BOSTON — The Providence College Friars were the final team to earn entry into the 2015 NCAA Hockey Tournament. Then they went ahead and won the whole darn thing.
When the clock hit triple zeros Saturday night at TD Garden, the scoreboard read: Providence 4, Boston University — and its haul of trophies, and its lofty ranking, and its Jack Eichel — 3.
“We beat a terrific opponent (Saturday night),” PC coach Nate Leaman said. “I think that’s what makes it a little bit sweeter. That BU team is, they were terrific. They had us on our heels for a lot of that first and second period and we were just kind of hanging in there. Jonny held us in there.”
“Jonny” is junior goaltender Jon Gillies, who got his stick, pads or body in front of all but three of the Terriers’ 52 shots in the win, earning him recognition as the Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four.
In the first period, however, it looked like the netminder might be in for a long night. Sophomore defenseman Anthony Florentino got the Friars on the board first, but the Terriers responded with two goals in the span of four seconds — an NCAA tournament record. The first, a strike from the left circle by Ahti Oksanen, initially appeared to defy physics, sliding through a seemingly nonexistent gap between Gillies and the post.
“They were throwing everything at the net,” Leaman said. “Obviously Jonny, what did he have, 49 saves? They were throwing everything at the net. He had to make a lot of saves. Yeah, they squeaked one in but when they’re throwing everything at the net, that’s what they’re trying to do. And he was big-time for us. He held the ship.”
“After those two (goals),” Gillies recalled, “you take a deep breath and refocus, and remember it’s a long way to the game’s end.”
The Terriers continued to pelt Gillies with shot after shot, but save for a Cason Hohmann tally midway through the second period, the South Portland, Maine, native did not budge. By second intermission, he had racked up 37 saves — the most ever through two periods of an NCAA tournament game.
It wasn’t until very late in the third, though, that the onslaught reached its peak. BU only put 12 shots on net in the final frame — Gillies credited his teammates’ efforts to clog the defensive zone, as 10 recorded at least one blocked shot — but seemed to unleash dozens in one wild flurry after the Friars had rallied from a goal down to take their first lead of the night.
It was during that last-gasp effort with BU’s goalie pulled that Gillies, a Calgary Flames draftee, channeled his inner Tim Thomas, robbing winger Nick Roberto at the doorstep in the final minutes and stomping out the Terriers’ final hopes of a national title.
“(There was) a 6-on-5, so there’s a lot of traffic in front,” Gillies said. “You let the puck hit you. If it does squirt out or something at that point in game, you just try to get something in front of it and try and battle for the guys that are battling for you in front.”
The Friars battled all the way to college hockey’s pinnacle — the first national championship in program history. And Gillies? He’s a celebrity now.
Well, at least in the Leaman household.
“I can tell you in Rhode Island, I have a 5-year-old and a 2 1/2- year-old and a 1-year-old, and we play knee hockey just about every night,” the Friars coach said. “And the frustrating thing with me is, they all want to be Jon Gillies.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images