Born to Be a Friar
Derek Army Persevered to Remain Part of Providence Tradition
by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. Derek Army grew up hearing stories from his dad, Tim, about the year Providence won the first Hockey East Championship.
It was the 1984-85 season, when Tim Army captained the Friars to its only NCAA championship game appearance.
Steve Rooney, uncle of current Friar Kevin Rooney, had scored the game-winning goal in double overtime to beat Boston College for the title. At times, the Rooneys and Armys — including Derek and Kevin — reminisced about the play.
After Tim graduated from Providence, he returned in 1987 as an assistant coach. Derek was born in 1991, just after Tim helped coach Providence to its seventh NCAA tournament appearance.
After Derek was born, the Friars made it to two more NCAA tournaments.
So Derek grew up wanting to restore Providence to a national power.
“I kind of had it set in stone that I was going to come and I was going to do everything I can to help return PC to what it was,” Derek said.
That destiny became more apparent when Tim Army was made head coach in 2005. Derek joined the team for the 2010-11 season.
One year later, Tim Army was fired.
On Friday, the Friars will take the ice for their first NCAA tournament in 13 years.
The Army-Friar Connection
In 2005, Tim Army became the first former Hockey East player, and the second Friar — the first since Lou Lamoriello — to coach his alma mater.
“It’s a very tough situation, I think, to go in and play for your dad,” current Providence coach Nate Leaman said. "And you know I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do about those types of situations. His father was the coach and this is where Derek wanted to be and I think that’s a tough situation.”
About 10 years before Derek was born, his father, Tim, was wearing No. 16 with Providence College. Derek’s grandfather, Tom, had also played for the Friars.
Tim’s Providence career lasted from 1981-85, when he recorded 179 points and brought the Friars to two NCAA tournaments and the first-ever Hockey East championship. Tim Army is the sixth-highest scoring Friar in team history.
Tim played in 151 games at Providence, which is a program record. On Friday at the TD Garden, Derek played in his 147th consecutive game, also a Friar record. Tim and Derek are the second Friar father-son combination that has played in over 100 games.
“Before I committed here, I talked to my dad and it didn’t matter about father-son, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Derek said. “Because in the hockey world, you just have to go and play.
“But I had a talk with him just about being ready to play and bringing it every day.”
In the spring semester of Derek’s freshman year, his dad Tim was fired. When Leaman was brought in as the new head coach, he had a talk with some of the players individually, including Derek. After that season, some Providence players left.
But Derek, who grew up with a dad in coaching and seeing coaches get fired, never considered leaving.
“There was no real hurt or anything like that because I’ve experienced it from watching,” Derek said. “Providence College, all these guys are my family members, all these guys are my brothers.
“I wanted to be with these guys for my four years and I was committed here and I wanted to stay and I wanted to help do whatever I could to help the program.”
During that conversation, Leaman said he wouldn’t treat Derek any differently from the other players.
That’s what Derek wanted.
“Derek was just open to whatever,” Leaman said. “He wants what’s best for the team and that’s just great character. Derek has never put himself in front of the team.”
Controlling the emotions
In Leaman’s first year as Providence head coach, he sometimes saw Derek Army running around the ice. Army would chase the puck and other players, getting out of position because of it.
“His plus also can be his minus sometimes. He’s an emotional player. He’s the type of kid that really kind of is always ready to go but also sometimes I think during that first year I coached him he could get over emotional."
Now, Army channels his emotions into scoring around the net.
“When he’s hacking and whacking at rebounds, he just has no quit in him around those areas,” Leaman said. He’s probably scored 30 goals the last three years and I’d probably say 29 of them are from that area.”
Over the past three years, Army worked with Leaman and assistant coaches Ben Barr and Jamie Russell on utilizing his emotion.
“You can’t get too over emotional, because then you’re gripping the stick a little too tight,” Army said. “I know for myself in order to help younger guys or help keep our team in control I have to control my emotions.”
As a senior this season, Army leads by his play on the ice but isn’t afraid to be vocal in the locker room.
“He always brings energy, always brings passion and the guys feed off that,” Leaman said. "He’s the first guy after practice, or he’s the first practice the guys like to razz, the first guy after practice the guys like to jump on, trip, go after when the guys are horsing around.
“That’s how he leads. He drives our energy bus.”
Returning to National prominence
When Leaman took over the Providence program on April 22, 2011, none of the returning skaters had playoff experience.
His goal, back then, was to improve the team just a little bit every day.
“When you do those things, I think over time you get to a position where big things can happen and you can sustain those big things and you can sustain success,” Leaman said. “It’s really about kind of building the foundation of the program that can sustain success, which is really tough right now in college hockey.”
In his first season as Providence’s bench boss, he led the Friars to the Hockey East semifinals for the first time in a decade. During Leaman’s time as head coach, the Friars have made it to the Hockey East Semifinals in every season.
Leaman said the school’s support has helped the program grow. This season Providence College opened a renovated Schneider Arena, which featured improved facilities and showcases the Friar tradition.
“It’s about the players, the coaching staff and the school,” Leaman said. “Everyone has to be pulling in the same direction to have success in college hockey right now because it’s so hard to win and it’s, the margin of error between teams, the parity is so high, the margin of error between a win and a loss is so small.”
The school sent student busses to Boston for the Hockey East championship and plans to send busses to Bridgeport, Conn., for the East Regional when the Friars appear in the their first NCAA tournament since 2001.
“We want to be in those situations, we expect to be in these situations,” Leaman said.
Derek Army was 10 years old when Providence last made it to an NCAA tournament. At the time, Tim Army was an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals.
Even though Derek wasn’t always around Providence growing up, his family never lost their connection with the school.
“I’m just proud to be a Friar,” Army said. “I think I was a born a Friar and I’ll forever be a Friar.”