February 7, 2008
Providence Homing In on Top-Four Finish

By Jeff Howe

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.

Hockey East Notebook

Among defensemen, only Alaska's Tyler Eckford and Miami's Alec Martinez have surpassed Matt Taormina's 23 points.

National TV Schedule

“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 Magazine Poll.

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 huge relief.”

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 UMass.

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.”


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 like this.”

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
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New 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.

Stick Salute

UNH goalie Kevin Regan is 7-0-0 with a 1.57 goals-against average and two shutouts against Hockey East competition since Dec. 1.

Bench Minor

Boston University 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.


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 last Saturday.

• 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 at jeff@insidecollegehockey.com.