Providence RI — The 2018-19 seasons has been one full of milestone marks for the Massachusetts Minutemen. They’ve hit the top spot in the national polls, swept Hockey East powers, and proven worthy of consideration atop the college hockey landscape. Saturday night gave another chance for Greg Carvel’s squad to make history with a trip to Providence to play the Friars and win at least a share of the Hockey East Regular Season title. Nate Leaman and company had other ideas.
UMass opened the game shelling Providence, winning the shots 12-2 in the first half of the opening frame. “You could tell they had played two nights ago” observed Leaman. Hayden Hawkey held firm until Cale Makar got a breakaway and added to his highlight reel with a smooth backhander over the Friar’s senior netminder. The Friars recovered to create offensive pressure and solidly claimed momentum when Mario Ferraro hit Jason O’Neill from behind into the boards and sent his helmet flying. The sophomore from King City, Ontario, left the ice with a five minute major and a game misconduct. Fortunately, UMass rallied to kill the major and send the game 1-0 into the first intermission.
Providence broke hard off the blocks for the second period with Jason O’Neill and Josh Wilkins potting goals 2:21 apart in the first 8:31 and flipping the lead to Friartown’s residents. PC stifled UMass’s speed and kept their guests to only six shots in the second, but couldn’t keep the lead. UMass’s third line hemmed in the Friars and created some pressure that allowed Captain Niko Hildenbrand just enough space for a seeing-eye wrister to tie the game just before intermission.
The third period presented the best Hockey East has to offer: Title contenders trading chances back and forth in front of a full and frantic building. UMass had the better chances, namely a Brett Boeing steal, a rush with an open net, and an early whistled attack in the back end of the frame. They outshot Providence 16-9 in the frame. But Providence weathered the storm and capitalized on their chance. Scott Conway rushed the net and capped off a Friar attack with his team-leading 13th goal of the season, knotting him with Kasper Bjorkqvist, and giving PC a 3-2 lead. UMass pulled their goalie but could not crack the Friar defense for the equalizer.
Far from disappointed, Greg Carvel was satisfied with the fight his team showed in spite of the outcome. “We came into tonight knowing it was gonna be a playoff style game. I thought our guys played great. First period we played extremely well. Losing Mario is a loss for our team. The second period we lost the game for a stretch and I really liked our third period. I thought my guys handled themselves extremely well tonight.”
UMass drops to 24-7-0 and 16-4-0 in Hockey East. The Minutemen still lead the conference, but only by four points. They’ll next take the ice on Thursday, February 28th, against the Merrimack College Warriors. Puck drop is at 7 pm at Lawler Rink.
Providence improves to 19-9-5 and 12-7-2 in Hockey East. With UMass Lowell and Northeastern tying tonight, the Friars stay in fourth place in the conference standings. Hayden Hawkey stopped 34 of 36 UMass shots.
“Typical Hockey East games, comes down to a bounce here a bounce there” commented Leaman. “The two times we played them earlier in the year I thought we owned the third periods and our pucks didn’t go in. Tonight, they carried things and one of our pucks found a way in. It’s funny how things even up.”
PC makes their last road trip of the regular season on Tuesday when they travel to Hartford to play the Connecticut Huskies. Puck drops at 7:05 at the XL Center.