Youth Movement Paying Dividends for Providence
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
DURHAM, N.H. Few teams can say they are dressing 10 freshmen in a game, but that is what Providence does on a nightly basis. Thursday night the young guys struggled to find any rhythm as they fell to Massachusetts-Lowell, but on Saturday night they found their stride and shocked a good New Hampshire team, a team the Friars had not beaten since 2007.
"We knew coming into this game, but we didn't tell some of the younger guys about the lack of success against this team," said junior forward Derek Army. "It was really nice, real nice to get this one."
Entering the game on Saturday, the Friars ranked sixth in scoring offense in Hockey East while UNH ranked first in scoring defense. The Friars have been shut out four times and held to one goal on three occasions in their first 21 games.
But Saturday night exemplified the kind of potential they have.
After scoring once in the first period, Providence scored four times in the second period to lead 5-2.
"I felt that we were a bit passive in the first period of that game," said Providence coach Nate Leaman. "I felt we were sitting back too much. We talked about getting more aggressive and wanting the puck. We started doing that and it paid off a bit."
Providence then learned some other lessons, about holding onto leads, as UNH rallied. But the Friars held on for a 6-5 victory, one that puts the young team in a tie for third place with Boston University, its opponent next weekend.
It hasn't been an easy road for Providence, but one could expect this being so young. Before the break, the Friars tied Boston College 3-3 at home, then tied Vermont. They then went out west and struggled against Minnesota State, coming home rattled after two losses. But then rebounded with two wins in a home-and-home against Massachusetts.
"Most nights we are playing eight or nine freshmen, but the last two games we have been playing 10," Leaman said. "There is probably no one else in the country playing 10 freshmen and there are growing pains with that. We struggle most in managing games. We are in complete control with six or so minutes to go leading 6-3 and making good decision, and then we have a really bad turnover (and) it's 6-4. It’s on-the-job learning for these guys and we need to keep improving."
"It is definitely unusual to have that many freshmen in the lineup at the same time," said Friar captain, Kyle Murphy. "Those guys are doing a great job. Our job as leaders is to make sure that everyone is focused and help the young guys understand what we are playing for every night. We have to lead the way and show them how to play."
Noticeably, the freshmen and sophomores look up to the leadership of the elder guys on the team. On this night, the biggest leader was Army, who has stuck it out with the program even after his father was fired as coach two years ago. He scored two goals on the night to give the Friars a 5-1 lead.
"I know coach relies on us a lot, as he wants us to show the young guys how to do the right thing," said Army. "Whether it is getting pucks in deep or blocking shots he counts on us so we have to be the guys to set the tone early in the game so everyone knows how to play the game."
Showing the young guys the way is what the Providence upperclassmen pride themselves on, but it was the young guys that scored the first three goals. Freshmen and Sophomores have combined for 43 of the 64 goals scored by the Friars this season, and 99 of the 176 points. Their impact is noticeable but the offense can only take a team so far.
In net the Friars have one of the finest freshmen, Jon Gillies. He gave up five goals on this night, but his teammates know how important his play is.
"He is unbelievable," said Murphy. "He has been solid for us all year. He has been our most consistent guy night in and night out."
"Jonny has been absolutely huge for us all season," said Army. "He makes big saves when we need him most. I don’t even have any words to describe how good he is and how he is the backbone of this team."
With the young guys contributing and growing confidence, the growing pains will continue, but also continue to help. With the win against UNH, the Friars have put themselves in position to surprise many. Next weekend's series against BU will be another test for a team that dresses just six upperclassmen.