Providence, Leaman Taking Steps
Friars' Season Has Been One Step Back, Two Steps Up
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. After getting outscored 14-5 during a three-game losing streak against Northeastern, Miami and Princeton, it was easy to question just how far the Providence Friars had actually come. Sure, they had won four straight prior to that skid, but those four wins came against Vermont and Alabama-Huntsville, two teams that have combined for just four wins this season. In fact, Providence's only win over a team with a winning record to that point had been its season-opener against Boston University.
But after losing to Miami and Princeton in the Denver Cup, the Friars had a great opportunity in front of them to find out where they stood. Up next on the schedule were three games in five days against the top two teams in Hockey East — a home-and-home with Merrimack and then a Tuesday night game at Boston College.
"I did take a little bit of a gulp [last] Tuesday," said Providence coach Nate Leaman, who is in his first season at the helm for the Friars. "Like, 'What did I sign myself up for?'"
What Leaman signed himself up for was a sweep of the previously undefeated Warriors that silenced any doubters. Freshman Ross Mauermann scored at 1 minutes, 54 seconds into overtime to give the Friars a thrilling 2-1 win in front of their home crowd on Friday. On Saturday, Providence scored five power-play goals en route to a 6-1 beatdown of the Warriors at the always-hostile Lawler Arena.
Leaman said the thing he was most proud of wasn't all the power-play goals or the fact that his team won in a tough environment. It was that his team wasn't satisfied with beating Merrimack just once. No one went into Saturday's game glad that they had already forced a split.
"I'm just glad we weren't fat and happy after [Friday] night," Leaman said after Saturday's game. "I was really kind of curious to see, 'Are we gonna be a fat and happy team? Or are we gonna be a team that really wants to be good?' The big thing I was happy about was that we came back with an even better effort tonight than we had last night."
Sweeping Merrimack made waves throughout the college hockey world. Had the Friars followed up with a win at BC on Tuesday, it might've sent people running from the beaches. But they didn't. Providence fell to the Eagles, 4-1, at Conte Forum.
The Friars, who are now 8-7-1 overall and 6-4-0 in Hockey East, were outshot in all three periods, and BC dominated possession for most of the game. That might lead you to one of two conclusions — either BC is just definitively better than Providence, or the Friars did get a little fat and happy after the sweep of Merrimack and didn't give as good an effort as they needed.
Well, the Friars didn't give a great effort, but Leaman said it had nothing to do with being too satisfied after the weekend.
"We weren't fat and happy," Leaman said. "We had a great practice yesterday. I just thought we came in and played a little timid. I just thought that we played on our heels too much and were thinking too much instead of playing.
"When you're timid, you lose a lot of puck battles and you turn a lot of pucks over on soft plays. We did that a lot tonight."
The silver lining is that not playing hard enough is a treatable illness, especially when you consider that the Friars haven't suffered from it much at all this season. In addition, the cause for it on this occasion wasn't laziness or guys not caring. According to Leaman, it was actually the exact opposite.
"It's when you build the game up too much in your head that you start to get a little tense," he said. "I thought we had some younger guys kind of do that a little bit. Then you look slow and tired, and you're not moving your feet."
Although everyone would like to end the first semester with a win, taking four of six points during this brutal five-day stretch against Merrimack and BC is a pretty good way for the Friars to head into winter break.
Leaman said the goals during break will be the same as they've been all season — limit individual breakdowns, eliminate bad habits and have five men move as one on the ice. Leaman has repeatedly said that this year's team is comparable to having 26 freshmen because everything they're doing is completely different than what the Friars had done the last couple years under former coach Tim Army.
"We're learning how to handle success," Leaman said. "That's part of the growth of the team. The big thing is that we have 17 league games in the second half. Right now, our job is to make sure that by the next time we play BC, which is the second to last weekend of the year, we're a better team.
"We're in an OK position, but we're only in an OK position if we take advantage of it and have a better second half than first half. I would give us a B-minus. I think there's a lot of improving that we have to do in the second half."