Yes, it’s only two weekends into the Hockey East season, but a surprising name sits atop the Hockey East standings. And while it’s still early, Providence’s season-opening victories over Boston University and Massachusetts to begin the 2011-12 campaign will most certainly attract the attention of the rest of the league’s schools.
New head coach Nate Leaman’s club began the season with an impressive 5-3 victory against the Terriers, then avoided the second-night hangover with a 6-4 win against Massachusetts. The results were perhaps even more surprising since the Friars hadn’t played any games against external competition before facing Boston University.
“The schedule was already made when I started here, so it was both by coincidence and by design,” Leaman said. “We didn’t have any control over that, and I thought we could use the two weeks of practice.”
Without having any idea of what to expect from his club in their first contest of the season, Leaman was as eager as anyone to see his new charges take the ice.
“I was as curious as everyone else, not having coached them in a game yet. I was really happy with our level of competition, and was really happy to see our team go after it and not sit back,” Leaman said.
Not sitting back might be a bit of an understatement. The Friars jumped on Boston University early, scoring twice in the first 3:22 and adding a third later in the first period to take a 3-0 lead into intermission.
“That start was good for us, to get the crowd into the game and get the momentum on our side,” Leaman said. “BU is a well-coached team and they can put you on your heels quickly, so we just tried to stay on them.”
Boston University cut into the lead in the second period and tied the game with a Garrett Noonan goal at the 3:13 mark of the third, but Leaman’s Friars didn’t surrender. Myles Harvey scored his first career goal two and a half minutes later, taking advantage of a high-sticking minor on BU’s Max Nicastro to score a power-play marker with 10 seconds left on the penalty. Ross Mauermann then added to the lead with an insurance tally with just over 11 minutes to play, and the Friars held on for Leaman’s first victory.
“Given the recent history of the program, it would have been really easy for the guys to sit back and settle for the tie, but for them to turn around and go after the game like that, they showed some real mental toughness,” Leaman said.
Harvey was a surprise on the weekend as the junior defenseman had finished his first two years at Providence without a goal. In the first two games of the season, Harvey potted three, adding another pair in Saturday’s game against Massachusetts, to earn the Friars’ first Hockey East Player of the Week honor in nearly two full seasons.
“He’s a guy who wants to get better every day,” Leaman said of the defenseman from Orlando, Fla. “He’s got a lot of poise and has a really good stick for a defenseman at 6-5. He shows up wanting to improve, and I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic and coachability.”
Another strong positive on the weekend was the offensive contribution from a variety of sources. Eight different players accounted for the 11 goals on the weekend, and 15 of the 18 skaters to play picked up at least one point. Even goaltender Alex Beaudry got in on the offensive act, collecting an assist on a shorthanded goal in Saturday’s win over Massachusetts. The variety of contributors wasn’t lost on Leaman.
“We’re going to have to play that way, where we’re manufacturing goals,” Leaman said. “We only scored 75 goals last season and only 25 of those are back this year. It was clear to us at the beginning, and we’re going to continue to talk about it, but we’re going to have to manufacture goals to be successful this year.”
And despite his team being halfway to last season’s Hockey East win total after just one weekend, Leaman and his club set to work right away preparing for this weekend’s series against the defending national champions, Minnesota Duluth, who visit Schneider Rink for a two-game set.
“We turned the page first thing on Monday,” Leaman said. “I thought Alex Beaudry was our best player on the weekend, but we clearly need to improve our play in front of him. This is a huge series for both us as a team and for our league—we’re representing Hockey East, they’re (Minnesota Duluth) representing the WCHA, and we want to represent both ourselves and our league well.”
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Providence wasn’t the only Hockey East club with a new head coach to start off with a sweep in its opening weekend, as UMass Lowell went to Minnesota State and came home with two wins for new coach Norm Bazin. The River Hawks faltered in a mid-week game on Tuesday, though, dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to Connecticut in Nashua, N.H.
• UMass-Lowell is one of two Hockey East clubs who have yet to play their first league game this season. The other: Vermont, who has yet to have any games that count thus far, playing only the U.S. Under-18 National Team on Friday night. The Catamounts finally join the party with a two-game set at Minnesota on Friday and Sunday. Both UMass Lowell and Vermont play their Hockey East openers on Oct. 28.