Providence College season preview

By DJ Powers

The Providence Friars will open their 2005-06 regular season on October 14th when they travel to Cheel Arena to face off against host Clarkson.

It’s the dawning of a new era led by a familiar face at Providence College this season. Former Friars standout Tim Army returns to Providence as the team’s new head coach. He succeeds Paul Pooley, who left to join Jeff Jackson’s staff at Notre Dame. This will be Army’s second coaching stint with Providence after having served as an assistant for six years under Mike McShane.

The new coach wants to stress a more offensively creative, wide-open style this season. Offensive production was a huge problem for the Friars last season, finishing a dismal 49th in the nation and averaging just 2.30 goals per game.

“We want to become a more offensive oriented team,” Army said in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future. “We want to be a team that does rely on speed, creativity and puck skills. We also want to be a team that wants to open up the game a little bit and establish a more of an attacking mentality. I very much want to re-establish the ‘Providence Tradition’ right now. We want to begin to lay the foundation and direction and establish the identity right now. I want my team to be an attacking, up-tempo style of team. I’d like our team to be one that pushes the pace and directs the tempo of the game. I think we have players here who are capable of playing that way. We’re going to readjust the approach here and ultimately establish our new identity.”

The new system will benefit two players in particular this season – junior Colin McDonald (EDM) and sophomore Jon Rheault. McDonald got off to a torrid start to the 2004-05 season before an ankle injury forced him out of the lineup for 11 games. Although he wasn’t able to match the pace after returning from the injury, he was still able to finish the season tied for first on the team in goal scoring with 11. This season, Army is expecting a lot more from his tremendously gifted winger.

“There’s no question that I’d like Colin to get off to the start that he did last season and to have him be a consistent offensive contributor for us this season.”

Rheault finished third on the team in scoring with 19 points (11 goals, 8 assists) in 36 appearances. His stellar rookie campaign earned him numerous honors including the team’s Rev. Herman Schneider Award as the top freshman. Rheault is a player who is offensively creative with excellent speed. Rheault and McDonald along with junior Chase Watson made up one of Hockey East’s most exciting line combinations last season. Army is uncertain whether he’ll keep the intact for this season.

“Those are three key guys, whether we play them together or not will be determined as we piece the lineup together. But I do expect those guys to have big years for us.”

Amongst the other players that will be relied upon to help pick up the scoring include the feisty junior Bill McCreary and team captain Tony Zancanaro. McCreary finished his sophomore season with 14 points (eight goals, six assists) and led the Friars with 62 penalty minutes. If he wasn’t making trying to make some offensive plays, McCreary was wreaking havoc on the opposition. Zancanaro finished with ten points (two goals, eight assists). One area where he really excelled last season was on faceoffs.

In addition to the many returning players, the Friars welcome five new additions to their forward lines that bring with loads of offensive capabilities. Among them are Pierce Norton (TOR), Brad Cooper and John Mori. Norton, a 2004 selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs (ninth round, 285th overall), comes to Providence from Thayer Academy (NEPSIHA), where he amassed 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists). Norton is a player who possesses a rocket of a shot to along with his offensive abilities.

Cooper comes to Providence from the Gold Cup Champion Texas Tornado (NAHL), where he led the NAHL in scoring with 88 points (28 goals, 60 assists). The Dallas, Texas native brings a combination of speed and great playmaking ability to the Friars. Mori comes to Providence from Avon Old Farms (NEPSIHA), where he amassed 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) last season. In addition to his offensive abilities, Mori brings a strong work ethic and tremendous character to Providence.

Another area where Army would like to see more offensive production is from his defensemen.

“I’d like to see our defensemen jump up into the plays, join the rush and basically create some more offense for us. We need to encourage our defensemen to be participants offensively. I think that’s going to compliment and round their games out. I think one of our strengths is the depth our defense as well as our goaltending. I think that our defensemen can add really a complete game,” said Army.

The Friars lost two of their top defensemen to graduation in Eric Lundberg and Jeff Mason. Despite the losses of Lundberg and Mason, Providence returns a stellar group led by senior James Pemberton (FLA) and sophomore Tyler Ludwig (DAL). Pemberton has become one of the Friars most dependable defensemen. He led all Providence blueliners in scoring last season with 12 points (three goals, nine assists). Ludwig enjoyed an outstanding rookie campaign that saw him being utilized in all situations. He finished with seven points (one goal, six assists).

Among the other defensemen that will be counted on to contribute both defensively as well as offensively are junior Dinos Stamoulis and sophomore Marc Bastarache. Stamoulis finished last season with four points (one goal, three assists) in 36 games. Bastarache will be looking to score his first collegiate goal this season and the Friars are hoping that they won’t have to wait as long for Bastarache to score his first collegiate goal as they did with Eric Lundberg. Bastarache finished last season with one assist, which came in the Hockey Easy playoffs.

The Friars defense will have a nice balance of veterans and rookies this season. Three freshmen will add depth to an already solid defensive corps. One well worth watching will be Matt Taormina. He comes to Providence from Texarkana (NAHL), where he finished second in the NAHL among defensemen in scoring with 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists). Taormina is small yet effective offensive defenseman that Army is expecting to use on the Friars power play this season.

“Matt has that sort of innate ability to run the power play, move along the blue line and distribute the puck,” said Army.

A strong defensive corps will be key to helping to provide some stability for the goaltenders. Providence will be considerably younger in goal this season. David Cacciola and Mike Wolfe have both graduated. While the goaltending will be young, it should also be quite good.

Sophomore Tyler Sims has been tabbed as the starter this season. Sims, the son of former San Jose Sharks head coach Al Sims, was brilliant in goal for Providence last season, particularly in the latter half of the season. He split time with Cacciola and finished his rookie campaign with a 7-8-2 record that included a .914 save percentage and a 2.80 goals against average. His most memorable performance came in the Hockey East playoffs versus Boston University, where he made 51 saves in backstopping the Friars to a 4-1 win.

With the Sims as the starter, the backup job will be a battle between two incoming freshmen in the 6’3 Stephen Ritter and the 5’8 Chris Mannix. Ritter comes to Providence from Tabor Academy (NEPSIHA), where he posted a 12-8-3 record. Mannix comes to Providence from Phillips-Exeter Academy (NEPSIHA), where he finished with a 19-9-2 record in 27 appearances.

In addition to increased scoring, Coach Army would also like to see improvement on special teams this season.

“Special teams are critical no matter what time of the year it is and what your team is like. If you can win the special teams battle in each game then you have a very good opportunity to win the game,” said Army.

The Friars penalty-killing finished 33rd in the nation with an 82.2 percent efficiency rating. The power play numbers were far worse. Providence finished 51st in the nation with a lowly 12.6 percent efficiency rating.

(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 4)

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