If the Hockey East playoff picture were hypothetically fused for this weekend –which it is anything but- the converging agendas at Schneider Arena would be unruffled. Friar Fanatics would still be gearing up to watch the third-place locals lock sticks with Vermont, owners of the sixth seed in the league.
Reality check: both the Friars (9-5-3 in conference play) and Catamounts (6-6-5) have ten solid games still to digest on their regular season slates. And the aggregate four allotted points in this two-game set matches their differential on the leaderboard.
All of the above is irrelevant to Providence head coach Tim Army.
“You can’t focus on the end result,” he stressed . “You’ve got to put together a game plan from the day you start skating. You’ve gotta talk about it, you’ve gotta teach it, you’ve gotta enact it. You can only control what you can control, so for me, I don’t get caught up in winning games because it means more points or because it’s head-to-head. It’s another good team, it’s another team in our league, it doesn’t matter where it is or who you’re playing. We have to play good hockey.”
Right now, the Friars are arguably carrying the ripest, most substantial jug of momentum of the season. And they have the rare opportunity to dispense in a single venue –their home venue at that- against a single adversary on back-to-back evenings.
The prospective kicker, Army cautions, is that Vermont is looking bright and bold enough itself.
“We have to be ready,” he said. “They are disciplined defensively. They play disciplined off the puck. They create a lot of numbers between the puck and their net and they have some talented forwards like (Dean) Strong and (Peter) Lenes –those type of players who can hurt in transition if you’re sloppy with the puck. They certainly can take advantage of that.
“We have to be focused on the things that we need to do to be a good team. But we also need to find a way to penetrate those defensive numbers and create scoring opportunities for ourselves but at the same token still be diligent, still be detailed and not give those Vermont players a lot of looks at our net.”
Both PC and Vermont have wheedled out at least a point out of five of their last six respective games. The Friars are withholding an unbeaten run of 3-0-1, a half-and-half tie at Merrimack being the freshest additive to that, while the Catamounts had a 2-0-2 streak broken off by New Hampshire last Saturday before they took the negative energy of that 5-1 loss out on UMass-Lowell on Sunday.
“They’ll come in ready to play,” Army prophesied. “We’re all jockeying for a position right now, so as we keep stressing to our kids, ‘Let’s just get better every day,’ control what we can control, stay detailed, and be ready to play our best possible game.”
Refreshed picture: In their lone visit to Burlington, an altogether lengthy ten weeks back, the Friars began to find their groove by beating out a 4-0 win, in the process discharging Vermont’s established starter Joe Fallon about the halfway mark of the game.
Since then, though he has shared more of the blue paint with Mike Spillane, Fallon has started all of his games to stay and compressed the recent Wildcat wounds on Sunday, pushing away 31 Riverhawk shots for the 3-2 win and his fifth point in three starts.
“They have played better hockey since we last played them,” Army observed. “We had two weeks to get ready and had two good, hard weeks of practice (in advance), are we were able to get out of there with two big points but Vermont has played good hockey since Christmas."
Three of a kind: Earlier this week, Friars Jon Rheault, Tyler Sims, and Matt Taormina were all declared semi-finalists for the Walter Brown Award, the emblem of individual excellence in New England collegiate hockey.
Rheault and Taormina are currently knotted for PC’s point-getting lead at 23 apiece (Taormina leads all defenders in the conference) while the senior goaltender Sims is on pace for a platter of career-best data.
Another nine Hockey East skaters and three ECAC inhabitants are also in consideration.
The awards’ supervising committee, the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston, noted in a press release that it would trim down its nominee list in another month before it crowns the last skater standing s the award’s 56th annual recipient after the conference championships.
Quick Feeds: In the previous PC-Vermont get-together, Rheault concocted his first of what are now three two-goal performances this season with help credited to then-linemates Matt Germain and Ian O’Connor…In strict Hockey East action, the Friars remain the only team to have relinquished less than ten power play goals (6) while tacking on a league-leading five shorthanded lighters…The Catamounts’ hottest blade of late has been that of sophomore Viktor Stalberg, who has cultivated three goals and four assists in his last six outings…Cox Sports Television will deliver its final regular season broadcast at Saturday’s game. Vermont’s cable follower, Comcast CN8 will be on hand to cover both contests.