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Mark Divver | The Providence Journal | October 5, 2018

College hockey: Look for Providence's stingy defense to get more involved, be aggressive on offense

They will never be known as the run-and-gun Friars.

But coach Nate Leaman, whose Providence College teams are renowned for their stinginess in allowing opposition scoring chances, will look to open things up a bit this season.

It will start with a very mobile defense corps that will be asked to ramp up its aggressiveness on offense.

"What separates our defensive corps is our feet. With (Jacob) Bryson and Spence (Young) and (Mike) Callahan and (Ben) Mirageas, we want those guys getting north," said Leaman, whose team opens its season on Saturday night at 7 against American International College at Schneider Arena.

"We want them getting up in plays, we want them being more assertive when they get pucks, to get involved in the offense. We're trying to push that a lot more on all the guys."

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Bryson, a second team All American last season as a sophomore, is eager to get going.

"We're going to have more speed. We're going to be a different team this year, a little more dynamic, but we're still going to keep that culture that Providence always has. Working hard and being that team no one wants to play against," he said.

With a deep, faster lineup, it should be another good year for PC, which was ranked fifth in the season's first national poll. They were picked for second in the Hockey East coaches poll, behind Boston College. The Friars have their sights set on a sixth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

On opening night, PC's highly touted freshmen class, led by center Jay O'Brien, a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in June, will get its first taste of college hockey. Among the other recruits are Jack Dugan, a Las Vegas draft choice, Mikael Hakkarainen, a Chicago pick, Callahan, an Arizona pick, and undrafted and underrated (for now) Tyce Thompson.

"I really like our freshmen class, but I still have to pinch myself and remember that they are freshmen," Leaman said. "We did a little scrimmage (last) Saturday morning and it showed. There's a lot of details, a lot of learning that they have to do."

While Leaman broke in a couple of recent PC stars, Mark Jankowski and Brian Pinho, at wing as freshmen before moving them back to center, he's not leaning that way with O'Brien.

"I'm going to give him every chance to be in the middle. I like his speed up the middle. I like Hakkarainen's speed up the middle, too. We need that. There might be times when he is on the wing, but my plan right now is to teach him the game as a centerman. I want to put him in positions to succeed so he doesn't lose any confidence."

As good as the freshmen might be, as with most teams, it will be the performance and leadership of the upperclassmen that will determine how far PC goes.

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"People make a lot of our freshman class, but if we're relying on our freshmen class, then our program isn't healthy," Leaman said.

"We hope to have enough of a leadership group, an older, returning group, that we're not relying on (freshmen). Who's going to set the tone for our team? It's going to be the Spencer Youngs, Josh Wilkins, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Vinny Desharnais. Those are the guys that have been through the wars. We should not be putting pressure on the young guys to come in and save the day."

Senior Hayden Hawkey, coming off a strong junior season, will carry the load in goal.

He's one of the upperclassmen still smarting over PC's loss to Notre Dame with 27 seconds left in the NCAA East Regional in Bridgeport in March with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.

"That one stung for a while. You definitely use it as big motivation during the offseason," Hawkey said.

Desharnais, who will be one of the better shutdown defenders in the league again this season, remembers, too. "You've got to flush it and move forward," he said.

And that's what they will do starting on Saturday night.

As Leaman told his team this week, "It's not about preparing to play anymore. It's about preparing to win." 

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This article is written by Mark Divver from The Providence Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.