November 2, 2006
Friars Try to Get Their Groove Back

By Jeff Howe

With a 1-4-1 record, a four-game winless streak and a scary Halloween showdown with Boston College on the horizon, the Providence Friars were staring at the end of an ornery October. But after tricking BC 5-3 on Tuesday, things are again looking up in Rhode Island’s capital.

Hockey East Notebook

Providence junior Jon Rheault, who has five points in seven games this season, has been a steady for the inconsistent Friars.

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The Friars returned most of their key pieces from last year’s overachieving team, including six players who scored at least 19 points and their starting goalie in Tyler Sims. With a 17-16-3 record (14-10-3 in Hockey East), Providence finished in fifth place. Sure, Providence entered the second half tied for the conference lead before fading after the New Year, but the foundation was there.

Forced to find the tools to rebuild that foundation after this season's poor start, coach Tim Army at least found a place to start after upsetting the Eagles.

“We’ve still got work to do,” Army said. “We played well, and we beat a very, very good team so that’s a positive. But we need to continue to play consistently. We were inconsistent in our first four games of the year, the non-conference games.

“We played our best 60 minutes of the year against a very good team and came away with the win, but now we’ve got to reload and stay focused on the things we need to do to be a good team.”

One of those areas is the power play unit, which is playing worse than any in Hockey East right now. The Friars have scored just four power-play goals in 45 chances this season. Even worse, they have given up two short-handed tallies.

“I think the biggest thing for us will be our power play,” Army admitted. “In the beginning, we really struggled. We’re starting to get more pucks to the net in the power play, and we’ve scored on the power play in each of our last three games so that is coming around. That will springboard our offense and what we’re able to get five-on-five.”

The offense was a concern for Army heading into the season. Even with the depth coming back in that area, he lost leading scorer Torry Gajda. Before the five-goal outburst against Boston College, Providence was averaging two goals per game through its first six contests.

“We’re getting numbers to the net, and I think that is coming around,” Army said. “The more you put pressure on the net, the more you put pucks on the net, the more you give yourself percentage-wise in respect to finishing off those chances. I think guys are going to finish off those chances once they get a little more comfortable in scoring situations.”

On the other end of the ice, the Friars have dealt with the ups and downs of Sims, who worked out to add muscle in the offseason so he wouldn’t wear down in the spring. He struggled in the opener against Clarkson and has sputtered at times in other contests, but has improved of late.

“Like a lot of players, you’ve got to find a rhythm to your game, and I think [Sims] is finding his rhythm and getting a little more settled and comfortable,” Army said. “If you look at his last three games, he has looked very, very good.”

Moving forward, Providence has to rebound quickly from its midweek clash at the Heights for a home-and-home with UMass Friday and Saturday. The challenge to come off an emotional high to prepare on a short week is difficult, but Army has his troops ready.

“We’ve worked hard the last two days,” he said. “You can’t completely get into the players’ minds at any level and completely change their thinking. It was a good win, and we’ve got to enjoy it. But we’ve got to get right back and ready for Friday. It’s a Tuesday night so classes are on Wednesday. We’ve got to get right back at it and get your schoolwork done.

“We had a meeting [Wednesday] and a good, hard practice. There was no letup. We proceeded like we would on any Wednesday. I think that tries to bring guys back to reality that we’ve got to play good hockey.

October wasn’t a tremendously kind month to the Friars, but that was the case last year as well. After a 3-3-0 opening month in 2005, Providence went 3-1-1 in Hockey East competition in November – which also started with a home-and-home against Massachusetts – before a 5-0-0 mark in December.


Ortiz flashes the Whitt: UMass trailed by a goal and was fighting to seize momentum in a building that historically had been cruel to them, when a freshman who plays with the flair of a Reggie Bush dropped every jaw in UNH’s building.

Heading into the Wildcat zone with just Brad Flaishans to beat, UMass forward Will Ortiz toe-dragged the defenseman out of his sweater then placed a shot on goalie Kevin Regan. The puck bounced off the netminder’s pads to teammate Mark Matheson, who caught Regan out of position and tied the game at 1-1.

“The only thing that was going through my head was just trying to get the puck on net,” Ortiz said with a hint of modesty after his team’s 3-2 win on Oct. 26. “We needed to get some shots. That’s what I tried to do. I rushed the puck up, had a chance to skate, got the shot off and it was a great play by Matheson to rush the net and score.”

“Some people can do it at full speed, and a lot of other people can’t,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said of the toe drag. “It obviously surprised everybody in the building I think, and maybe even Will that he toe-dragged him and walked him the way that he did. The best part of the move was his ability to get the shot off. It was at the end of a shift, and he was pretty tired.”

Chris Davis, who scored UMass’ second goal in similarly impressive fashion by fighting off three UNH skaters for a loose puck in the neutral zone before beating Regan, said Ortiz may be wowing hockey fans for quite some time.

“Ortiz a fiery player out there,” Davis said. “He’s got a lot of speed and a lot of grit. He’s been creating a lot of turnovers. He’s been getting in there and getting a lot of shots. He has gotten some power play time so if he keeps being aggressive and getting in people’s faces, he’s going to have some success.”

While this may have been the first time he has pulled off such a move on a big stage, teammates said they see it all the time in practice.

“He’s always trying to pull off moves,” Davis said. “He’s a creative player. You can learn a little bit from that – trying to be creative out there with the puck. It’s a good thing that this team needs.”

Ortiz said it’s just about trying to have a good time.

“I like to go out there and mess around,” he said. “I’m enthusiastic out there. I like to have fun. That’s the way it is. I play this game to have fun. It’s a competitive sport as well, but you’ve got to remember you play this game to have fun first.”.


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Maine at Boston University (Sat.)
The defending conference champs host this early season’s flavor of the month in the first marquee matchup on the league slate thus far. Perfect through six games, Maine has been tremendous in every area of the game on its way to the top billing in the country. BU has only played four times this season with a 2-1-1 record, but the loss came at home last Friday to a young Lowell team.

While You’re There: If you’re from Maine (or anywhere out of state), obtain immediate Massachusetts residence, register to vote, and check Deval Patrick on your ballot in the race for the Bay State governorship Tuesday.

Stick Salute

We’re going to bend the rules a bit here to salute someone outside of the hockey world. Every sports fan felt a loss when Celtics icon Red Auerbach passed Saturday. Light one up for Red this week. He was a pioneer, a champion, a deep thinker, and a true legend. We could take up all the space on the Internet to sing his praises, so we’ll just keep it at that.

Bench Minor

The UMass Lowell special teams have just a 33.3 efficiency rate, tied with Brown for the worst mark in the country. The power play is ninth in Hockey East (tied for 49th in the nation), successful on four of 38 chances. The penalty kill is 10th (58th nationally), giving up 12 power play goals in 31 tries.

• The lights went out at Alfond Arena with about eight minutes remaining in the second period of Saturday’s game between Maine and UMass. The teams went to their respective locker rooms during what turned out to be a 15-minute delay, then came out to play the rest of the second period and the first 10 minutes of the third before another 15-minute break to resurface the ice. When all was said and done, Maine won 4-1.

• UNH’s Whittemore Center was missing something last year after the athletic department pulled the plug on the song “Black Betty” at hockey games. The NAACP asked the school to can the music because of its offensive lyrics. The song has made a reappearance this season, though, but just as an instrumental.

• Maine has stormed out to a 6-0-0 start and, fittingly, the Black Bears also swiped all three of Hockey East’s October honors. Michel Léveillé racked up six goals and five assists to earn Player of the Month. Ben Bishop backstopped all six wins with a 1.40 goals against average and .944 save percentage to earn Goaltender of the Month. And phenom Teddy Purcell recorded five goals and three assists to be tabbed Rookie of the Month.

• Boston College swept Wisconsin on the road last weekend with the help of Cory Schneider’s hefty effort in net. The junior goalie stopped 56 of 57 shots to earn Hockey East Player of the Week recognition. He also picked up his 10th career shutout with the 3-0 win on Friday.

• Northeastern gave host Michigan all it could handle in two games over the weekend. The Huskies dropped a 4-3 overtime decision Friday before easing past the Wolverines by a 3-2 margin Saturday. Freshman goalie Brad Thiessen knocked aside 45 shots in the victory and shared the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week award.

Merrimack’s Jim Healey made 67 saves in two contests last weekend to share the honor with Thiessen. Merrimack won 4-3 at Providence and then tied Brown 3-3 in North Andover.

• Former UMass forward and current Hershey Bear Stephen Werner had two fighting majors in AHL action over the weekend. He challenged Albany's Joe Barnes on Friday and Albany's Mitch Love on Saturday.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report