Monday, December 31, 2007

Men's Hockey Log: Friars Leave GLI With Something To Build On

Even if the shifting paper-based implications of their come-from-behind 5-3 overhaul of Michigan State are hitting them, the Friars continue to refrain from explicit elation. But when they addressed the media, they were apt to label their high-ranking holiday excursion an opportunity to freeze and push along some momentum when their Hockey East schedule hits its January fast-track next weekend.

Leading up to around the halfway mark of Saturday’s Great Lakes Invitational consolation game, Providence had thrust a never-before-seen ambitious offense against the #1 (Michigan) and #5 (Michigan State) teams in the nation, but what wholly fettered on the scoreboard through their first eighty-plus minutes of action.

But after senior captain Jon Rheault knotted the game at 6:42 of Saturday’s middle frame, the Friars thawed out at a glacial pace to nick the defending NCAA champion and forge a .500 (7-7-2) transcript to take back to the coast for the New Year.

The GLI offered a rather hefty statistical upgrade in PC’s last regular season dose of interconference play. For all the intriguing anarchy that defined the first hunk of the Hockey East schedule –which on PC’s part included an uplifting road sweep of a ranked Maine team in November- the CCHA is understandably the talk of the nation.

And on Day 1, the almighty Michigan Wolverines took that to Tim Army’s corps firsthand, dishing out a 6-0 rout, despite the Friar ability to charge up a bewildering inverse shooting edge of 50-21.

In another twenty-four hours, though, Providence acclimated with enough straightforward steadiness to force-feed some vinegar to a Spartan team that closed out its magical 2007 on an 0-2 GLI finish.

Said Army, “I think what we learned is –and we see it in Hockey East- but when you play against good-quality teams, you need to make sure you stay with your program, stay with your game, and we did that.”

Other than the core category –the scoresheet- little was different between the two chapters of Friartown Meets Hockeytown. Right after dumping their largest bushel of shots of the season on Michigan stopper Billy Sauer –who went on to win tournament MVP honors through a double-overtime shutout of Michigan Tech in the championship tilt- the Friars made an exponential climb towards outshooting Michigan State 45-30 on Saturday, increasing their output by six shots by the period.

The no-duh difference on that front was their swift return to effective offensive interruptions. For the third time in the month of December (dating all the way back to the pre-exams tangles with Brown and Union), Providence registered a four-goal period in an earthquake of a third period, outshooting the Spartans 21-12 and outscoring 4-2 in that window.

Additionally, the inherent underdog jitters that came with both matchups failed to shred the Friars disciplinary record. They paid a mere four trips to the sin bin against Michigan –two of those elbowing minors to Greg Collins well after the game had been wrested away- and two against Michigan State. They remained perfectly regimented against the Wolverines until 11:44 of the middle frame and the following afternoon, from the 1:03 mark of the second period onward, their behavioral slate stayed unscratched.

“That’s really important against any team you play,” said Army. “You want to play hard, skate hard, be physical, but you also want to do things with discipline, with composure, especially on the road –I really consider these road games.

“If you give teams (like that) too many power play opportunities, they’re gonna take advantage of it, so by nature we try to stay out of the box, and I think we did a generally good job of that.”

Whatever ultimate grade may be liable given the wild dynamics of their ice-based term exam and their response to it, the Friars were contented enough with the progressed they signified.

Rheault, who acknowledged that he “had never played in an NHL rink before,” will soon lead his associates into a remaining two-thirds of their Hockey East slate in palpable hopes of soon visiting another vibrant building –the TD Banknorth Garden- come late March. If officially commences January 11 with a home-and-home tangle with UMass-Lowell.

When asked if the Skating Friar is at least a little bolder as it looks to that next task, the co-captain said with a sort of low-profile, take-it-in-stride tone, “I think we made our statement, playing against two top teams like that.

“I think (against Michigan) we were a little intimidated, but we know we can play with them, and we proved that against some of the best teams in the country, so when we get back to our Hockey East games, we’ll have that confidence.”

This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Men's Hockey 5, Michigan State 3: Friars Rally To Bump Spartans In 3rd Period

DETROIT- At 13:18 of the second period, on its 65th shot of the tournament, Providence College broke its weekend-long goose egg. Freshman Kyle MacKinnon guided a blocked shot by Cody Wild out of his own end and broke for a two-on-one with senior captain Jon Rheault.
McKinnon’s snapper from the near circle wiped the near post and plopped onto the back half of the crease, where Rheault arrived to bury his team-leading ninth strike of the season and knot the Friars with Michigan State, 1-1.
Later, two minutes after John Cavanagh re-knotted the game, Rheault kindled a go-ahead goal that effectively paced his associates to a cathartic 5-3 triumph in the consolation game of the Great Lakes Invitational.
MacKinnon, one of Rheault’s fast-blossoming understudies, joined him in the multi-goal club when he tossed in the eventual winner and an empty netter.
“I was proud of the way we responded from last night,” said Rheault. “We played well last night, had some good chances, but we didn’t really stick with it. Tonight, that was different. We stuck with it the whole game this time."
Goaltender Tyler Sims, despite taking the bulk of Friday’s 6-0 Michigan scorching, got the nod once more Saturday. MSU would be less constricted breaking into his property, but found a generally more alert crease custodian than the Wolverines had.
The Spartans, somewhat drained from their 4-1 arm wrestling falter to Michigan Tech in Friday’s nightcap, authorized an early shooting edge for the Friars. PC toned down the rabidity it had displayed against Michigan, but nonetheless sculpted a 9-4 shooting edge by the seventeenth minute of Saturday’s action and eased Sims into the action more consistently.
Citing the three-week deceleration for exams, head coach Tim Army said, “For a goalie, it’s most difficult for them, so it was a little bit of rust for Tyler, and for a goalie it’s difficult not to see a lot of action.
“He came right back tonight, managed the game really well, and gave us all a chance to get back on track."
But at first, shortly after Wild’s adventurous near-miss in the MSU slot, PC’s last bid of the period, the seasoned, ring-bearing Spartans broke out –visually and statistically. They sprinkled six unanswered stabs within the final 3:30 of the opening frame and seized the upper hand at the 19:04 mark.
Finally able to settle an attack, far side pointman Ryan Turek tapped a lateral feed to his defensive associate Justin Johnston.
Johnston’s subsequent boomer rang the boards and landed in the clutch of winger Chris Mueller, who laced it around the cage to Dustin Gazley.
Gazley, who one shift previous had a close shave similar to Wild’s, dropped a simple flicker over the head-spun Sims’ mitt.
Sims fused his borders to resist four bullets on a penalty kill early in the second, after which the Friars authorized four more Spartan shots whilst whittling away at mighty mite stopper Jeff Lerg with comparably more bite. By their second adjournment to the locker room, they held a 24-18 edge on that front and had pulled even in key category.
Returning to yet another fresh sheet, though, MSU flipped the tables once more to regain the edge at 1:11 of the third. Matt Schepke froze a loose clearing attempt at the far outer has marks and shipped it to Michael Ratchuk at the center point. Ratchuk’s trickling attempt was guided home by a screening Nick Sucharski.
A blinding salvo –at least for the contesting stoppers- ensued. Providence outshot the Spartans 21-12 through the closing stanza and gave its petite contingent of fans another round of CPR with 12:11 remaining.
Off a draw to the right of Lerg, PC’s Austin Mayer tapped the disc back to Matt Taormina at the far point. Monitoring Taormina’s nimble blast to the cage, Cavanagh was stationed at the backdoor to lob home a backhander.
“What we did better tonight was we stayed with our game a little bit more,” said Army. “Even when we fell behind late in the first, we came out in the second a lot more poised composed and kept at it.
“Jon’s goal got us on track. You could feel it really lifted our bench. And even when we fell behind again in the third we just stuck to what we need to do well and we got rewarded with the tying goal (again)."
With 10:12 remaining, Rheault accepted Wild’s breakout feed and bolted down the near alley to the MSU goal line. Reaching that depth, he turned to the slot to find Greg Collins, whose rebound skipped past Lerg before Rheault polished the play.
With little more than four minutes left, MacKinnon extracted the puck from a scrum and hustled loose on an end-to-end rush with Pierce Norton hanging back. A quick back-and-forth exchange resulted in a 4-2 edge.
Such an effort proved vital in the final minute when Matchuk and Schepke recollaborated to cut their deficit. Matchuk beamed down the Broadway lane to insert a diving tip-in of Schepke’s feed. But PC stifled MSU’s six-pack attack thereafter before MacKinnon made the facile insurance strike in the game’s waning seconds.
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press