the lineup anyway.
As usual, tonight’s game will come down to who plays harder and smarter. The Friars were playing a nationally-ranked team (who probably was overlooking them) last night and it was their home and opener with a brand new coach. Plenty of motivation there to start off on the right foot and Providence clearly outworked the Huskies in pretty much every facet of the game. It’s unlikely that UMass will come out tonight expecting the Friars to just roll over for them. The top line has the firepower back at full force. Brendan Gracel is playing out of his mind right now. And pretty soon teams are going to start playing Conor Sheary as a pass-only guy. They will be making a mistake when they do cuz that kid’s got a wicked wrister. In fact, I think two games without a goal is quite enough for Sheary. I expect him to net one tonight. And, yes, I do think the Minutemen will pull off the win. But, I will admit that I’m A LOT more worried about this matchup than I was yesterday. It just goes to show you, there are no easy games in Hockey East.