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While Maine was busy beating Cornell and Massachusetts en route to winning the Everblades Classic, Providence had the holiday tournament season, nearly a month, off to rethink how the first half had played out and to prepare to face a tall task in hosting the No. 2 Black Bears to start a grueling second half.
The month’s layover proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the Friars, who had gone 2-6-1 after opening the season 7-0. It allowed them to regroup mentally and physically and get focused for the tough road ahead. Providence used the layover (10-6-1, 4-5-1 HEA) to return to its early-season form on Friday night, besting Maine (15-2-2, 5-1-1 HEA) 4-2 at Schneider Arena.
“Regardless of the fact [that we were No. 2], we expected Providence to come out and play the way that they did tonight,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “They were off for a month and they definitely looked excited to get started again. The result certainly reflected the game.”
Although the game might not have seen a lot of pretty goals, it was a contest of grit and hard work for the Friars. Combined with a little bit of puck luck, a recipe for knocking off one of the top teams in the nation was whipped up.
“We got outworked, plain and simple,” said Whitehead. “Although I like our effort in the third period, it was too little too late. The fact remains that it’s a 60-minute game and we were unable to match their intensity for the entire game … People are going to say that they got some lucky bounces, but that’s what happens when you work hard and play with intensity.”
The Friars struck first, shocking a Maine team that had been controlling the puck and the play for the opening minutes. Goaltender Frank Doyle had trouble communicating with his defensemen behind the net and misplayed the puck, resulting in an easy empty-net tally for Providence’s David Carpentier.
Providence never looked back, scoring four consecutive goals on Doyle to jump out to a four-goal lead early in the second period. Peter Zingoni and Peter Fregoe each lit the lamp on the power play within three minutes of each other.
Zingoni put the game out of reach for good with a goal on a shorthanded breakaway at the 14:08 mark in the second. The junior speedster raced in on Doyle, who was able to make the first save, but Zingoni knocked home the rebound for his 11th goal of the season.
The Friars were elated to have Zingoni back in the lineup after he missed a stretch of games to end the first half. The speed and skill of the junior winger gives Providence coach Paul Pooley the luxury of being able to break up his top threats of co-captains Jon DiSalvatore, Devin Rask and playmaker Peter Fregoe. Fregoe and Rask played together while Zingoni was paired with DiSalvatore, and both combinations produced for Pooley and the Friars.
“I really liked our execution tonight,” said Pooley. “We did all of the little things that we need to do: we got traffic in front on the power play, blocked shot lanes in the d-zone and on the penalty kill. I can’t begin to count the number of great efforts we had tonight.”
Maine answered with two power-play goals of its own to cut the lead in half with nine minutes to play in the game, but Providence proved to be too strong on the night, frustrating the Maine offense in the neutral zone and outworking the Black Bears on the boards.
Goaltending, as always, loomed large for Providence. Nolan Schaefer (5-4-0), in arguably his best game since his All-American season in 2000-01, thwarted Maine’s scoring opportunities time after time, making 31 saves on 33 shots. The two tallies that Maine did manage were power-play goals, one a glancing blow off a defenseman’s hip.
“It all starts with your goaltender and Nolan was really in tune. He was playing the way that he is capable of playing; he was square and hungry and it showed tonight. We’re all very proud of his effort and he’s showing us what he has inside of him for the second half,” said Pooley.
“Schaefer was huge for us tonight,” said Rask. “It was classic Nolan Schaefer from sophomore year winning the game for us, making the big stops.
Doyle stopped 26 of 30, taking his first loss of the season (6-1-2), Maine’s first loss in Hockey East play and the first Black Bear defeat since losing in the first week of the season to Colorado College.
Although Providence and Maine provide the goaltending tandem for the U.S. World Junior team in Bobby Geopfert and Jimmy Howard, both teams exhibited the depth and quality of their goaltenders with Schaefer beating Maine just one week after Doyle defeated No. 2 Cornell.
Both teams will finish out the week with another league contest; Providence will look to carry its play over to start the second half to an upstart UMass squad while Whitehead will face his old team as Maine looks to get back on track at UMass-Lowell.