This week marked the first since March of 2008 that the Providence men’s hockey team played as a nationally ranked squad. The No. 20 Friars earned the distinction with a pair of victories over then No. 1 Merrimack College, their first over a top-ranked opponent since 2003.
PC, winners of a whopping four Hockey East games a year ago, went into Tuesday’s showdown with No. 3 Boston College 3-1-1 against ranked foes this season.
Tuesday night in Chestnut Hill, the Friars’ giant-killing ways came to a halt when the Eagles put their range of superior talent on display in a 4-1 victory.
Providence’s play lagged behind that of the Eagles from the start. BC dominated the possession game through the first 10 minutes. The Friars struggled mightily to simply force BC off the puck long enough to change lines, let alone generate any sort of offensive attack. It wasn’t uncommon for a given Friar to spend 90 seconds or more on the ice, simply trying to defend the area before goalie Alex Beaudry.
“I thought we were timid tonight,” PC coach Nate Leaman said. “I’m really disappointed that we played a little timid. I thought we were thinking too much and not playing. To see our team the past four games playing aggressive and moving our feet, I thought we were timid tonight.”
Despite slow feet and a 6-0 shot deficit, Providence kept the scoreboard blank through the first 10 minutes. Beaudry deserves much of the credit for that.
“We had the effort to put maybe three, four, five goals on the board in the first period,” BC coach Jerry York said. “But by the combination of Beaudry and us just not finishing, it stayed a hockey game.”
Eventually, the Friar defense wore beneath the grinding pressure of BC’s attack. Providence made the Eagles work for it, but eventually, BC managed to create chances closer to Beaudry’s crease. The result was a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
The first tally came on the power play, a rarity of late for the Eagles. Barry Almeida netted the knot-breaker, tipping a pass from Paul Carey by Beaudry from atop the crease.
BC would go 1-for-5 on the power play, scoring its third man-up goal in three games following a dismal 0-for-18 slump.
“I think we’re trying to create more shots,” BC coach Jerry York said. “We’re trying to be crisper with our passing. We’re certainly not a finished product from my estimation, but we’ve certainly shown some steps forward. We’ll polish that area up and get better as the year goes on.”
Minutes later, Johnny Gaudreau put on display the talents that earned him a spot on the preliminary US World Juniors’ roster. The freshman winger threatened from Gretzky’s Office throughout the night, and late in the fist, set up fellow WJC invitee Bill Arnold with a gorgeous pass from below the right post to the front of the cage.
Providence cut that deficit to 2-1 on a power-play goal from Derek Army early in the second, and managed to turn the game from BC domination to a chippy, defensive affair for much of the middle frame.
In the end, BC’s talent won out. Paul Carey extended the BC lead to two with a short-handed finish with five minutes to play, then Barry Almeida added an empty-netter minutes later.
The contest spoke to two things. One: BC’s talent is more advanced than Providence’s right now, and if the Eagles can clean up some of their deficiencies, namely the power play, they’re clearly a team a step ahead of the middle pack in Hockey East.
Two: Providence deserves to be lumped into that middle pack, which is no small accomplishment considering the Friars’ lackluster recent history in Hockey East play. That much was evident after PC topped Merrimack twice last weekend, but was reaffirmed Tuesday when the Friars hung with the No. 3 team in the country, despite an effort that left their coach wanting more.
“It’s when you build the game up to be too much that you start to get a little tense,” Leaman said. “I thought we had some younger guys do that a little bit. We were a little too tense and timid and then you look slow and tired and you’re not moving your feet.
“We’re learning. We’re like 26 freshmen. We’re learning how to handle success, and that’s part of it, part of the growth of the team.”