Hockey Friars keep up with winning ways on campus
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Providence College athletic director Bob Driscoll is known for always saying "it's a great day to be a Friar."
It hasn't been hard for the PC AD to say that lately, with the success of the men's basketball team this season, and the women's cross-country team claiming a national championship. And as most Friar fans know, the men's hockey team has also done its fair share of winning this season - nationally ranked in the Top 10 for most of the year.
Great days, indeed.
Like his basketball counterpart Ed Cooley, Nate Leaman is in his 3rd season leading the Friar hockey program. He developed a national contender at Union College - where the school had NO scholarship players - and parlayed that success into his position at Providence, where he has quickly changed the mindset.
"The vision coming here was the same thing that was at Union, and that's just to get better every day," Leaman says. " I didn’t put a timetable on anything…we just want to get better each day and take small steps, build a foundation. We’re still in that process, we still have a lot of work to do, but we expect to be in the top four every year (in our league) and have a crack at the national championship."
To do something like that not only takes time, but talent as well. Leaman's team is anchored by one of the premier goaltenders in the country in Portland, ME sophomore Jon Gillies, who became the first Friar in 10 seasons last year to claim all-American status. Gillies was a 3rd round selection of the Calgary Flames in the 2012 NHL Draft, and he's had to miss a few games each of his two seasons on campus in order to play for Team USA in the World Junior Championships.
"The big thing is, he’s accelerated the transition for us from becoming a really good hockey program to a great one," Leaman adds. "In three years we've gone from a program that missed the playoffs three years in a row to being a top 10 program. You're not going to win at this level without good goaltending, it’s the number one piece you have to get in place."
Defense has been a huge part of the Friar success on the ice, with the team ranked 11th nationally in goals allowed, and the penalty-kill unit 9th in the country (86%). Scoring has largely come from several different players, with sharp-shooting forwards Ross Mauermann, Mark Jankowski and North Kingstown's Derek Army leading the way. Mauermann is a junior, and with seniors Army and Steven Shamanski, the three have formed an upperclass core that consistently make plays on the ice...leading the way for a relatively young team as PC carries 20 underclassmen on their roster. That's second-most in the country.
Redshirt sophomore Noel Acciari, from Johnston, is a big part of that young mix of talent for Leaman. He's scored three short-handed goals this year for the Friars, tied for 4th nationally, and has been a big spark in late-game situations with PC 3rd nationally in extra-attacker goals. He's on the ice, it seems, when a game hangs in the balance. "He’s scored 11 goals this year and every goal has been a big goal, he’s done everything for us," Leaman said. "I'm very proud of Noel, Noel is one of the toughest kids on the planet. It has been a real pleasure to coach him and watch his play."
Providence is 19-9-6 on the year, finishing 3rd in the Hockey East regular season (11-7-2) and presently ranked 10th nationally. PC won't know its' opponent for the HE quarterfinals until after this weekend, but they do know they'll get someone on home ice at Schneider Arena, starting March 14th. It's a good position to be in. "It’s a new season, a playoff season and our goal is to win the league championship," Leaman says. "We've talked about it with the team, and what got us out of our rut (earlier this year), we have to continue to do those little things to be better. Our goal is to play our best hockey in two weekends."
Which means, as it presently stands, at least two more weeks of great days in Friartown.