November 29, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Back to the Grind

Home From Belfast, Leaman, Providence Seek More Consistency

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer (@MikeMcMahonCHN)

Hockey has ebbs and flows. Coaches tell us that all the time. Over the last three weeks, the Providence Friars have been living proof.

The Friars have been on an up-and-down rollercoaster over the last six games, starting back on Nov. 9 when they played Massachusetts at the Mullins Center and lost to the upstart Minutemen, 5-2.

Providence followed that up two days later, thrashing the Minutemen at Schneider Arena, 7-2. It was night and day.

“I think we're still struggling with our consistency,” said Providence head coach Nate Leaman. “We didn't play poorly against UMass, we didn't finish, but we certainly didn't play the way we're capable of. We're finding more consistency now. We're working harder. But I still think that we have more in the tank.”

The Friars continued to rise up after that UMass weekend, coming from behind to beat Merrimack, 2-1, on Nov. 17 at home. 

The next night at Lawler Arena was a microcosm of the last three weeks. Providence fell behind 5-1 to the Warriors before storming back to earn a point in a 6-6 tie. Forget ups and downs over the course of a month, the Friars experienced ups and downs over the course of 60 minutes.

Is it a lack of consistency? Sure it is. But you also can’t argue that the Friars showed some fight erasing a four-goal deficit — including a two-goal deficit early in the third period — to take a point on the road.

“Five of their first nine shots went in our net. I'm really proud of our guys,” Leaman said. 

“That happens and usually the night's over. Our guys stayed with it and I thought we played a great game. I thought we controlled a lot of the game and played the way we wanted to play. Even when we were down two goals in the third period, the guys stayed with it and we finally got a couple there. 

“I'm proud that the guys didn't put their heads down and feel sorry for themselves. They kept working and chipping away. It stings not coming away with a win, but at the end of the day when you're down 5-1 after one period and you come back and tie it 6-6, that's a heck of a statement by our team.”

That was on a Saturday night. The next day, the Friars flew to Belfast for last weekend’s Friendship Four tournament, and the ups and downs continued.

There’s no arguing Providence has been tested as well. The Friars have had the 14th-toughest schedule in the nation according to KRACH. Providence is 8-5-1, and that includes playing one of the toughest teams in the nation — Clarkson — twice in non-conference play (Clarkson is currently No. 2 in the Pairwise).

Back to the ups and downs, individual players haven’t been immune. Goaltender Hayden Hawkey, who was pulled after allowing five goals on nine shots against Merrimack in the first period less than a week prior, made 24 saves for his first shutout of the season as the Friars blanked Maine, 3-0, in the first game of the Friendship Four last week.

“It was a great bounceback game for Hayden,” Leaman said. “He let in five and then tonight bounced back with a shutout. He made great saves in the first and second when they had some traffic there.”

Unfortunately for the Friars, the rollercoaster would continue to take some dives. The next night against Clarkson in the tournament final, an early one-goal lead was erased in the second period as the Golden Knights won the championship, 4-2.

It wasn’t just another game for the Friars; back in October, Clarkson shut out Providence up in the North Country.

Suddenly the thrills of comebacks against Merrimack and a shutout against Maine seemed like tiny memories in the rearview mirror.

"It's our youth and our immaturity that continues to haunt us a little bit,” Leaman said. “As a collective group, there's a lot of growth that needs to occur if you're going to win a game. That's the No. 1 team on the power play and we gave them too many looks on that."

Clarkson’s first goal was on a 5-on-3 power play when Jeff Baum and Shane Kavanaugh in the box. 

"We took two penalties against the best power play in the country,” Leaman said. 

It's immaturity. The second penalty, there was no need for that penalty, a neutral-zone trip. That allowed them to get back in the game. We were playing a very good game up to that point."

About one third through the season, Providence probably hasn’t played its best hockey yet and the Friars look to be one of the top teams in Hockey East. Currently they’re ranked No. 13 in the Pairwise, just one slot behind Boston College as the top-ranked team in the league. New Hampshire is only a few spots below (No. 16), but the Wildcats appear to be slipping (2-4-1 in their last 7 games), and the next closest Hockey East team is Massachusetts at No. 24.

Remember, the Friars went on a run in the second half of last season.

Is it a “down year” for Hockey East? Perhaps. The league’s non-conference record will hurt teams hunting for at-large bids come March. But it also means that the league is more wide open than ever. Despite Providence’s “lack of consistency,” as Leaman put it, no one is running away with the conference yet and it means that despite some ups and downs, the Friars are still very much in the hunt for the Lamoriello Trophy.

“If we want these big moments, we need to attack them better,” Leaman said. “I thought for the first period (against Clarkson) we attacked it pretty well, but as the game went on, I thought their forechecks and their gaps were tighter. I thought our gaps were a little too loose and it gave their forwards too much space. 

“Overall I want more guys that want the puck in a game like this and I want us to grow up and be a lot more mature in a game like this and understand that it's going to be a low-scoring game and we need to stay out of the box if we're going to be successful.”

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