Team of the Week: Providence
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
The first half of the 2008-09 season for the Providence Friars is one that players, coaches, and fans want to forget. Heading in, the team's top scorer, Jon Rheault, and defenseman, Cody Wild bolted for pro contracts, and record-setting goalie Tyler Sims graduated, which allowed for over half of the team's roster to be made up of freshmen. In turn, those question marks left the Friars pegged to finish eighth out of then Hockey East teams in both the coaches and media polls.
Over the first two weekends of the season, Providence went 2-2, losing to league foes Northeastern and Lowell, but winning non-conference games against Bowling Green and Holy Cross. Towards the end of October, however, the Friars unraveled over an 11-game winless streak, over which they were outscored 49-20 by their opponents.
"We had played well, but didn't get rewarded," Providence coach Tim Army said. "We had also played sloppy at times as well — our game against Quinnipiac (a 5-2 loss in Hamden, Conn. on Dec. 5) was our worst in my 3 1/2 years here. When you haven't won for 5-6 weekends, it gets tangible, that lack of trust. We needed to make ourselves better."
Army had already been searching for a goalie with junior Ryan Simpson on the injury shelf for an undetermined amount of time and Chris Mannix set to graduate. The numbers didn't add up for the coach, who watched Mannix and freshman Justin Gates struggle to a 3-12-1 records to close out the semester, including an 0-8-1 mark in Hockey East.
"They both had a save percentage of about 85 percent," Army said. "That's three goals for every 20 shots, and if you're only seeing 20 shots a night in D-I hockey, that's pretty good. It's once you start getting above that, that it's 4 or 5 goals, and you're in a pretty deep hole."
He and his coaching staff landed on Alex Beaudry, a 19-year-old who had racked up a 3.54 GAA, a .907 save percentage, and two shutouts over 29 games split between Kempville and Gloucester of the Central Junior Hockey League.
"We really liked him," Army said. "We were looking at a lot of goalies, even before Christmas. He was the guy we wanted. It felt like a trade, like we got somebody new. We lost two kids over the break to the USHL (defensemen Bryce Aneloski and Joe Lavin), and that unsettled the team a little bit. We all realized that maybe they weren't dialed into what the rest of the group was doing, and that rejuvenated us post-break. It re-energized that atmosphere, and brought the locker room together."
Once all of the paperwork — admissions applications, immigration (he's Canadian), NCAA compliance, amongst other — was finished, Beaudry joined his new team on Jan. 10.
"We had our first practice," Beaudry laughs. "All the guys were coming over and asking me where I was from and shaking my hand. The next morning, we had our pre-game skate and Coach asked me if I wanted to play."
That night against Lowell, it took Army 35 seconds to see the ship get righted — one Beaudry save down low, followed by a breakaway stop, and the grips on sticks became looser, more relaxed, and the players filled with poise and confidence.
"The importance of a good goalie goes way beyond making saves," Army said. "We were tight in the first half. We were pressing. The work ethic was there, but we didn't play with poise, we needed to handly opportunites much better. You could almost feel it, you know, 'he's back there.' There was a renewed energy that we brought into BU."
Against the No. 2 team in the country, Boston University, the Friars battled in front of Beadry's 39 saves for a 4-2 win, and followed up with 5-4 win at Massachusetts in which the newly-minted netminder refused to let the shine wear off, stopping a mind-blowing 42 shots. A tie against Maine last weekend boosted Providence's record in the New Year to 3-0-1 — 6-12-2 overall. And, with a 3-8-1 record in Hockey East, four points out of a playoff spot heading into the home stretch.
"They were anxious to get the monkey off their backs," Beaudry said. "And we did it right off the bat at Lowell. It's been an entire team turn-around, and it's gotten us on a roll."
While spirits are high in the locker room, Army is quick to note that a simple approach is necessary.
"We're taking it one day at a time. It's a little cliche, but there's no formula," he said. "We got ourselves into a deep hole, and now we're concentrating on getting ourselves out of it."