BU and BC Hockey Games

Providence achieved a split of its games this past weekend. The games marked the first time this season that the Friars faced off against two teams considered to be part of the iron of the league.

Friday night PC traveled to Agganis Arena and became the first visiting team to have gained two wins at BU's new arena. The Friars prevailed by a 5-1 score. Saturday at home they fell short against BC in PC's bid to gain the upper hand in the battle for first place. The Eagles pulled away at the end to skate by the Friars 4-1.

The BU game saw PC use a familiar script. The first period was a battle that saw BU have a slight edge. Tyler Sims kept BU off the scoreboard as PC was out shot 12-11 while PC got their legs and found ways to exploit BU's defensive and grind it out tactics. The momentum swung PC's way in the very final seconds of the period when Colin McDonald scored his seventh goal of the season.

In the second period PC made efficient use of their shots. The Friars were able to get 10 shots on goal and converted 3. Jamie Carroll, Pierce Norton and Nate Meyers scored the Friars goal. For Norton it was his first career goal. Sims continued to sparkle in net for the Friars stopping 9 of 10 shots. In the final period PC iced the game when Jon Rheault became the 5th different Friar to score.

The win clinched the season series between the two schools for PC. The Friars gained 5 of 6 possible points from the Terriers. The victory in the season series marks only the 7th time PC has taken the season series since the formation of Hockey East in the 1984-85 season. In four seasons each team has taken 3 points. The good news is that when PC has at least tied the season series they have had home ice 8 times. In all PC has earned home ice 11 times. The only difference in that statistic is that Vermont is now in the picture so there is one more team in contention for home ice and 6 more points per team up for grab.

Saturday saw a problem that has surfaced over the past few years. The Friars have not shown they can put back to back good games together. The teams came into the game tied as BC edge Northeastern on Friday night. However despite the 4-3 score BC pretty much dominated the game limiting Northeastern to 15 shots. BC was also still not at full strength as Dan Bertram had not returned from the Canadian Junior team and Corey Schneider was given an extra day off.

Schneider was back in net for the Saturday contest and it was his strong performance that spelled the difference. Schneider would earn 1st Star of the Game. PC came out of the gate at a high gallop and pressured BC for the entire 1st period. Providence was able to manufacture 16 shots. At times Schneider looked shaky but he handled all but one Friar shot. While PC was killing the lone penalty they took in the first period Jon Rheault got a clean opening and fired home the short handed tally.

In the second period the roles were reversed. PC looked like their legs were rubber and BC dominated play. PC also seemed to be thrown off their game when the BC defense put a big hit on Jon Rheault. The Friars seemed intent on trying to even that score. With Sims under strong pressure BC tied the score when Nate Gerbe scored about 9 minutes into the period. They broke the tie about 4 minutes later in an example of PC being intent of getting in a hard check. BC freshman Benn Ferreiro took a hard hit, but was able to dish off the puck to Joe Rooney for the tie breaking goal.

In the third PC adjusted. They realized they no longer had the speed or the legs to keep up with BC. However they realized the need to protect the puck and push the attack. If the game was scored on time of possession PC won the 3rd period. The Friars also could not have asked for a better sequence of events. By and large this was a game in which the referee allowed the players to play. In the last half of the final period he did call penalties on 3 plays. On the first PC took the penalty as Dinos Stamoulis tripped Eagle Brian O'Hanley to break up a good scoring chance. O'Hanley however got a failing grade for his acting as he made it appear as if he had life threatening injuries only to pop up laughing seconds later. He lost BC's man advantage when he was penalized for diving. BC then was penalized twice more in the next 5 minutes. The second a case of the Friar's Nate Meyers smartly refusing to get involved is a shoving match. After being knocked down and having the Eagles' Mike Brennan shove his face into the ice a couple of times Meyers did not retaliate and when Brennan, still looking for a reaction did it a third time he was penalized.

PC put solid pressure on Schneider during the power plays. Their best chance was a set up of Nate Meyers in front of the net, but he shot the puck wide. PC continued the pressure after the penalties expired to the point of gambling as time was ticking down. After about 20 seconds of pressure Joe Rooney was able to clear the puck to Ferreiro who had the lone PC defender fall down before he tucked the insurance goal home. PC tried to press the attack by lifting Sims for the extra attacker, but again after PC put on some pressure BC cleared the puck to Stephen Gionta who scored an open net goal.

Despite the loss PC was ranked 12th this past week in the USA Today poll and actually moved up to 11th in the USCHO poll.

Massachusetts-Lowell

This week PC is faced with the task of rebounding from the stinging BC loss when they face the River Hawks of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Lowell was expected to be a contender for league honors this season.

From the beginning things have not gone well for Lowell and to this point of the season they have been as much a disappointment as Providence has been a surprise. Lowell's first piece of bad luck was the late summer signing by the Boston Bruins of Ben Walters who would have been one of the top returning players in Hockey East.

Once the season started despite being a senior dominated team Lowell could not make the adjustment on the ice. The biggest on ice setback they had early in the year were twin shutouts at the hands of the Friars.

Clearly the Hawks have revenge on their mind. If they are able to pick themselves up at all this might be the week. UML actually plays two games this weekend. They have a Friday contest with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. How they fare in that game might well dictate the mood they are in when the arrive at Schneider Sunday night. A win and they might be flying; a loss on Friday and the nail may be in their coffin.

Lowell is also a team fighting the injury bug. They have lost another of their top scorers due to a pelvcs injury. Andrew Martin will miss the remainder of the season. They also played last weekend without arguably their best defender in Matt Collar. However, their problems run deeper then injuries as Coach Blaise MacDonald has repeatedly shook up his lineup looking for goals. They are also giving up goals at an alarming rate. Lowell has Peter Vetri in goal, last year as a freshman he was the goalie on the rookie team. This year he has not been able to make the timely save for Lowell.

For PC the game represents a chance to get some momentum before heading up north on the dreaded Orono trip. PC is also fighting to maintain position in the upper level of Hockey East. The BC loss dropped PC into a tie with UNH for second and Maine is nipping at their heels.

Another weekend series of interest to Friar fans is the Boston University Maine series being played in Boston. It would actually to be to PC's advantage to see BU most of the points from Maine. If they do that PC will not be in position to fall behind Maine as a result of the outcome of the Maine series next weekend.

The Friar's game is Sunday at 7 P.M. at Schneider Arena.

Women's Hockey team versus Niagara and Mercyhurst

The women split their weekend games topping Niagara 6-4 and dropping a 5-2 contest to Mercyhurst. The team's record now stands 11-7-2. Despite the split the Friars did move back into 10th in the USCHO poll. In part because PC's 2-1 victory over then 7th ranked Princeton was on Monday January 2 after the last poll results were taken.

In truth the weekend was disappointing. In the Niagara game PC failed to put away an inferior team when they had them on the ropes early in the first. PC scored the first two goals of the game quickly. The second was on a nice rush by freshman Brittany Simpson as she scored her first collegiate goal. However PC quickly let Niagara back into the game as they took almost back to back penalties, the second of which resulted in a power play goal being scored. Before they could regain their composure they allowed the tying goal.

PC had further chances to take Niagara out of the game when they had 5 power play attempts in the second period. All they could muster was an even strength goal by freshman Stephanie Morris, for her first collegiate goal. Soon after the third period began PC took a penalty during which they surrendered a power play goal again knotting the score. The see saw battle continued for most of the period. During another penalty Providence became the beneficiary of a bad play by the Niagara goalie. She went out to play the puck in order to get their offense moving, however she got trapped too far out of the net and when sophomore Kathleen Smith intercepted the clearing pass Smith was able to fire a high shot that a defenseman standing in the crease could only attempt to deflect with her glove. Smith's goal gave PC its third lead of the game, but within a minute PC had fallen back on their heels and allowed Niagara to tie.

Providence iced the game when seniors Ashley Payton and Karen Thatcher scored goals late in the period. Thatcher set up the first goal by getting the puck away from Niagara on the fore-check and passing to defenseman Meredith George on the point whose wrist shot was deflected by Payton. The insurance tally was with the Niagara using the extra attacker and the goalie pulled to try and tie the score again. Thatcher intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and rushed about two thirds of the ice to get a clean shot on the open net.

Mercyhurst came into the game with the Friars ranked 6th in the nation. They were missing a couple of their top players who were with the Canadian Under 22 team in Germany this past weekend.

That did not seem to stop Mercyhurst. They came out smoking in the first and only a superb effort by Jana Bugden kept the game knotted at 0 throughout the period. PC was out shot 15 to 8 with few quality opportunities for the Friars. However the constant pressure by the Lakers wore the Friars down and in the second period Mercyhurst scored 3 goals that PC could only answer with a late goal by Thatcher. Mercyhurst continued to lengthen their lead in the third as they garnered two more goals. Only at the end of the period, while on a two skater advantage, did PC score again. Kristin Gigliotti fired home a slap shot with just over a minute to go.

Among the Mercyhurst contingent watching the game was former Friar coach John Marchetti. Marchetti is the golf coach at Mercyhust.

PC is home this weekend on Saturday at 2 P.M. and Sunday at 1 P.M. against Minnesota State-Mankato.

The Rise of Boston College

I know some people here seem to point to a lack of support at Eagle basketball games as a sign of Boston not supporting a college team. I won't argue with the premise that Boston is a pro town. However what really surprised me was the number of people cheering for BC at the hockey game Saturday night. More precisely the number of young fans cheering on BC with many of them sporting some type of BC Eagle logo apparel. Worse I really suspect these kids were mostly Rhode Island kids brought as part of the groups PC must have worked out group rates with to maintain the level of attendance that you would expect when the students are at the game. It was most noticeable on the 3rd BC goal when BC broke PC's back by scoring. It was almost as if as momentum swung from PC the kids who really had no cheering interest were drawn by those cheering on BC to become BC fans.

You wonder if BC's marketing plan and answer to the fact they are faced with a tough sell wasn't to expand the base from which they can sell tickets too. Football is a major part of it as certainly fans in Southeastern New England can more easily associate BC with big time football. In an area where hockey is the big winter sport among many fans BC has put a solid product on the ice for the past decade. That product is often highlighted by their appearances on NESN. I imagine the proof will be if their basketball program will reach beyond its current fan base using the novelty of the ACC to draw them in.

Three things seemed clear to me, their merchandise is a desired commodity, they have reached their tentacles over a great deal of New England, and clearly they are reaching a base that is young. In a nutshell they are setting themselves up with support for years to come and part of that support is going to come from Providence's base unless PC reacts to it.

Now maybe all the events conspired against PC at once and BC people found this game a very attractive game to attend. PC has much cheaper prices then BC so if you live south of Boston and want to see only one or two games a year this is a pretty inexpensive game to go to. Kids go for half price and there is no charge for parking. With the Patriots playing at the same time the temptation is greater for those who attend regularly to pass up the game. Most likely the 400-500 no shows were PC fans. Finally despite this being the most attractive game on the schedule the game was scheduled during the semester break.

I believe PC is creating some answer to this, at least on the hockey front. With Cody Wild already playing and several well known RI hockey players coming in the next couple of years the young kids might more easily associate with the Providence team. I also think as attendance increases there will be fewer tickets for visiting fans to scoop up As demand rises PC can charge more for their tickets, which would put them more in line with the rest of Hockey East, as opposed to competing for the same fans as Brown and the PBruins. Once PC has proven to be the better product to watch people will come. This will discourage the casual BC fan looking for a cheap chance to see their team

More troubling though is that BC has such a strong hold in this area. Television does shape how many people pick who they support. Again part of it is BC has made a conscious effort to put a good product on the field. Part of it is getting the merchandise in the fans hands. Another part is getting people to associate with the program. I would imagine BC gets a lot of mileage out of the highlight show they have weekly on NESN. I believe that to a smaller degree even URI has such a show on COX 3, though I'm not sure if it is tied in with the Jim Baron Show or not. I have seen pieces where they interview athletes from lesser sports and highlight some of those team's play. Maybe PC can't get that on Cox since they have the Tim Welsh show on a local TV station. However getting face time is key to growing the program.

Again I know because they can't have games televised in competition with NESN PC is limited in getting hockey games on COX. However getting that exposure is key. Quinnipiac is using that strategy of buying time on NESN to have their basketball and hockey teams on TV. The payoff is better name recognition both for fan support and for the school.

Bottom line is no matter how much a step in the right direction Tim Army's Friars are taking this year one of the major areas the school must work on is building the local fan and student support to justify the expense of such a program.

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