Tim Army's charges have gone 1-2 by losing a tough home game to Lowell and splitting a weekend series in one of the most hostile environments PC plays, Alfond Arena, against the University of Maine. The women went 2-0-2. The took 3 of 4 points from Minnesota-Mankato State University, defeating Northeastern, and tying Maine on Maine's home ice.
For the men this series of games got off on the wrong foot. As they had done the previous week PC buzzed all over the offensive zone in the 1st period. Once again however, all they could notch was one goal. Jay Pemberton scored with a blast from the point set up by some quick puck movement, most notably by Chase Watson while PC was on the power play. Before the period was over though they had frittered away the lead when PC surrendered the first goal Lowell had scored against PC in 3 games this season.
Play slowed down considerably in the second period as the score remained tied. Again this was a repeat of how things went in the Boston College game with the exception Lowell did not pick up their play like BC did. PC found that they could handle the puck all they wanted on the outside, but could not penetrate the slot area to get a quality shot on goal. In the 3rd period PC again upped the tempo early. On a similar play to the power play goal in the 1st period Chase Watson and Jay Pemberton again combined for the setup and the blast from the point. PC added to the lead a minute and a half later when Jamie Carroll showed great hustle. Sent in off right wing by Watson and Torry Gajda passes, Carroll got off a shot from the outside, but kept driving for the net, scooped up the rebound and fired a second shot past the Lowell goalie. At this point PC was sitting pretty. They had just shown how to break down the Lowell defense which was keeping PC to the outside and they held a 2 goal lead over a team who in the previous 8 periods had scored one goal against PC. Then the roof caved in. PC took a questionable penalty when a Lowell player appeared to just fall down when contact was made. Lowell converted the power play. Then a minute and a half later Lowell converted on a scramble in front of the net when Sims appeared to have the puck covered underneath him, but no whistle was blown.
In overtime PC did not seem to find any offensive rhythm but Lowell did not look particularly threatening either. However in the dying seconds of the game the puck was in the defensive zone when it took a funny bounce off the boards, was corralled by one Lowell player and shuffled off to Danny O'Brien who beat Sims for the game winner. O'Brien was the biggest thorn in PC's side this game. That was his hat trick goal.
The following weekend saw PC win only their second game at Maine since 1988. On Friday night Tim Army equaled the total number of wins Paul Pooley had on Maine's home ice. PC shut out Maine 4-0.
Tyler Sims came up big early as PC played a bend but do not break defense. Maine seemed to come out smoking as they tried to get back on the winning track. The Black Bears clearly controlled the bulk of the first period. However with just under a minute to go in the first period PC forwards Torry Gajda and Chase Watson worked the puck out of the defensive zone and down right wing into the offensive zone. With Gajda carrying the puck he spotted defenseman Cody Wild speeding uncovered into the slot, Gajda responded by sliding a nice feed which Wild converted.
The second period was totally controlled by PC. Again PC jumped on an opportunity to lengthen their lead. Maine came into the game as the top penalty kill team in the nation. However when PC went on the power play in the 2nd PC broke down the Maine defense. Again Watson made a key pass to Colin McDonald in the right wing corner who spotted the uncovered Jamie Carroll anchored in front of the crease. Carroll notched his 7th goal of the year on the conversion.
Before the Black Bears broke down and tried to turn the game into a back alley brawl the Friars broke the game open. Tony Zancanaro added his 7th goal of the season on the power play on a nice feed from Gajda. The 4th goal capped a 3 point night for Chase Watson as he scored his 4th goal of the season. Watson, Gajda, and Zancanaro all represent the change in PC style. With the season still in January each has accumulated their career high in points.
The physical end of the game Friday night was an ominous sign though for Saturday. The same referee who did the first game was assigned to the second game. Fearing losing control of the game early the second game was called far tighter then the first game was to the detriment of the Friars. Despite it being Maine who set the bar on illegal play on Friday and who did get called for the first two penalties of the game Saturday, it was the Fridays who found themselves in hot water due to their penalties.
The Saturday game marked the 1st time since the Vermont loss that the team had been called for double figure penalties (in fact the 9 penalties called Friday was the only time they exceeded 8 penalties since the Vermont game). Providence was faced with 3 5 on 3 penalty kill situations. Through the first 5 minutes of the second period the imbalance was 9 penalties to PC and 3 to Maine. Maine had clearly shown they are a physical team the night before they clearly did not suddenly become candidates for sainthood. Several of the penalties were borderline where the Maine players stopped moving their feet which lead you to believe either no penalty should have been called or a diving penalty should have been added. It was also unfortunate that Tyler Sims took a penalty for roughing in response to a slash from Maine bad guy Mike Hamilton.
The bottom line is that PC still does not have the firepower nor the quality forward that can score at will. PC had a couple of chances in the first 5 minutes of the game to break it open by scoring first on the power play and failed. Till they get a sniper PC still has to work the puck quickly which requires time of possession to do. Time ended up not being on their side. It is also clear how a slight change in philosophy by the referee in how he will call the game can make a comeback difficult. With 9 early penalties including the 3 two man down situations PC exerted a lot of energy early they could have used later to rally. They also found themselves in a hole. Maine's first period goal came on the power play. It was on a penalty called immediately after PC killed the first 5 on 3. The second goal came on a 5 X 3.
The Friars tried to sort things out and get back into a rhythm as the 2nd period progressed. However before that happened Maine did score two more goals to up their lead to 4-0. Coach Army clearly was not pleased with the way the game was called and his displeasure seemed to have resonated with the ref as the parade to the penalty box stopped. However it took longer for him to get his team refocused. PC never scored in the second but they did gain some momentum on a late power play. In an unusual move Coach Army pulled his goal for the entire power play (and a few seconds after it).
The third period saw Army first change goalies, and then on his next power play opportunity he again had the goalie out of the net. This time with one second left in the penalty PC's second leading goal scorer Jon Rheault scored. Midway through the period when the teams were playing 4 on 4 in front of the goalies he again pulled the goalie. This time Tony Zancanaro scored. However, at that point the PC rally fell short with Maine finally being able to score a goal while PC had the extra attacker on.
PC continues to be ranked just outside the top 10 in both polls as are PC's closest rivals, UNH, BU and Maine. Presently UNH and BU are tied with PC for 2nd place. BU has played one more game then UNH and PC. This weekend the Friars face off with the Wildcats for the first time this year. Since the start of the second half of the year UNH has been successful on the ice though they do not seem to be playing up to their potential. They lost their Saturday game against the University of Massachusetts. The loss marked their first loss in 2006. Before that they had gone 4-0-1.
UNH has split their goaltending between senior Jeff Pietrasiak and sophomore Kevin Regan. Regan played in their loss to UMass but also was the last goalie to go back to back games. UNH's biggest weakness is their defense which has proven porous at times. They are lead by senior Brian Yandle who has a reputation for being an offensive defenseman who is indifferent about playing defense. The Wildcats also have a corps of speedy forwards lead by juniors Daniel Winnik, Jacob Micflikier, and Brett Hemmingway.
For the women's team the results look better. However PC is presently in 3rd place. They trail BC who is in first (thought they have played 4 more games) and UNH who holds a 3 point lead through 11 league games.
The women gained a tie in their first game with Minnesota State (MSU). By the midway point in the game PC had built a 3-1 lead behind a pair of goals by leading scorer Karen Thatcher and one by their top defenseman Kristin Gigliotti. However, at that point MSU was able to regain the initiative. In the second half of the period MSU dominated on the ice clearly out shooting PC by a wide margin. The PC defense seemed to play back on their heels and allowed MSU to push the puck down low and score on scrambles in front of the net. MSU scored one goal just before the end of the second and their tying goal early in the third. From that point on the teams seemed content to settle for the tie.
The next day though PC took control of the game early and never looked back. This time it was PC who seemed to have the ice slanting into their offensive zone. When they were presented with two power play chances late in the period PC scored two goals. Thatcher and Kathleen Smith were the keys. On the first goal it was Thatcher and Gigliotti's passes that open the ice for Smith to blast home the first power play goal and it was Thatcher who finished off some nice passing for the second goal.
The player having her best day in college hockey was Kathleen Smith. In the Second she added a second goal and another assist. This goal was at even strength but some passes down low brought all the MSU defenders down low so Thatcher flipped the puck back to Smith who again skated into the face off circle and blasted the puck home. Later while killing a penalty it was a nice feed out of the defensive zone by Smith that sent Rachel Crissy away with a short handed tally. Earlier in the period PC had converted another power play chance as senior Ashley Payton finished off a nice set up from Thatcher with a strong wrist shot from the face off area. In the final period Gigliotti scored PC's final goal on the power play when again PC moved the puck smartly around the perimeter till Gigliotti got the opening and fired the puck into the net. Again the key feed was from Thatcher.
Last weekend PC returned to Hockey East action. On Saturday they edged Northeastern in overtime. PC seemed to get the better of play for the bulk of the game but sloppy play by both teams slowed the games pace and kept the Huskies within striking distance.
PC broke out on top when freshman Katy Beach fired a wrist shot which surprised Northeastern's goalie. In the second they added to the lead. Payton put a shot on net which slid under the goalie and into the net as she went down to cover it. Gigliotti then increased the lead when her hard shot eluded the goalie. However at that point PC found they could not stop the pesky Rachel Rochon. In short order she scored one goal and set up another to bring Northeastern within one as the final period began.
Almost 14 minutes into the period PC converted a power play chance to up their lead to 2 again. Thatcher found a loose puck and lifted it over the sprawled goalie. PC however had the same problem that plagued them the previous Saturday against MSU. The Friars found themselves down a skater and Northeastern pulled their goalie to give them a 2 skater advantage. Once the Huskies got the puck down low PC became too flat footed to get the puck out of the scramble and Rochon again set up a Huskie goal. Momentum now swung to Northeastern and they quickly drove the puck back into their offensive zone and with the goalie again pulled left PC flat footed again to tie the score.
During the break before overtime began the Northeastern bench was full of life as they had rallied from 3 and 2 goal deficits. PC on the other hand appeared to be a bit stunned by the turn of events where the next to the last place team had so convincingly gotten back into the game. Despite the outward appearance on the opening face off Sonny Watrous picked up the loose puck, carried it deep, passed it across the goal mouth where Thatcher banged it home. Overtime had lasted all of 9 seconds.
Following the game PC had to make the long bus ride to Orono to play Maine. In the end PC picked up one point for the tie as Maine rallied to tie PC. The problem in this game was PC was called for 13 penalties. Maine had a considerable advantage as they only had to kill 6 penalties.
PC fell behind early as Maine scored on their 2nd power play of the game just over 4 minutes into the game. With the early power plays working to their advantage Maine held the momentum for most of the period out shooting PC 11-5. The second period saw neither team score but most of the period was spent with one player or another in the penalty box. Again this was to Maine's advantage as PC had to kill 6 penalties to Maine's 3. The Black Bears again out shot PC by a significant margin, 10-3. PC had stayed in the game due to the strong play of goalie Jana Bugden.
In the third period PC finally got untracked. Ashley Payton who has come on strong of late scored her 11th goal of the year. After PC successfully killed off a two man advantage PC capitalized on a power play. Kristin Gigliotti was set up for a blast from the point by fellow defender Kathleen Smith which resulted in her 14th goal of the year. PC held onto the lead till just over a minute was left in regulation play. At that point Maine was on a power play and had pulled their goalie. For the second straight day PC's opponent converted this opportunity.
In the coming week the Friars have two games with the University of New Hampshire. UNH is presently ranked second in the country and own the longest unbeaten streak in the country. The streak stands at 15 including 14 wins. UNH is a solid team. They are lead in goal by Junior Melissa Bourdon. The team also rolls out 3 of the best lines in Hockey East which gives most opponents match up fits. Their best forwards are Nicole Hekle, Sadie Wright-Ward, Leah Craig, and Lindsay Hanson. The defense also boosts plenty of stars. They include former Brown star Amy McLaughlin, who is playing her medical red shirt season at UNH as a graduate student and high profile freshman defender Kacy Bellamy.
Providence travels to UNH for Sunday's game with the return game Wednesday at Schneider. The two games should give PC a good feel for what areas need to be fine tuned for the playoffs.
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