November 15, 2007
Providence Is Attaining Intangible Success

By Jeff Howe

When Providence began the season with four straight losses and a 1-5-1 record through seven games, it looked like the same old story from a season ago.

That was, of course, until the Friars traveled to Orono last weekend and swept the Black Bears for the first time in 22 years. Providence had been outscored by nine goals in its first seven contests, but knocked out Maine 6-2 last Friday and 1-0 on Saturday.

Hockey East Notebook

Providence goalie Tyler Sims tied the program's career record for shutouts, with five.

National TV Schedule

Per Hockey East's stark mediocrity this season, Providence jumped from the league's basement into a five-way tie for first place after last weekend's play.

Whether or not the Friars can sustain that momentum – they host UMass Lowell and New Hampshire this weekend – remains to be seen. But, if there is a reversal of fortune from last year, it may have everything to do with Tim Army's new philosophy.

Army, in his third year on the Providence bench, has been through a roller coaster of yearly game plans. This one, however, is much more simple. He admits it's cliché, which fits in perfectly around the New England sports scene these days, but Army only asks his team to get better one day at a time.

Last season, on the heels of a surprising fifth-place finish in the Hockey East regular-season standings in 2005-06, Army instituted some lofty goals prior to Providence's first game, a move he now calls a mistake.

"I thought we could achieve a home-ice berth," Army said. "I thought we should play at the Garden, and with that, find our way into the NCAA tournament. Those were some things that I had really stressed from the get-go. I think those things are understood everywhere every year. I think you're always trying to achieve that kind of success, but I think when you put a number on it, when you put something tangible out there, I think it's good if your team is ready for it.

"I think it can work to backfire if your team is not ready for it. I don't think we were necessarily ready for it with the development of our program at that point in time. I tried to validate it a little bit and put something tangible out there to let the guys know how much confidence we had in them and what we thought they could achieve. But, I think as we lost some games early in the year, it turned it sort of into a negative in a sense that our guys all of a sudden started to question themselves – where they thought they should be at this level where maybe we weren't quite at that level. It worked to I think disrupt our daily rhythm at the expense of trying to get better every day. I think it's a good thing to do when your program is at a certain point and you have the right kind of personnel that can accept those kind of challenges. But if your team is not at that stage and not quite ready for that type of approach, it can hinder your development, and I thought that's what sort of happened last year."

Army couldn't be more right. The Friars returned much of their talent in Tyler Sims and Jon Rheault, among others, but they failed spectacularly in trying to repeat their successes from the previous season. Providence finished 9-15-3 in Hockey East play, good for an eighth seed, and then got swept – 4-0 and 6-0 – by UNH in the first round of the playoffs.

"I probably made a mistake with that last year," Army said. "We had a surprisingly good year my first year. Last year, we struggled a bit. We certainly didn't have the success that we expected, and I kind of put a number on what I expected us to do. It was really, from my perspective, a way to say to our guys that I think we're really a good team and that we can compete. Sometimes, that can make it more difficult. In hindsight, I don't think we were ready for that.

"[This season], we just stay focused on trying to get better, keep improving. I like the things we have. I like our personnel, and we'll see where that leaves us standing come March."


Gerbe Suspension: Boston College junior forward Nathan Gerbe was issued a one-game, league-mandated suspension last Saturday. He was forced to sit out the Eagles' 5-2 loss at New Hampshire. According to a statement issued by Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, the suspension stemmed from actions from Friday night's 3-3 tie with Merrimack at Conte Forum.

"While a suspension might not have been forthcoming on [Friday] night's actions alone, this is not the first time this season that I have been made aware of inappropriate behavior from Nathan," Bertagna said in the statement. "Given the fact that he had already been put on notice, I felt that supplemental discipline was in order in this instance."

Bertagna would not comment further on the suspension, saying he would stick to last Saturday's statement.

According to reports, Gerbe was accused of butt-ending Merrimack players during last Friday's game.

Bertagna told Inside College Hockey last year he has several ways in which he levies punishments. Depending on the severity of the incident, Bertagna can make a phone call, write a private letter of reprimand, a public letter of reprimand or suspend the guilty party.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Boston College at UMass (Fri.)
BC visits Massachusetts Friday night in the only matchup between nationally-ranked teams in Hockey East action this weekend. UMass has declared its "Operation 8K" campaign for the game in an attempt to draw 8,000 fans to the Mullins Center, which is fast becoming one of the great venues to watch a game in Hockey East.

While You're There: After the game, head uptown and visit Charlie's, the best bar in town. Make sure you grab a late-night slice at Antonio's afterward.

Stick Salute

UMass Lowell Director of Athletics Dana Skinner announced in a release Wednesday the University and the Tsongas Arena agreed to a two-year extension on their lease that will run through 2010.

Bench Minor

Boston University's third-period defense has been on the wrong side of atrocious this season. The Terriers have allowed 16 goals in the final frame, more than any Hockey East team has given up in the third period this season. No one else has allowed more goals in any period this season, though Merrimack has surrendered 16 second-period goals. Conversely, UNH has given up just 16 goals all year.


• The Hockey East standings are a bit cluttered, to say the least, heading into the weekend's action. New Hampshire, Boston College, Massachusetts, Providence and Northeastern are tied atop the league with seven points each. Boston University and Maine each have five points, and Vermont, UMass Lowell and Merrimack all have three points.

"This year, more than any year than I've seen, it seems it's the tightest and the closest that the 10 teams are competitively," Army said. "It makes for some very interesting logjams in the standings right now. I think it's highly competitive, the most competitive it's been, and I only expect it to get more difficult as we move into the future."

• Boston College and Merrimack wrapped up their season series last weekend with a 3-3 tie at Conte Forum. The Eagles took the series, 2-0-1, and they extended their unbeaten streak over the Warriors to 17 games (14-0-3). BC also extended its home unbeaten streak over Merrimack to 20 games (18-0-2).

• Boston University has scored a power-play goal in eight straight games.

• Vermont hosts BU for a pair this weekend, which recently has worked out well for the Catamounts, who are 1-0-3 in their last four home games against BU.

• Maine goalie Ben Bishop lost his first career 1-0 game when the Black Bears fell to Providence Saturday at Alfond Arena.

• UMass is finding out how much easier it is to win when you score a lot. The Minutemen are 37-0-1 in their last 38 contests when scoring four or more goals.

• UMass Lowell recorded back-to-back ties last weekend, the first time it's done that since Oct. 27-28, 2006. Goalies Carter Hutton (39 saves at UNH) and Nevin Hamilton (36 against UMass) each posted career highs in saves over the weekend.

• Matt Jones became the first Merrimack player to score two goals in a game since Justin Mills scored twice at BU on Dec. 30, 2005. Jones scored twice in the 3-3 tie with BC Friday. The Warriors have scored three goals in the final five seconds of a period this season.

• UNH is 4-0-0 against nationally ranked teams this season but just 1-1-1 against unranked opponents. The Wildcats have scored three goals in a period in all five of their wins this season (four times in the third, once in the second).

• Northeastern is 3-3-1 in Hockey East play for the first time in 10 years, which is the last time the Huskies finished with a winning record in conference (13-8-3).

• Providence goalie Tyler Sims earned his third shutout against Maine in his career Saturday night. He's the only netminder in school history with multiple shutouts against the Black Bears. It was also Sims' fifth shutout all-time, tying Mario Proulx's school record.

• Peter Lenes snapped Vermont's 0-for-22 skid with a power-play goal in a 2-1 win at Merrimack Saturday.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached at