On paper, the 2015 Frozen Four semi-final matchup of Providence College and the University of Nebraska-Omaha looked like a potentially tight NCAA contest. And it was close on the scoreboard heading into the third period, with the Friars up 2-0 on the Mavericks.
But on the ice at TD Garden in Boston, MA it was a different story, as a physical Providence team wore down the smaller Omaha squad until they were finally able to beat Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa. Indeed, Massa was the only impediment to a Providence blowout.
After a five-minute feeling out period between the two clubs that included a failed power play attempt by Providence, the Friars started to get their physical game into gear. The Friars’ first line of team captain Ross Mauermann centering Shane Luke and Trevor Mingoia set the tone, looking dangerous virtually every time they touched the ice.
Mauermann set the physical tone for the Friars, laying a good hit on Mavericks’ forward Avery Peterson near center ice. The Friars seemed to feed off of that hit, turning up the pressure on the Mavericks over the next 10 minutes.
Mauermann and Mingoia each had a pair of chances in close on Massa in the first 10 minutes, but the Mavericks’ senior goaltender was up to the task on all four chances.
Providence continued putting pressure on Omaha, upping the shot count to 13-5 in their favor with less than five minutes remaining in the first.
The Mavericks finally found there legs in the final five minutes of the first, with the first line of Jake Guentzel, David Pope and Austin Ortega working the puck in the Friars’ zone. Guentzel tried a wraparound that nearly caught Providence goaltender Jon Gillies napping, but the game remained scoreless.
Omaha’s second line got into the act late in the first, with Tyler Vesel and Justin Parizek each having chances in close, but Gillies was equal to the task on both scoring chances.
The first period ended scoreless, with Providence holding the edge in shots by a 16-9 margin.
Whatever momentum the Mavericks may have gained towards the end of the first dissipated through the first 10 minutes of the second period as the Friars upped the pressure on Massa.
Omaha captain Brian O’Rourke added to the Mavericks’ woes by taking an elbowing penalty. While the penalty was killed successfully, the momentum created for Providence tilted the ice in their favor for much of the second period, with Omaha having trouble advancing past the red line.
A scramble around the Mavericks’ net led to the first goal of the game.
The Friars’ gained the offensive zone, with forward Brian Pinho lofting the puck towards the Omaha net. Massa directed the puck back towards the slot, but it bounced right back to Massa off his own defenseman. Massa then tried to cover the puck, but Friars’ forward Nick Saracino poked the puck to the left side of the crease, where Noel Acciari finished off the play to give Providence a 1-0 lead. Saracino and Pinho drew assists on the goal, which came at 11:02 of the second period.
Massa admitted afterwards that he would like to have played that goal differently.
“(Pinho) shot it through our (defenseman’s) legs and didn’t put too much on it,” Massa related. “So when it hit me, it just kind of got out of reach. I went to go grab it and I think one of our guys got his stick in there just as I was going down with my hand and it kind of pinballed around. I lost sight of it, and then just I heard the horn. So I watched the replay a bit and it looked like he got the rebound off the backside of the net. Tough play. Obviously would like to maybe control that just a little bit better. But they found a way to put it in.”
Just under four minutes later, Providence would add to their lead on a goal that featured a deft offensive touch.
Providence forward Mark Jankowski gained control of the puck in the left corner of the offensive zone, then passed the puck back to Saracino. Saracino returned the favor, passing to Jankowski in the slot, who then deked Massa, lifting the puck over his right pad and into the net to give the Friars a 2-0 lead. Saracino picked up an assist on the play, his second point of the period, as did Jake Walman. The time of the goal was 14:58.
Jankowski talked about the goal after the game.
“It started with Trevor (Mingoia),” explained Jankowski. “He won a great battle against their player and got it to Nick (Saracino), and Nick found me in front of the net. It was a great play by those two players. I just tried to outwait Massa there. He sprawled on the ice. I just tried to get it up over his pad.”
The combination of scoring and physical play appeared to be wearing down Omaha at this point of the game, but they managed to escape the second period down just two goals. The shots at the end of the second favored Providence by a 33-16 count.
The third period began much like the second had ended, with Providence producing another prime scoring chance and Massa turning away the shot, in this case from third-line forward Kevin Rooney.
Omaha seemed to pick up their play after that, as they pressured Providence in the offensive zone for the first time since late in the first period. Vesel was denied by Gillies during this flurry, but he would soon figure into Omaha’s first goal.
Midway through the third period, the Mavericks moved the puck deep into the Friars’ zone. Gillies gained control of the puck and passed it up the boards, only to have Vesel get control of the puck. Vesel wasted little time in firing a pass to Jake Guentzel, who then buried a shot past Gillies on his blocker side. Vesel had the only assist on the goal, which came at 10:46 of the third period.
But, just 24 seconds later, the cheering from the Omaha fans would turn to disbelief as Providence took back their two-goal lead.
Almost immediately after the Omaha goal, Providence moved the puck behind the Omaha cage. Mauermann battled with a Mavericks’ defender, with Jankowski retrieving the loose puck behind the goal line. Jankowski then walked it to the corner before passing to an open Mingoia in the slot, who immediately buried a one-timer into the upper left corner of the net to give Providence the 3-1 lead. Jankowski and Mauermann received the assists on the goal, which came at 11:10 of the final frame.
Providence head coach Nate Leaman said after the game that Mingoia’s goal could not have come at a better time.
“The best thing about (Mingoia’s goal) is that I thought we were slipping with some things we wanted to do in the third period,” admitted Leaman. “Right after we scored that goal, all the guys on the bench were saying the right things. We played the rest of the game the way that we wanted to play it in that third period.”
Indeed, that goal seemed to take the wind out of the sails of Omaha as they mounted very little pressure over the remainder of the game. Providence added an empty-net goal, by Saracino, at the 19:29 mark to make the final score 4-1, with assists going to Rooney and Anthony Florentino. The Friars finished with 48-26 advantage in shots, which was indicative of how they had controlled the game.
Omaha head coach Dean Blais felt that a couple of factors played into his team’s semi-final loss.
“I just think they were more relaxed than us,” said Blais. “We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. We had a routine. You get into a routine, no matter if you’re in the regular season or the Frozen Four. But I thought when we hit the ice, we didn’t execute like we wanted to. We had simple rules. Yell for the puck. Get it in deep. Try not to turn it over. And we didn’t accomplish that.
“But give Providence credit. They have more of a veteran set of forwards than we do, and I think they played with more confidence than we did.”
Providence advances to face Hockey East rival Boston University in the NCAA championship game on Saturday night. Leaman knows his team is in for a tough game against the Terriers, and is keenly aware of one player in particular.
“BU is big-time skill,” said Leaman. “They can pick you apart if you give them time in space. They have the best player in the country in Jack Eichel, in my opinion. You’ve always have to be aware of where he’s at and where he’s going.”
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