The generally youthful Friars returned to campus this week having reformed their persona through a decisive sweep of the then-11th ranked Maine Black Bears, a 7-2 goal differential over two games in one of the nation’s more arduous arenas to visit. Head coach Tim Army gave partial credit to the preceding eight-day respite from game action, which had fallen serendipitously after a 5-2 home falter to Boston University November 1, by which point, despite a morally substantial October, he admitted his still-gelling team began to appear a tad musty.
Of the extra time to retool prior to the northern trek, he said, “I think we were able to get back to some basics and recognized some more areas that we needed to me more efficient at, and that was kind of the mindset.
“When we’ve got our legs, we seem to react and skate very well. It seemed as though the guys were playing off each other quite a bit more efficiently (than before).”
That might explain the unprecedented jumpstart in Part I of the Maine series, wherein they exponentially eroded iron giant netminder Ben Bishop to the point that they chased him out of the cage in the third period of a 6-2 triumph. But if that weren’t enough, they carried out the same load and Saturday and squeezed out a 1-0 decision.
If it is even possible to rank the timeliness of such a feat, the prime time would be when all of Hockey East was more or less settling into exclusive intra-conference action. While four other prominent New England ice barns were storming with strikingly balanced competition –even by conventional Hockey East standards- the Friars were busy sculpting their second and third wins of the season, all against ranked competition. They had previously tipped over and knotted #16 UMass-Amherst in a home-and-home at the tail end of October.
“Certainly, winning two games at Alfond against the #11 team in the country, I would imagine, as a coach, when those types of outcomes occur, makes you take a second look at it,” said Army concerning the league-wide reaction to what brewed in Orono. “And certainly, beating them once and beating them a second time on the road, I certainly would think that other teams would take notice. It should give them a sense that we’re a team to be careful with.”
On that note, with more considerable competition bussing into Schneider Arena this weekend: “Our next challenge is to refocus,” Army said. “We had a great practice on Monday, took the day off today, we’ll go shorter and quick on Wednesday and Thursday, work on our special teams and we’ll have to be ready to play a very difficult and aggressive Lowell team on Friday.
“As all Hockey East games are, it will be very competitive. I think this year this league, from top to bottom, is as competitive as it’s ever been. I haven’t seen the depth of competiveness, the depth of personnel, that we have this year. That’s why the games are so close, that’s why there hasn’t been so much separation amongst teams. I think it will (remain that way) as we get into the stretch drive come February and March.”
More hardware for their pockets: Apart from the emboldened self-assurance and the less rigid practice vibe, a couple of Friars were naturally rewarded by the Hockey East offices this week. Goaltender Tyler Sims usurped Bishop’s two-week-running distinction as the Pure Hockey Defensive Player of the Week, which Bishop had actually split with Sims’ steadfast partner, Chris Mannix after the UMass series. Sims earned it somewhat facilely, though, as he dealt with 39 shots while his praetorians practically razed Big Ben down to his Thames River-level crease.
The by and large standout amongst those skaters was the league’s natural Player of the Week, Matt Taormina. Taormina all but veiled his designation as a defenseman by leveling home five points in the Friday blowout and was in on Nick Mazzolini’s Saturday clincher, along with fellow hot blade Pierce Norton.
Quick Feeds: All but three Friar skaters etched at least one shot on net in both Friday’s and Saturday’ wins, senior captain Jon Rheault leading the gallery on Friday with an aggregate six stabs at Bishop and eventual successor Dave Wilson. Rheault saw his hot streak end in Saturday’s defensive duel, but likewise ran ahead on Saturday with seven chips, followed by freshman Austin Mayer’s five…Both Friday’s hosting to Lowell and Saturday’s to New Hampshire will commence at 7:00 and be televised through Cox Communications. That action will be followed by a full week’s rest over Thanksgiving…This weekend will again see a full slate of intra-conference tilts, the Riverhawks and Wildcats swapping get-togethers with the Friars and Northeastern Huskies.
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press