BOSTON — Ryan Massa did everything but earn a win Thursday in his final collegiate hockey game.
The Nebraska-Omaha senior goaltender recorded 44 saves to keep his team competitive throughout what ultimately ended up being a 4-1 loss to Providence at TD Garden in the opening semifinal matchup of the 2015 Frozen Four.
PC bombarded the Omaha net throughout the evening but was unable to solve Massa until more than halfway through the contest. The Friars finally got on the board by capitalizing on the goaltender’s lone glaring mistake: a far-too-juicy rebound off a Brian Pinho shot that Noel Acciari turned into his team-leading 15th goal of the season (Trevor Mingoia later tied that mark with a tally of his own midway through the third).
“I mean, they’re a great hockey club,” Massa, who led the nation in save percentage this season, said after the game. “(They) came from the drop of the puck, played a full 60 minutes. Didn’t give me very much breathing room. Kept me busy pretty much all night, and when you’re a relentless team like that and they capitalized.
“So, hats off to them for making it difficult and banging in a couple of greasy goals.”
“Massa played a real good game,” Mingoia said. “He’s one of the best goaltenders we’ve seen all year. … I was fortunate enough to pop one in there at the end, and we came out with the win.”
With the win, Providence advanced to its first national title game since 1985. They’ll take on Boston University — which knocked off North Dakota 5-3 in the other semifinal — on Saturday in an all-Hockey East national final. The last time one of those took place was 1999, with Maine knocking off UNH 3-2 in overtime.
Some additional notes from Thursday’s first semifinal:
— The victory was PC’s 25th of the season — the highest single-season total for the program since 1982-83.
— 2013 national champion Yale and 2014 champion Union both were first-time winners. If Providence hoists the trophy on Saturday, it’ll be the first case of three consecutive first-time champions since, well, the very first NCAA championships, in 1948, 1949 and 1950.
“I think it (speaks to) the parity (of college hockey),” PC coach Nate Lehman said. “We were hundredths of a point from not making it to this tournament. And we felt like we had a great season. We felt like we had 22 wins and (were) 8-3-1 non-conference. And we finished second place in a league that finished above .500 against every other league and we’re holding our breath to see if we get in the tournament.
“It used to be that if you could get 20 wins, you’re pretty much locked in the tournament. But this year, we had 22. Bowling Green had 22. And it came down to the two of us to see who was going to get in.”
— Omaha entered the game in the midst of arguably the best season in program history, reaching the Frozen Four for the first time in its 18-year history. The Mavericks simply appeared overmatched from the get-go, however, with these shot charts illustrating just how much trouble they had creating offense:
Shot chart from the first. As I said, Providence dominated. http://t.co/L6Xp89YVR2—
Arielle Aronson (@aharonson28) April 09, 2015
Omaha might want to try getting to the middle of the ice more http://t.co/iSmxpE3hQJ—
Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin9) April 09, 2015
The Friars finished the game with a 44-25 advantage in shots on goal and an 84-45 edge in total shots attempted.
From head coach Dean Blais’ postgame comments, Omaha sounded like a team that was just happy to be here and worn out from the journey.
“I think we expended a lot of energy like everyone else to get here and the emotion,” Blais said. “It’s like a tank of gas. You only have so much left in it. Not that we were gassed or anything, but emotional two wins in Notre Dame at the Midwest Regional and to advance to get here, and the parents being here and just the chance to play in the Boston Garden and the tradition of this whole community.
“So, it was a big deal for us. It really was. But I don’t think it was anything that we did wrong. I think it was a lot of what Providence did right.”
— The Calgary Flames’ front office likely was watching this game intently. Three Providence players are Flames draftees: Gillies, junior forward Mark Janowski (who scored the eventual game-winning goal in the second period) and junior defenseman John Gilmour.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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