After all, Providence had not been to Frozen Four in 30 years, and the ice hockey team and just about every sport at PC has always had to operate in the shadow of the college’s basketball team that’s enjoyed a rich tradition and the bright lights and big budgets of the Big East.
That narrative was turned on its head this week, as Nate Leaman’s Friars not only made it back to the Frozen Four, they were the last team standing. When the buzzer sounded and Boston University’s players collapsed on the ice in defeat, the Skating Friars fulfilled all hopes and dreams of every player who ever put on the Providence hockey jersey, or every diehard PC hockey fan who had been waiting for another shot at NCAA immortality since the 1985 Chris Terreri led team lost 2-1 to RPI at the Joe Louis Area in Detroit, Michigan.
Riding an NHL quality goalie in Jon Gillies, and a tough and disciplined team that came within a whisker of being left out of the NCAA Tournament field, Providence didn’t only make the field of 16, they more than made up for any for squandered opportunities or underachievement that may have occurred over the course of a season that started out with nearly as much promise as the post season ultimately would deliver. (Preseason: PC Hockey was #3 Nationally, Coaches Pick for 1st in Hockey East) There were some bumps along the way, but once the Friars made the NCAA Tournament, they gelled in a way that made them the hottest team in America, and that team play was good enough to defeat the most talented teams in the nation.
Besides the simply joy that comes with of being declared National Champions, this victory is noteworthy on a variety of levels. First off, it is first NCAA team championship for any men’s sport at Providence College. (The PC Women’s XC team has won 2 NCAA Championships) Moreover, this Championship establishes Head Coach Nate Leaman as the first men’s Friar Hockey Coach since 1985 to reach a Frozen Four, and by winning the Championship, it exceeds even the heights achieved during the Lou Lamoriello era, who is the godfather of Providence Hockey and the Hockey East Conference for that matter.
While Providence College has been playing hockey games since the 1926-1927 season, it was only when the Friars joined the ECAC in 1961 that they burst onto the national hockey scene. That’s where the story of Friar Hockey really took off, as it corresponded with the arrival of Lou Lamoriello to Providence College; first as a player, then as the head coach, and ultimately as the College’s athletic director. It would be only three years after joining the ECAC that the Friars would make their first Frozen Four in 1964.
The Friars had some good teams in the 1970’s that included NHL notables today like Brian Burke and Ron Wilson, and there were also the early 90’s Friar teams that included the likes Chris Therien, Rob Gaudreau, Rick Bennett, and Mike Boback, which were among Providence’s most offensively talented squads. However, it really was the Friar teams of 1983 and 1985 that both made the Frozen Four which captured what was previously the marked as the “golden moment” for Providence Hockey.
This NCAA Championship is now the new gold standard for Providence Hockey. With a renovated Schneider Arena, Nate Leaman is still a young head coach who only now beginning to fulfill his vision for making Providence an elite hockey program in only his fourth season at Providence. Only last year, the Friars were in the Regional Finals, falling to the ultimate NCAA Champion Union College, who coincidentally was a team that had been largely built by Union’ s former coach three years earlier, Nate Leaman. So building a winner is not a fluke for Nate Leaman, and the future is just as promising as the present is for Providence Hockey. Let’s hope the students, alumni, and anyone who loves hockey comes out to support this deserving program that has arrived on the national scene.
This NCAA Championship will undoubtedly serve as major source of pride for Providence College, and it has really drawn the attention of everyone in the Providence College community. As the Providence players jumped on to the ice throwing their gloves and helmets high in the air, a 1964 graduate of Providence stood next to me jumping up and down like a kid who had just won the little league championship. That level of joy that I witnessed personally and around me is something that cannot fully be described, but will never be forgotten. Congratulations to the 2015 Providence Men’s Hockey Team – Champions Forever.
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