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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Maine 4, Men's Hockey 0

Friars caught in a bear trap

With 9:28 remaining, after one of the tedious third period’s umpteen icing whistles, the season-high Schneider Arena mass of 2,612 –particularly the student section- commenced a steady, single file adjournment.

By that point, the visiting Maine Black Bears had decelerated the feisty Friars to a 3-0 deficit and were efficiently warding off the still persistent Providence attack. And they continued to do so en route to a decisive 4-0 final.

The entire transpiration of Saturday’s showdown was an exemplary reversal of roles compared to PC’s Orono excursion back in mid-November, when they swept a then-ranked Maine team by a 7-2 aggregate. Since then, the last place Black Bears -no typo- had only snagged one conference victory out of seven attempts and were defining their season as a process of cleaning up after a summer spill of talent.

Conversely, the Friars just might have been one lustrous W away from earning first-time membership in the Top 20 polls and a so-craved-they-can-taste-it great leap forward in the Hockey East standings.

Instead, monument Maine goaltender Ben Bishop –perhaps the lone remaining cornerstone for a team with two Frozen Four appearances in its immediate, yet so distant, past- revived his classic persona through a 41-save shutout, strikingly his first goose-egg of the season and heftiest workload since opening weekend in October. It was also the first blanking the Friars have swallowed at home since Big Ben’s previous visit to this campus exactly one year to this date.

A fraternal variation of the near-fatal numbness the Friars experienced late in their 3-2 Friday tip-over of UMass plagued them all through the Maine tangle. To their credit, the driven strike force wasted no time unleashing yet another brimful bushel of shots -21 of them in the opening frame. But they experienced the same obnoxious launching trouble that has amounted to recent near misses in the standings.

The Black Bears, who afforded only eight stabs at Tyler Sims (21 saves) through the first twenty minutes, made haste to slim down the shot differential and followed up on their goalies’ noble efforts at 6:59 of the second period. Senior Wes Clark felled Cody Wild’s clearing attempt with his chest at the far point, strode in a few feet, and shipped a saucer pass to defender Matt Duffy, who went out of his way to make a quick back-door burial.

While Maine was on its way to exponentially accumulating all of the night’s auspices, little omens specific to the Friars nicked the host club. Right at the buzzer of the second period, at which point Providence led the shooting gallery by a 32-15 count, Wild was flagged for slashing in the midst of a Black Bear breakout rush.

Maine slowed down the Friars’ equalizer efforts via three subsequent power play shots and then augmented its lead to 2-0 at the 4:52 mark. Defender Jeff Dimmen picked up a rebound off Bishop’s porch, toured it down the left alley into the depths of the PC zone, and dropped it back for Clark to whoosh through.

In the time that remained, the serene Bears accepted a total of seven more icing calls while the Friars stretched their offensive effort to the literally bitter end, when blueliner Trevor Ludwig leveled home a bar-down blast only to have it waved off due to clock expiration –yet another last-second kick in the canines.

Regardless, that play was far from momentous as Maine would have sculpted a 4-0 command by then. Right off one of the post-icing draws in his own end, defenseman Brett Carriere sparked yet another fleet end-to-end venture, which ended with Jeffrey Marshall letting a sinker from the far circle top drip home over Sims’ trapper glove.

Later, within the final minute of action, a genuflecting Vince Laise stamped the puck on his own face-off dot to freeze another rabid onslaught and flicked it from there into an empty Providence net.

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