Amherst, MA- Providence College has served as a measuring stick for Greg Carvel’s team since he arrived in Amherst. His Minutemen lost three consecutive games to the Friars to close the 2016-2017 season. The next year, UMass picked off two wins in three attempts against Providence, 5-2 on November 9th and 1-0 on February 24th, both at home. Their lone trip to Schnieder Arena saw them drop a 7-2 loss.
After a mixed bag last season, UMass faced another test against Providence in the first Top Ten hockey matchup at the Mullins Center since then 5th ranked UMass hosted 8th ranked UNH on January 11th, 2008. With a raucous crowd behind them, 9th ranked UMass stared down the 4th/3rd ranked Friars and conquered their challenge.
The first three shifts of the game belonged to Providence, but Nate Leaman’s team committed a mistake they paid for quickly. Vimal Sukumaran took a roughing minor after the whistle blew and the UMass Power Play, ranked fourth nationally, hit the ice with efficiency. Marc Del Gaizo redirected a Jacob Pritchard pass through Hayden Hawkey and UMass claimed a lead 40 seconds into the man advantage and 2:25 into the game. UMass kept up the pressure on PC, allowing John Leonard a chance to provide the fans a nostalgic moment.
The local sophomore broke out his speed for a breakaway following a Brett Boeing clear and deked out Hawkey as he did to Stefanos Lekkas in last year’s playoffs. The highlight goal staked UMass to a 2-0 lead entering intermission.
Providence tilted the ice in their favor for the second period, outshooting UMass 10-8 and getting a puck through Matt Murray on the power play. Mitchell Chaffee drew an interference minor and Friar Captain Jacob Bryson whistled a puck top left corner to cut the lead in half. UMass held on and kept the advantage entering the second intermission.
The ice tilted more in Providence’s favor in the third. PC outshot UMass 13-5 in the final frame and used their physicality effectively. They hit hard, dug pucks out of hard corners, and sent messages after the whistles blew. Their work paid off. UMass took a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty that Greg Carvel bitterly disputed, and Kasper Bjorkqvist tipped a Tyce Thompson pass through Murray for the equalizer.
Providence continued their attack, but Murray held firm long enough for his offense to reclaim the lead. With 1:25 remaining in regulation, Ty Farmer received a pass from Mitchell Chaffee above the right circle. The freshman from O’Mallon, MO, wristed a seeing-eyes puck through the Friars’ defense and Hayden Hawkey for a 3-2 Minuteman lead. UMass burned out the clock and sealed their biggest win in a decade.
Providence Head Coach Nate Leaman praised his team’s resilience.
“I thought our guys did a tremendous job of coming back and we’ve only been down in one other game all season,” Leaman said. “To go on the road and limit a team to 21 shots, I thought our guys played a good game.” He still had criticism for his team’s performance early in the night. “We hadn’t complete momentum in the game and then we take a dumb penalty. Their power play comes out and the momentum shifted. I thought our first two goals were too easy for us to give up.” He added praise for the Minutemen. “I think they’re really good on this rink. They do a great job of getting speed.”
Minutemen Head Coach Greg Carvel was pleased with the game but maintained perspective.
“In my time here, we’ve won some big games but that’s probably the biggest one,” Carvel said. “Providence is an excellent hockey team. We came out and played well in the first period. It’s such a big factor to score the first goal in the game. I was real proud of my team that after they (Providence) tied it, in the last ten minutes, I thought we played very well. And now this is the third time where we’ve just found a way to win a hockey game late in the game. I thought we looked like a young team in many ways…, but it’s a great sign for us that we can find a way to win games.”
Providence outshot UMass 31-21 for the game. Hayden Hawkey recorded 18 saves; Matt Murray stopped 29. Cale Makar was held pointless for only the second time this year and the first time since October 13th at RPI.
UMass improves to 7-1-0 and 4-0-0 in conference play. Providence drops to 5-2-1 and 2-1-0 in Hockey East. The teams reconvene at Schneider Arena on Saturday night. Puck drops at 7 pm in Providence.