Team of the Week: Providence
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
When winter break rolled around, Providence was in as good a position as coach Nate Leaman could've expected. The Friars had home ice in the Hockey East Tournament in their grasp, and a trip to the NCAA Tournament seemed like a certainty.
Almost immediately upon returning from the break, the Friars watched it all unravel. A loss to Air Force preceded a 2-3-6 start to the New Year that put it all in doubt. Scoring dried up, star goaltender Jon Gillies looked suddenly human and PC faced a disappointing end to a once-promising season.
As quickly as it all evaported, the Friars found their stride. After sweeping Massachusetts two weeks ago, PC went to Orono and took two games from Maine to clinch third place in the final Hockey East standings and jump back into the NCAA Tournament race. The Friars swept the Black Bears with 3-2 and 4-2 victories at Alfond Arena. Maine had lost just one game at home before the Friars' sweep. The wins at the season's most crucial point earned Providence College Hockey News' Team of the Week honor.
A third-place finish also comes with a first-round bye in the Hockey East Tournament. Despite some of the struggles in January and February, Leaman liked much of what he saw from his club.
"We had two great weeks of practice," Leaman said. "There were some things we know we needed to improve after the Notre Dame series."
Chiefly among those was secondary scoring. The Friars aren't going to win games with a guns-blazing offense, but contributions from every player in uniform carried PC through the first half. That returned in the wins in Orono with six different players scoring goals for the Friars.
"Our secondary scoring just wasn't there for a while," Leaman said. "Against Maine, we got some scoring from Mark Jankowski's line and others chipped in. In the playoffs, goals are at such a premium, we need those guys to contribute."
Sophomore center Noel Acciari has also come on of late. The tough centerman had a goal and two assists against Maine after the same line against UMass in the previous week.
"Noel's a great player for us," Leaman said. "He's just the type of player who gives us what we need. If you need a big hit to get the team going, he'll get it. We needed some scoring, and he's provided it for us. He's got six points in the last four games."
Offensively, the Friars need contributions from their entire lineup. However, Gillies is the type of player that PC needs to be at his best to win championships. Stopping 63 of 67 shots in the wins over Maine is exactly the type of performance Leaman has come to expect from his goaltender.
Prior to the series against UMass, the sophomore goaltender's numbers took a hit following his return from the World Junior Championships. Rounding into form just as the Hockey East Tournament gets under way is exactly what Providence needs.
A strong finish to the regular season, Leaman said his club will spend the next two weeks trying to improve.
"Who ever we end up playing next weekend will have an edge on us," Leaman said. "They're going to have a game this weekend. They're going to get better. We have to focus on the areas we need to improve while we're off until next Friday."