Homing In on Top-Four Finish
The Providence Friars aren’t just happy
to be here. Sure, they’ve all but erased their horrid
start and vaulted into third place in Hockey East, but they
aren’t satisfied with briefly crashing the party.
In fact, they want more.
defensemen, only Alaska's Tyler Eckford and Miami's
Alec Martinez have surpassed Matt Taormina's 23 points.
“I haven’t had home ice for the
playoffs at all in my two years,” junior defenseman
Matt Taormina said. “This year might be a little different.
They haven’t had home-ice advantage in I don’t
know how long. That’s one thing we look at as something
to accomplish, having home ice. The other thing is trying
to take over first place.”
In fact, Providence hasn’t hosted a
playoff series since 2003, but it was swept by Boston University.
During Taormina’s tenure at PC, the Friars are 0-4
in playoff games — all against New Hampshire —
having been outscored a combined 16-1.
So, it may be a bit opportunistic to be thinking
of conference championships at this stage, but it’s
a breath of fresh air to see a team outside of the league’s
Big Four unwilling to settle for less.
And with the way the Friars have been playing
lately, the lofty goals aren’t unwarranted. Providence
is 11-4-2 since its 1-5-1 start, and is 5-2-1 since the
New Year. It’s currently on a four-game unbeaten streak
(3-0-1), and the only team that has gotten a point out of
PC in that stretch is Merrimack, which needed a 50-save
performance out of Andrew Braithwaite, the only Hockey East
goalie who has done that this season.
As a result, the Friars are earning national
recognition. They’re ninth in the Inside College Hockey
power rankings and No. 11 in the USA Today/American Hockey
Their coming-out party came last Friday when
the Friars won at Boston College for the first time in five
years. Providence jumped out to a 2-0 lead before BC drew
even, but Taormina broke the tie at 15:33 of the third,
calling his third game-winning goal of the season “a
Now, Providence is a point behind Boston College
for second place and has a game in hand, and Taormina’s
production is a big reason why. He has a team-high 15 assists
and is tied with Jon Rheault for the team lead with 23 points.
Taormina’s eight goals are the most in the nation
among defensemen, and he is tied for the top mark in the
country among blueliners with 0.96 points per game.
He credits his sudden spike in scoring to
the health of his left shoulder. Taormina played all 36
games in his freshman season despite a pain in the shoulder
that continued to get “worse and worse,” and
he found out when the year was over he had a torn labrum.
He said he didn’t feel comfortable until the very
end of his sophomore campaign, and he’s finally healthy
for a full season for the first time in years.
“I wasn’t up to strength, and
my confidence went down,” Taormina said. “This
year, Coach [Tim Army] has put me in numerous positions
to help the team succeed, and I’m taking that chance.
My confidence has really been a big part.”
The same can be said for his teammates, but
they’ll need that confidence more than ever down the
stretch. While the Friars trail first-place UNH by four
points, they’re also only six points ahead of eighth-place
And they’ve got a gauntlet of a schedule
over the regular season’s final five weeks. Providence
hosts Vermont for a pair this weekend before finishing with
home-and-homes against New Hampshire, Merrimack, Boston
College, and Boston University. But Taormina knows if the
Friars are going to pull off something special, they’ll
have to earn it. And so will their opposition.
“The past couple years, we haven’t
been at the top, and we’ve struggled against those
[top] teams,” Taormina said. “This year, with
our talent, we’ve definitely proven to ourselves and
are trying to prove to the rest of the hockey world that
we’re here and we’re as good as they are. It’s
not going to be easy when somebody says, ‘Oh, we’re
playing Providence.’ It’s not going to be too
easy of a game. That’s just one thing we’re
trying to build is our name. We’re not letting down
for any team.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Let it snow: Like the Beanpot,
the Blizzard of ’78 is of little relevance to those
outside the New England region. But throw a little hockey,
a ton of snow, mass chaos and a trophy into the mix, and
you’ve got yourself a bender in Beantown.
Thirty years later, and it’s an anniversary.
The snow started on the first Beanpot Monday
in 1978 and picked up as the night — and week —
went on. In all, about four and a half feet of the fluffy
stuff fell on Boston over the course of four days, crippling
the city and hampering the Beanpot, as well.
The semifinals got off without a hitch, though
thousands evacuated the Boston Garden as the night progressed,
but the championship was delayed until March 1, when Boston
University beat Harvard, 7-1. It’s the only Beanpot
title game not played in February since the tournament changed to its current "first two Mondays of the second month" schedule back in 1955.
“Hey, it’s New England,”
said Brian Durocher, who was a goalie and co-captain of
the '78 Terriers. “It’s winter. There are snowstorms
that are going to paralyze you for a little while. But nothing
Durocher’s Terriers handed Boston College
a 12-5 beatdown in the semifinals before spending the rest
of the night and much of the next morning at The Dugout,
the hockey team’s hot spot back in the day.
“Midway through the evening and into
the night, you kept hearing it was getting worse and worse,”
said Durocher, who is in his third year coaching the BU
women’s hockey team. “There were announcements
on the PA system that the transit was going to shut down.
You knew that the six-odd hours we were in the Garden, it
was really snowing like crazy, and the reports were going
to be worse than they thought. It was a mess when we were
trying to drive home, a foot on the ground or maybe more
than that. Fortunately, we had come up with a win, and we
were happy going up Comm. Ave.”
Great Weekend Getaway
Hampshire at Maine
Don’t tell folks in Durham and Orono this is
the second-best rivalry in the Northeast. It has a
rare twist this weekend — UNH has a firm hold
on first place in the conference, while Maine is four
points out of the playoffs with 10 games to play.
If the Wildcats can sweep the Black Bears, they’d
severely hamper Maine’s playoff chances. Maine
has missed the Hockey East playoffs once (1997) in
the history of the league.
While You’re There: Head to
Bear Brew, where there is some fine pizza and no shortage
on good times.
Kevin Regan is 7-0-0 with a 1.57 goals-against average
and two shutouts against Hockey East competition since
lost in the first round of the Beanpot for the first
time since 1994. Even more, the Terriers, who had
won the last three Beanpots, had been 25-2 in the
first round as the defending champion before losing
to Boston College in overtime.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Here’s an
interesting Beanpot fact. Monday’s championship round
features Boston College and Harvard, while the consolation
pits Boston University against Northeastern. This will mark
the fifth straight cycle (during Beanpots that feature the
BU-BC first-round pairing) in which the second Monday features
these matchups. However, the previous four cases (2005,
2002, 1999 and 1996) saw BC and Harvard playing in the consolation
game while BU and Northeastern fought for the title.
• It’s time to play everyone’s
favorite game, “If the Season Ended Today.”
While parity has rocked Hockey East this season like no
other, it’s created some unreal first-round matchup
possibilities for the league playoffs.
If the season ended today, for example, New
Hampshire would draw UMass, which has been a great series
for a few years now. BC would also host BU, which wouldn’t
need much help from the hype machine. Providence would entertain
Vermont in a repeat of a series that is going down this
weekend. And Northeastern would draw UMass Lowell.
Missing from these pairings is Maine, which
is four points out of the playoffs heading into the weekend.
• Bret Tyler, who leads Maine with 16
points (six goals, 10 assists), is trying to become the
first Black Bear defenseman to lead the team in scoring
since Jeff Tory in 1994-95.
• UMass is 5-0-0 this season when scoring
five goals in a game and 41-1-1 in its last 43 games when
scoring at least four goals, proving the theory that scoring
a lot directly relates to winning.
• Merrimack’s Andrew Braithwaite
became the first Hockey East goalie this season to record
50 saves when the Warriors skated to a 1-1 draw with Providence
• New Hampshire became the first team
this season to beat every team in Hockey East.
• Boston College junior forward Benn
Ferriero will always remember his 100th career point. He
was credited with an assist on Nathan Gerbe’s game-tying
goal in the third period of BC’s win over Boston University
in the first round of the Beanpot.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached