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Friday, January 18, 2008

Men's Hockey 3, UMass-Amherst 2

Friars take the last breath
Minutemen’s epic rally falls short

The Massachusetts Minutemen, who had been subtly snowballing their shots on net total all night, were almost all set to fetch a magic top hat –and melt down PC’s fortunes- in the final three minutes of Friday’s game.

With 2:55 remaining, Friars’ goaltender Tyler Sims lost what would have been his fourth shutout of the season to Brett Watson’s painstaking conversion. In another 75 seconds of action, PC had sweatier issues when Chris Davis put UMass within one, 3-2, a mere five seconds after the Minutemen had convened on a timeout and pulled netminder Paul Dainton in favor of the old six-pack attack.

But for the remainder 100 ticks, Providence reassembled –paradoxically by habitual falling to block any further attempts- and solidified that 3-2 tally, salvaging a precious victory before 2,213 at Schneider Arena.

The Minutemen had already taken their turn hibernating in the first ten minutes of the middle frame, wherein the Friars sculpted a 3-0 advantage, despite affording a mere six sparsely distributed whacks at Dainton during that period.

An array of unlikely defining facets was on display throughout Friday’s contest. Two teams with ordinarily boundless supplies of graphite ammo instead engaged in a defensive arm wrestling bout with next to no prolonged quality scoring chances and a final shot count of 30-26, Providence favor.

In addition, the Friars eclipsed UMass’ pack of season-long radiant rookies –particularly Dainton (27 saves) and prolific scorer James Marcou (4 shots, 0 points)- while a handful of their own youth crowd concocted the vital 3-goal spurt all on their own. Of the seven PC skaters who appeared on Friday’s scoresheet, five were freshman, the other two sophomores.

At first, though, the clenched borders around both blue lines made for a scoreless opening stanza, though with a commanding cumulative 11-4 shooting edge tilting in PC’s favor. At the same time, when they suffered two uncharacteristic disciplinary hiccups, the Friars’ laser-beamed penalty killing square kept the Minutemen shotless on the power play.

But on the second sheet, several still-blossoming Friars began to cultivate by means of their forte: grinding. At 3:03, a long arid pair of frosh –Ben Farrer and Jordan Kremyr- jumped a harmless looking shot attempt that had fluttered over Dainton’s stick and behind the cage and thrust it right back in front for sophomore John Cavanagh, who batted it home for the icebreaker, and Farrer and Kremyr’s second and first career points, respectively.

Three minutes later, Matt Germain directed a face-off win in the near alley back to Joe Lavin at the right point. Lavin shuffled a few side-steps to his left, made a quick back-and-forth exchange with associate defenseman Cody Wild, and unleashed a snapper into the screening forest. Forward Ian O’Connor absorbed it in the slot and handed it off to Germain, who translated it to his first collegiate goal and a 2-0 lead.

Providence further aggravated the Mass Attack’s power play angst during their third kill around the halfway mark. Greg Collins let a close-range slapper by far point patroller Alex Berry bank off his shin and inch out of the zone. Collins made haste to push it along down the lane for a face-to-face encounter with Dainton and nimbly roofed the third Friar goal at 9:57.

Afterwards, UMass sprinkled six unanswered attempts, with two of those starting a much more molecular third period that saw 13 shots per side. And when the Minutemen started piling on penalties of their own, the Friars’ extra-man attack was taking nothing more than their PK had authorized earlier. PC afforded no shots over a 5-on-3 stretch late in the second and spread a mere three over as many more opportunities.

The Minutemen had dibs on the games last seven registered shots and finally hit the board when Berry –patrolling the near post- whiffed on his attempt to deflect pointman Kevin Kessler’s straightaway bid, but left a rebound for Watson –stationed right along the other pole- to rake under a belly-sprawling Sims.

Davis similarly tipped defenseman Mike Kostka’s low-flying snapper from the far boards into the lower right corner of the cage, breathing all sense of life back into the Minutemen.

But Sims and Co. readily pumped CPR into the home faithful, handling three more UMass shots.

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