Patience is key for Providence College.
Yet patience likely was the last thing the team expected to need when it began its 2014-15 campaign. With a roster comprised of four impact seniors and 12 juniors, the Friars slowly have risen into college hockey’s upper echelon of greatness, and this season was to be the icing on the cake.
Patience usually is the name of Boston University’s game. A 10-win season last winter put BU near Hockey East’s cellar, and only two rising seniors and no less than nine freshman likely would see significant ice time. Sure, the Terriers featured projected lottery pick Jack Eichel, but they’d eventually falter, the pundits said.
Yet it was Providence that stumbled out of the gates, stringing together back-to-back wins just once over the first six weeks of the season en route to a pedestrian 4-5-1 start.
The Terriers, on the other hand, set the league on fire. They won four straight — including a 4-1 thumping of Providence on the road — before suffering their first loss of the season.
BU had the prolific offense and an under-the-radar goaltender in junior Matt O’Connor; Providence, the prolific goaltender in junior Jon Gillies, and an offense that would hopefully suffice.
The Terriers thrived, scoring an egregious 5.3 goals per game and allowing just 1.5; the Friars mustered just 2.1 goals for with 3.5 goals against in the same stretch.
Yet those struggles proved to be exactly the shot in the arm PC needed.
“Early on in the season we played against some tough opponents, working hard and not getting the results we wanted,” explained senior forward Ross Mauermann. “The coaching staff and some of the other guys for sure, from our previous experiences, kind of knew we just had to keep working hard in practice and keep bringing it. And I think the biggest thing was to make sure we’re getting pucks to the net, not trying to make the pretty play all the time. Early we were doing that too much.”
The changes set in, and the offensive monster Providence has been during the NCAA Tournament slowly began rearing its head.
PC finished the season scoring 3.38 goals per game, a pace that just trailed prolific Boston University (3.88 goals per game).
“In the second half it was just get back to our hockey, getting pucks to the net, being gritty around the net and getting second chances, and it’s paid off for us here in the tournament for sure with a lot of second-chance goals,” Mauermann added.
Even after scoring 15 goals in three games on the road to the national championship, Providence’s offense is overlooked.
And why shouldn’t it be? The Terriers feature the only two 60-point scorers in the country in Eichel (70 points) and senior Evan Rodrigues (61). Five players have tallied 36 or more points. Providence, in comparison, has just one player (junior Nick Saracino, 38 points) ranked in the top 80 scorers, while no PC players scored more than 15 goals.
Though BU casts a tall shadow, don’t expect their youngsters to be blinded or surprised when they take the ice on Saturday. The Terriers have taken their blows, nearly throwing away Thursday’s national semifinal against North Dakota.
“Anytime you get a chance to play in a game of this magnitude, you can never take it for granted. You need to take advantage of it. We’ve come too far and put too much into it,” said BU coach David Quinn. “I think our guys feel that way. The thing that I liked after our game last night is there was a level of excitement, but it was subdued. I think there was a feeling in the locker room that we were excited about winning the hockey game, but I got a sense shortly thereafter that our guys were getting ready to win the national championship against a very good Providence team.”
Come Saturday night, no numbers, spreadsheets, or headlines will matter any longer, because patience — not practice — makes perfect.
Thumbnail image via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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