Down 3-2 with less than 10 minutes to go in last year’s Frozen Four championship game, Providence College scored two third period goals to stun favored Boston University as the Friars went on to a 4-3 victory to take the National Championship. Almost a year later, the Friars embark on their quest to repeat as NCAA champions as they are one of four schools to compete in the Northeast Regional of the 2016 NCAA Hockey Tournament.
Providence comes into this regional as the top-ranked team in this foursome, followed by Boston College, Harvard University, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. None of the four teams comes into the NCAA Tournament on a winning note as they each failed to win their respective conference tournaments.
Below is a preview of the 2016 NCAA Hockey Northeast Regional.
Venue: DCU Center, Worcester, MA
Championship game: March 26 at 9:00 PM EDT on ESPNU
#4 University of Minnesota-Duluth vs. #1 Providence College
TV: Streaming on ESPN3/Watch ESPN at 4:30 PM EDT
This year marks the second time and the first since 1983 that Providence College and Minnesota-Duluth have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Friars and the Bulldogs last met on Oct. 22nd, 2011. This match is also shaping up to be one of the most tight-checking in this year’s tournament as both teams are among the nation’s best puck pressuring teams.
The defending National Champion Friars are making their third consecutive and 12th overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The Friars are coming off of a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in triple overtime to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East Tournament semi-finals.
The biggest story for Providence College heading into the NCAA Tournament is the loss of sophomore defenseman Jake Walman (STL), who saw his season come to an end earlier this month to undergo surgery for an injury that he suffered back in December. The All-Hockey East First Team selection finishes the season with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 27 games. Surprisingly, his 13 goals still lead the nation among defensemen.
While the loss of Walman is significant, Providence College has gotten the rest of their defensive corps to pick up the offensive slack, most notably senior John Gilmour (CGY). The Montreal, QC native currently leads all active Friars defensemen with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 33 games. Gilmour’s 23 points is more than double his point total of last season.
Another Calgary Flames prospect in the midst of his best collegiate season is senior Mark Jankowski. The St. Catharine’s, ON native leads Providence College in nearly all statistical categories including points (40), assists (25) and plus-minus (+25) and earned a spot on the Hockey East All-First Team. One area where Jankowski has excelled this season has been on special teams as, of his 15 goals, nearly half have come on special teams – six on the power play and one shorthanded.
In goal, junior Nick Ellis has, for the most part, picked up from where Jon Gillies left off last season. The Millersville, MD native sports a 25-6-4 record that includes four shutouts in 35 games. His 1.82 goals-against average and .935 save percentage both currently rank in the top six nationally.
Minnesota-Duluth will be making their second consecutive and tenth overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bulldogs are coming off a 3-1 loss to St. Cloud State in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game.
Injuries to some key players resulted in a streaky regular season for Minnesota-Duluth. Now completely healthy, the team is playing some of their best hockey. The Bulldogs head into the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams, winning seven of their last eight games.
Minnesota-Duluth is led up front by two Toronto Maple Leafs prospects in senior Tony Cameranesi and junior Dominic Toninato. Cameranesi leads the Bulldogs in assists (26) and points (36) in 36 games while Toninato leads the team with 15 goals and ranks fourth with 21 points playing in all 38 games to date. Two areas where both players have excelled this season have been on faceoffs and on the power play, with Cameranesi and Toninato having won roughly 50 percent of their draws while combining for 13 power play points (four goals, nine assists).
One of Minnesota-Duluth’s strengths is their formidable defense anchored by senior captain Andy Welinski (ANA). The Duluth, MN native currently leads all Bulldogs defensemen with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 38 games. Most recently, Welinski earned a spot on the All-NCHC Second Team.
Sophomore goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo has built on a stellar freshman campaign. The Vantaa, Finland native has developed into one of the nation’s workhorses, with the 2209:24 minutes that he has played to date currently ranking him fourth nationally. Kaskisuo sports an 18-14-5 record that includes five shutouts in 37 games.