It took them 30 years to get back to the championship game, not to mention some much needed puck luck to be in a position to win it, but Providence College finally earned their first National Championship as they defeated Boston University by a 4-3 score at the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four.
Providence forward Brandon Tanev provided the winning margin with a goal late in the third period, which came after a tying goal that Boston University goaltender Matt O’Connor would probably like back.
The game was a showdown between two Hockey East schools, one a storied program with many national titles under their belts, the other a smaller school with a long hockey history but little to show for it.
The early going in the title game belonged to Providence as they put on some pressure in the Terriers’ end. Friars’ forward Brian Pinho very nearly scored an early goal when Terriers goaltender Matt O’Connor misplayed the puck behind the net, but O’Connor stopped Pinho to keep the game scoreless.
Despite the early surge by the Friars, the Terriers found their legs near the five-minute mark of the first. As the Terriers applied pressure in the Friars’ zone, they drew the first penalty of the game, a holding the stick penalty to Tom Parisi.
Despite some good puck movement by the Terriers, the Friars killed the penalty. Not long after, they netted the first goal of the game.
Off a rush into the Terriers zone, Friars forward Noel Acciari launched a shot off the right post. The puck made its way back to the right point onto Anthony Florentino’s stick, who promptly blasted the puck past O’Connor to give Providence the 1-0 lead. Acciari and Shane Luke earned the assists on the goal, which came with 9:25 gone in the first period.
Florentino talked about the goal after the game.
“I saw the puck squirt out, saw an opportunity, and just tried to get it on net,” explained Florentino. “Our forwards (were) doing such a great job crashing the net.”
Following the Providence goal, Boston University began putting more pressure on the Friars, with Providence doing a good job of clogging the lanes and blocking shots in front of goaltender Jon Gillies. But the Terriers persisted, and that effort would pay off.
With a faceoff in the Providence end to Gillies’ right, the puck came to Terriers forward Ahti Oksanen. Oksanen fired a bad angle shot from the circle that managed to squeak past Gillies and into the net to tie the game at one. The goal game with 7:10 left in the first period, and was unassisted.
While Boston University fans were still celebrating the first goal, on the ensuing faceoff the Terriers quickly moved into the Providence zone. Jack Eichel dished the puck to Danny O’Regan, who quickly backhanded a shot past Gillies to make the score 2-1 for the Terriers. Eichel had the only assist on the goal, which came just four seconds after the Terriers’ first goal, representing a new record for the fastest two goals in an NCAA Tournament game.
If there was any thought that Gillies might fold after the Terriers’ rapid-fire goals, he said after the game that the thought never entered his mind.
“I mean, obviously that’s one in a big game that you’d like to have back,” admitted Gillies. “But I think it’s a testament to our team where they had my back 100 percent and they didn’t lose faith in me, thankfully, and I just tried to reset, especially after that second goal, it was kind of a weird bounce. It ended up right in front of our net and Danny O’Regan was able to put it home.”
While Providence showed some physical play in their semi-final game against Nebraska-Omaha, it was Boston University that was putting the body on the Friars players in the first period. The quick goals combined with their physical play allowed the Terriers to turn the momentum in their favor as the first period wore on.
The first period ended with the Terriers taking a penalty, to John MacLeod for hooking with just 18 seconds left.
Boston University led on the scoreboard, 2-1, as well as on the shot clock where they held an 18-6 advantage.
The Terriers killed off the penalty to begin the second, with the Friars’ Trevor Mingoia getting the best chance off a nice feed from Mark Jankowski. O’Connor made the save, and the score remained 2-1.
Just 2:33 into the second period, MacLeod picked up his second penalty, this time for interference, putting the Friars back on the power play.
The Friars applied pressure on the power play, with Mark Jankowski taking a nice cross-ice feed from Mingoia and firing a one-timer past O’Connor to tie the game at two. Mingoia and Ross Mauermann notched the assists, with the goal coming 4:29 into the second period.
The teams traded chances shortly after the Jankowski goal, but Gillies and O’Connor were both up to the task. But momentum began to swing in the Terriers favor, as they built a shot advantage of 32-14 just past the halfway point of the second period.
With just under nine minutes left in the period and a faceoff in the Providence end, the Terriers’ Oksanen gained control of the puck and fired a shot that Gillies stopped, but rebounded to Cason Hohmann, who then moved across the slot and fired a shot past Gillies to put the Terriers in front, 3-2. Oksanen had the only assist on the goal, which came with 8:24 left in the second period.
Late in the period, Eichel showed off some of his strength as he powered past Friars’ defender Kyle McKenzie for a good scoring chance on Gillies. Gillies made the save, however, and the period ended with Boston University in the lead, 3-2, and leading in shots by a 40-23 advantage. The Terriers’ 40 shots on goal after two periods, as well as Gillies’ 37 saves, were both NCAA championship game records.
The Terriers’ Hohmann indicated that the number of shots fired at Gillies was not due to any special plan the team devised for Providence.
“We came out the same way we’ve been playing all season,” said Hohmann. “Got pucks behind the defensemen. Cycle down low. Won a lot of faceoffs, a lot of goals off faceoffs tonight. So that was huge for us.”
The third period began with the two teams trading chances, and both goaltenders making stops. Then, with 4:23 gone in the third, Eichel took a penalty for hooking, giving the Friars their third power play of the game. Eichel slammed the door to the penalty box in frustration, in part because he felt that the Friars should have been called for a holding the stick penalty on his previous shift.
The Friars applied some pressure with the man advantage, with Jankowski again getting a good scoring chance from the slot and O’Connor making a glove save. The Terriers weathered the storm, however, and killed off the penalty.
The two teams traded chances over the next five minutes, including prime scoring chances for Mingoia, Oksanen, Acciari, and O’Regan, but O’Connor and Gillies continued turning away those opportunities.
Then, with under nine minutes remaining in the third period, the Friars’ Parisi lofted what was a seemingly harmless floater towards the Terriers’ goal. O’Connor caught the puck in his glove, but inadvertently dropped the puck between his legs before knocking it into the net. Parisi was credited with the goal, leaving the Terriers dumbfounded and the score knotted at 3-3. The goal came with 8:24 left in the third.
O’Connor explained after the game what happened on the tying goal.
“I couldn’t really see it in my glove,” said a dejected O’Connor. “I thought it rolled out of it. I tried to drop and throw it to Jack and it was too late.”
If there was any thought that the Terriers would be down on their goaltender after allowing that goal, team captain Matt Grzelcyk dismissed it following the loss.
“I think it’s definitely important to skate right over to (O’Connor),” stated Grzelcyk. “He’s really been the backbone to our team all year. And I think every guy in the room would agree we wouldn’t be in the championship game without him. And obviously he’s handled all the pressure situations this year.”
With a little over six minutes remaining in the third, the Terriers still led on the shot clock, 44-38, but the Friars were gaining fast.
Then, on a faceoff in the Terriers’ zone, the Friars’ Kevin Rooney won the draw, with teammate Brandon Tanev picking up the puck, moving to the front of the net and beating O’Connor glove side to give Providence the 4-3 lead. The goal, which proved to be the game winner, came with 6:17 left in the period, with Rooney getting the only assist.
Tanev talked about the feeling of scoring that goal following the game.
“It was amazing,” said a happy Tanev. “I couldn’t even register what was going on. It was a heck of a draw win by Kevin Rooney. Steve McParland was able to give me some space and I was able to rip that puck and it went in.”
It was now a do or die situation for the Terriers, with the team pressing the attack in the final minutes.
Terriers’ defenseman Brandon Hickey had one of the more dangerous chances, as he skated in along the wing and fired a shot from the right faceoff circle that Gillies was able to stop.
Then, with 1:49 left in the third, the Terriers pulled O’Connor for the extra attacker. With one minute left, the Terriers had their best chance to tie the game when Hohmann found himself in alone on Gillies. With the goaltender down and seemingly out, Hohmann lunged at a rebound but was not able to knock it past Gillies.
In the final minute of play, the Terriers pressed but the Friars were effective at killing time. The clock wound down to zero, giving Providence College their first-ever National Championship.
After the game, disappointed Boston University head coach David Quinn did not lay blame at the feet of his goaltender, but instead pointed out his team’s lack of experience.
“Sometimes experience is the best remedy for situations that we were in tonight,” said Quinn. “And we don’t have a lot of it. And to go from the year we had last year to be that close to winning a national title is an incredible accomplishment.
“And it shouldn’t be lost in all of this. And I would love to be sitting here as the national champion. I’d like to have our guys have smiles on their faces instead of tears in their eyes, but sometimes it’s a process.”
While obviously happy with the game’s outcome, Providence head coach Nate Leaman was quick to point out that the outcome could easily have gone the other way.
“We beat a terrific opponent tonight,” said Leaman. “I think that’s what makes it a little bit sweeter. That BU team was terrific. They had us on our heels for a lot of the first and second period, and we were just kind of hanging in there. Jonny (Gillies) held us in there.
“And I thought it’s a little bit like our season. We started a little bit slow but we got better and better. And we played — we played a pretty good third period, and obviously got a big bounce.”
Leaman was pleased that his players were able to experience winning a championship, but also knows that others have helped the program get to where it is now.
“I think it’s a good representation that when you have your alumni, your administration, your school, everyone behind you, that great things can happen,” explained Leaman. “And this is about a school coming together and winning a championship. Our president and our athletic director – you’ve got to have support from these people if you’re going to be successful. And we’re fortunate enough to have support like that.
“And we’re fortunate enough to be a Catholic school where they say a lot of prayers,” Leaman added with a grin.