Mark Divver covers Providence College hockey (among other things) for the Providence Journal. Mark took a few minutes this week to chat with us about tonight's BC-Providence hockey game at Conte Forum, which is shaping up to be a critical fight between two teams looking to stay near the top of an incredibly tight Hockey East race.
1. When you think about Providence College hockey over the past few seasons, you think about defense and goaltending. But key to PC's surge since the Holidays has been their offense. In the second half of the season, PC is averaging about 3.5 goals per game ,good for 3rd in the country since Christmas. What changed to allow PC's offense to start clicking?
I wouldn't say that the Friars have changed their game plan at all, but for whatever reason, pucks are going into the net now more than they were in the first half of the season. They certainly had plenty of games early on where they played well and generated opportunities, but for whatever reason, pucks just weren't going into the net. Now they've been able to find the back of the net in some of these games and it's made a difference.
They really turned it around this past weekend. They put up 7 on Lowell on Friday, then 4 more on Saturday, against a very good team. Noel Acciari has gotten hot for the Friars and has been putting the puck in the net. Ross Mauermann has heated up as well and is scoring again, though maybe not to the extent he was at the start of his career. That's happening with a few guys now—they're finally putting pucks into the net. I don't want to say it's luck, though that's always a factor, but they're really getting a lot of guys going right now.
2. Do you think they will keep this offensive surge up for the rest of the season or do you expect things to regress again toward how they looked earlier this year and last season?
It will probably ultimately come down somewhere in the middle. From the beginning we knew this team should be better offensively than they were last year. They have a lot more offense this year particularly from the back end than they've had in years past. Frsehman Jake Walman is a terrific offensive player in terms of moving the puck up. Tom Parisi has really improved over the past couple of years as well and he's really been key this year in terms of lugging the puck up and bringing more offense. They're not going to score 7 goals every night but they should be able to fall somewhere in the middle and keep producing enough to win games.
3. After being hailed as pre-season Hockey East favorites, the Friars struggled a bit in the early going. What happened?
I think—and Nate Leaman has alluded to this—some of the kids really believed that preseason prediction, and maybe they took it a little too much to heart, and they thought they could just go out there and their talent would take care of itself and allow them to win a lot of these games. That just doesn't work in college hockey. You have to show up every night. I'm not sure they did that on a consistent basis early in the season.
They also did have a tough early schedule, which didn't help. It's always tough to win at North Dakota, even if you bring your A game. Ohio State is always a tough place to play, too. So there was a variety of factors.
4. Is this about as tight as you can remember a Hockey East race being?
They're all close, every year. This one definitely is as close as it gets. That's been pretty common over the past several years. I think one thing that might be different this year is that even the lowest rated teams can jump up and beat you. You can't take anyone for granted. Although I guess that's always been the case in Hockey East. It's very tough. The teams at the top are so good and so competitive. The teams in the middle are really coming on strong - Northeastern being a good example of that, after a slow start. There are so many good teams, it's a lot of fun to watch.
5. When BC played Providence back in November it was a 1-0 game. Do you expect another tight, low-scoring affair on Friday?
Yes, I expect it to be a 1-0 or 2-1 game - maybe 3-2. Very low scoring, and probably a one-goal game, maybe with an empty netter. It should be a very close, defensive game.
It's hard to find a better defense 1 through 6 than what BC puts out there most nights. And then you throw in Demko, and they become a team that's very hard to score against, no question about it. And then Providence, with Gillies - they don't have the same names or draft picks that BC puts out there on the blue line, but they're pretty good.
6. Will PC be able to maintain their recent form and make a run toward the Frozen Four?
I do think they'll be able to keep up their good play down the stretch. I think they got their bumps in the road out of the way early on and they will be strong as the season goes on barring a key injury or two. At the beginning of the year, I picked them to make the Frozen Four. I think that's the kind of talent and the kind of goalie and the kind of coaching that they have, which can get them that far. I think they're going to be good the rest of the way.
Thanks again to Mark Divver for answering our questions. The Eagles take on the Friars tonight at 7:30 at Conte Forum.