BY: Mark Harriman
BOSTON- In the Summer of 2010, as he took the reigns of a battered Providence College Men’s hockey program, Nate Leaman was admittedly nervous as he took the mound at McCoy Stadium and tossed out the first pitch at a Paw Sox game with fellow new hire, Men’s basketball coach Ed Cooley. At the time he said that he was afraid of bouncing his pitch in front of the plate.
For the record, Leaman threw a strike. But four years later, he only has to be nervous about coaching his team in the NCAA finals.
HIs Friars came out of the opening gates with sticks on fire and set the tone early in the Frozen Four Semi-Final against University of Nebraska Omaha, coming away with a 4-1 victory. This will be PC’s first trip tot he Frozen Four Finals since their 1985 contest against RPI (a 2-1 loss).
“I think they were more relaxed than us,” UNO coach Dean Blais said in his port-game presser. “When we hit the ice we didn’t execute like we wanted to.”
Providence relentlessly peppered Mavericks goalie Ryan Massa with 32 shots in the first two period and added 15 more in the final frame for a total of 48 shots on goal. For all of its efforts, though, the game was scoreless ager the first period.
“So I thought Massa played a terrific game tonight and we could have gotten frustrated. I was really pleased with our mental toughness because I thought we could have gotten frustrated but we stuck with it. We stuck with it,“ Leaman said when it was his turn in front of the microphone.
And PC finally got a bounce to go its way just over 11 minutes into the second period. Freshman Brian Pinho charged down the boards on got a shot off on Massa, who couldn’t control the rebound. Johnston, RI native Noel Acciari (1-0, +1) took the bounce out of the ensuing scrum and put a backhander over a prone Massa for a 1-0 Friars lead.
PC took a two goal lead about four minutes later when Mark Jankowski took a Jake Walman pass and roofed one over an outstretched Massa.
The Friars kept their two goal lead after two periods, but despite Providence’s constant barrage, UNO wasn’t about to give in.
With just over nine minutes remaining in the third period, PC goalie Jon Gillies didn’t help his own cause when he couldn’t clear the puck up the left boards. The Mavericks’ Tyler Vessel gained possession and slipped it over to Jake Guentzel who wrested it past Gillies on the blocker side.
“I thought at 2-1 we had a chance,” Blais said. But 24 seconds later, PC Junior winger Trevor Mingoia let the air out of the Mavericks’ bench and effectively sealed the deal for the Friars to advance to Saturday’s Final.
Taking a pass from Jankowski (1-1-2) over in the corner behind Massa, Mingoia put the puck through the one hole and gave the Friars the cushion they needed at 3-1. Nick Saracino added an empty netter with 31 seconds left for PC’s fourth goal.
“At 3-1 I felt the energy go right out of the bench,” the UNO coach said candidly.
“These games at this time of the year, it’s about execution and getting pucks to the net,” Senior Captain Ross Mauermann said as he sat on the dias after the game. “For us it was sticking to our game plan, playing gritty, getting to the net, working them low and just getting those second chances….”
Leaman didn’t really need to put any sort of spin on the importance of Mingoia’s goal. “Well, it was probably the biggest moment in the game for us, that and getting the first goal. Coming back the shift after giving up a goal, they had momentum. And for us to kind of score right back, it deflates their bench a little bit and it picks up your bench a little bit.
“So the best thing about it is that I thought we were slipping with some things we wanted to do in the third period. And right after we scored that goal, all the guys on the bench were saying the right things. And I thought we played the rest of the game with the way that we wanted to play it in that third period.”