Team of the Week: Providence
The thing about the college hockey season is it goes from zero to 60 in an instant. Sure, October is only just over, but Providence may well feel like it's had a season's worth of tense moments and learning experiences already.
The Friars earned a pair of tough wins last weekend over Boston College and Boston University, picking up College Hockey News' Team of the Week nod in the process. In both instances, PC navigated some shaky moments to earn the win. Its best player on the weekend was junior goaltender Hayden Hawkey — a player from which the Friars badly needed to see a strong weekend.
"I thought (Friday) night, in the first period, (Hawkey) was outstanding for our team because BC had really good push," PC coach Nate Leaman said. "We were a fragile team in that first period ... and Hayden kind of kept us in there, and we got to the locker room only down one and were able to regroup. He was excellent."
The Friars fell behind early to the Eagles, but used a pair of second-period goals from Erik Foley and Ben Mirageas to take a lead after two. PC controlled play in the third to ride out a 2-1 win. Hawkey made 24 saves on the night. On Saturday, he stopped all 22 shots he saw from BU in the Friars' 3-0 win.
Hawkey had a rough weekend in the North Country ahead of his starts against BC and BU. The junior allowed nine goals on 47 shots between a 6-5 win over St. Lawrence and a 4-0 loss to Clarkson. Bad games happen. Not every goal is the goalie's fault. But PC has championship aspirations. The Friars need a reliable goaltender, and consistency has evaded Hawkey for stretches of his time as the Providence No. 1 goalie. A year ago, Hawkey was an .884 goalie for the season's first two months before going .925 from Dec. 2 forward. It was revealed prior to the start of this season that the Montreal Canadiens' draft choice was battling an injury early in the 2016-17 season. Still, his struggles contributed to a rough start for PC last season, particularly in Hockey East play.
Aside from Hawkey's couple hiccups, PC has also faced a couple early injury woes. Missing junior forward Erik Foley for a pair of games (against St. Lawrence and an earlier loss to BC) is chief among them. Foley is among the Friars' most reliable scoring options, missing him means playing without a significant threat up front.
In the wins over BU and BC, Foley picked up a goal both nights. He has three goals and an assist on the young season. As a sophomore, last season, he led the Friars with 15 goals. PC needs even more from Foley this year.
"He's a gamechanger for us," Leaman said. "He got two big-time goals on the weekend. Those are some of the nicest goals we've seen. It's nice to have him healthy and back in our lineup."
The Friars finish off their season series against BU next weekend with a couple games at Agganis Arena. Early-season matchups against some of the league and nation's best teams are precisely what the Friars need right now. Becoming a legitimate contender at the end of the season means learning how to win now, especially away from home. A pair of games at on the road against BU will give PC an idea of what it needs to be once trophy season kicks into gear a few months from now.
For the most part, though, leagues like Hockey East provide those lessons from beginning to end. Last weekend, PC came through with a couple wins. Leaman, of course, knows there's still work to do. The final moments of Saturday's win over BU are a great example of what PC is right now and what Leaman knows his team can become.
"It was an intense Hockey East game," he said. "(BU) made a push in the third, but we took our foot off the gas, too. It's just a young team learning how to win. It's a good weekend for us, but still very early in the year, and we have to keep growing and getting better.
"You're going to learn lessons throughout the season. I think we're growing. I think we're going to grow in a lot of ways."