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Monday, December 31, 2007

Hockey Log: GLI Wrap

Upward swing something to build on
By Al Daniel

Even if the shifting paper-based implications of their come-from-behind 5-3 overhaul of Michigan State were hitting them, the Friars continue to refrain from explicit elation. But when they addressed the media, they were apt to label their high-ranking holiday excursion an opportunity to freeze and push along some momentum when their Hockey East schedule hits its January fast-track next weekend.

Leading up to around the halfway mark of Saturday’s Great Lakes Invitational consolation game, Providence had thrust a never-before-seen ambitious offense against the #1 (Michigan) and #5 (Michigan State) teams in the nation, but what wholly fettered on the scoreboard through their first eighty-plus minutes of action.

But after senior captain Jon Rheault knotted the game at 6:42 of Saturday’s middle frame, the Friars thawed out at a glacial pace to nick the defending NCAA champion and forge a .500 (7-7-2) transcript to take back to the coast for the New Year.

The GLI offered a rather hefty statistical upgrade in PC’s last regular season dose of interconference play. For all the intriguing anarchy that defined the first hunk of the Hockey East schedule –which on PC’s part included an uplifting road sweep of a ranked Maine team in November- the CCHA is understandably the talk of the nation.

And on Day 1, the almighty Michigan Wolverines took that to Tim Army’s corps firsthand, dishing out a 6-0 rout, despite the Friar ability to charge up a bewildering inverse shooting edge of 50-21.

In another twenty-four hours, though, Providence acclimated with enough straightforward steadiness to force-feed some vinegar to a Spartan team that closed out its magical 2007 on an 0-2 GLI finish.

Said Army, “I think what we learned is –and we see it in Hockey East- but when you play against good-quality teams, you need to make sure you stay with your program, stay with your game, and we did that.”

Other than the core category –the scoresheet- little was different between the two chapters of Friartown Meets Hockeytown. Right after dumping their largest bushel of shots of the season on Michigan stopper Billy Sauer –who went on to win tournament MVP honors through a double-overtime shutout of Michigan Tech in the championship tilt- the Friars made an exponential climb towards outshooting Michigan State 45-30 on Saturday, increasing their output by six shots by the period.

The no-duh difference on that front was their swift return to effective offensive interruptions. For the third time in the month of December (dating all the way back to the pre-exams tangles with Brown and Union), Providence registered a four-goal period in an earthquake of a third period, outshooting the Spartans 21-12 and outscoring 4-2 in that window.

Additionally, the inherent underdog jitters that came with both matchups failed to shred the Friars disciplinary record. They paid a mere four trips to the sin bin against Michigan –two of those elbowing minors to Greg Collins well after the game had been wrested away- and two against Michigan State. They remained perfectly regimented against the Wolverines until 11:44 of the middle frame and the following afternoon, from the 1:03 mark of the second period onward, their behavioral slate stayed unscratched.

“That’s really important against any team you play,” said Army. “You want to play hard, skate hard, be physical, but you also want to do things with discipline, with composure, especially on the road –I really consider these road games.

“If you give teams (like that) too many power play opportunities, they’re gonna take advantage of it, so by nature we try to stay out of the box, and I think we did a generally good job of that.”

Whatever ultimate grade may be liable given the wild dynamics of their ice-based term exam and their response to it, the Friars were contented enough with the progressed they signified.

Rheault, who acknowledged that he “had never played in an NHL rink before,” will soon lead his associates into a remaining two-thirds of their Hockey East slate in palpable hopes of soon visiting another vibrant building –TD Banknorth Garden- come late March. If officially commences January 11 with a home-and-home tangle with UMass-Lowell.

When asked if the Skating Friar is at least a little bolder as it looks to that next task, the co-captain said with a sort of low-profile, take-it-in-stride tone, “I think we made our statement, playing against two top teams like that.

“I think (against Michigan) we were a little intimidated, but we know we can play with them, and we proved that against some of the best teams in the country, so when we get back to our Hockey East games, we’ll have that confidence.”

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