Hockey East rivals face off in Frozen Four championship
BOSTON -- Judging by the text messages sent over the past 24 hours to Boston University men‘s hockey coach David Quinn, the allegiances have quickly shifted.
If you‘re in Rhode Island, you may have felt the ground shake a little bit.
“All the guys [in Rhode Island] loved me going into last night’s game,” Quinn said Friday, chuckling as he talked. “A lot of them don’t like me now.”
Boston University’s 5-3 win against North Dakota in the Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday night, and Providence’s commanding 4-1 win against Omaha, set up a Hockey East dream for the national championship.
“It certainly will make for an incredibly exciting atmosphere,” Quinn said. “The building will be packed. There’ll be a lot of passion from Providence College fans and I know there’ll be a lot of passion from [BU] Terrier fans.”
“I think it speaks to the parity of Hockey East,“ BU defenseman Doyle Somerby said. “Every night [in Hockey East] it’s extremely hard to win a game.”
It is just the third all-Hockey East matchup in national championship game history, and in a year in which Boston is hosting the championship, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Boston University is located a mere four miles from TD Garden; Providence, just 50 miles.
“You dream about playing in a situation like this,” said Providence senior captain Ross Mauermann. “For us, we’re just trying to focus on the next play. After it, we can kind of sit back and look at the special time we had together.”
The night is indeed special for Providence, which lost the only national championship game it played in 30 years ago. Many Friar alums are expected at the game, including Steve Rooney, a former Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens who was on the 1985 team and is the uncle of Providence junior forward Kevin Rooney.
“I’m happy for the team. I’m happy for the school,” said Quinn, who left Rhode Island after high school to play at BU. “But I’d be more happy to beat ‘em.”
The teams played twice this season, but that was back on the last day of October and first day of November, when BU won 4-1 in Providence and the Friars won 2-1 the next night in Boston.
That was a very long time ago and so much has happened since. BU won the annual Beanpot championship and blasted through the Hockey East playoffs with four consecutive wins and carry an eight-game win streak. Providence, which squeezed into the NCAA Tournament with a No. 4 seed in the East Regional, lost to New Hampshire in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
“I think [the loss to New Hampshire] was probably a good thing for us because it increased our level of desperation,“ Providence coach Nate Leaman said.
Talk of the 1985 team is not often found inside the Friars’ locker room. This is their year and their team.
“We want to keep it simple,” Leaman said. “We want to focus on us. This is a great experience as far as the Frozen Four. But all along we’ve kind of said, 'Let our families soak in all the festivities.’ We want to be focused on the ice, focus on the game.”
The matchup may produce the kind of end-to-end offensive play that would create a memorable championship night. BU has scored an NCAA-best 155 goals and four goals in the first two periods of its win against North Dakota. Providence peppered Omaha goalie Ryan Massa with 48 shots.
“It’s about having a good start like we did last game and kind of just getting after it and playing our style of hockey, getting pucks to the net,” Mauermann said. “That's when we play our best hockey is when we're loose and playing our game.”
BU’s attack is led by freshman Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Eichel, who has scored 26 goals this season, lit the lamp twice -- the first coming in the game's opening minutes -- and added an assist against North Dakota. But he isn’t alone. Three other Terriers have topped 20 goals, including 24 by defenseman-turned-forward Ahti Oksanen of Finland.
“They have a great transition game,” Leaman said. “[Matt] Grzelcyk and [Brandon] Fortunato do a really good job of getting up in the offense. They’ve got a very good power play. And obviously I think they have the premier forward in the country.”
Providence will try to tee off on BU goalie Matt O'Connor, while the Terriers will more than likely attempt a similar tactic on Providence goalie Jon Gillies, a Calgary Flames draft pick whose 1.74 goals-against average was tops in Hockey East.
“I think when you get the puck quickly, a goalie has less of an opportunity to direct his rebounds,” Quinn said. “So we’ve got to be ready to shoot pucks. We’ve got to get traffic in front of him. You’ve got take away their vision, you’ve got to make it difficult for him.”