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Mark Divver | The Providence Journal | March 30, 2019

2019 NCAA men's hockey tournament preview: Providence, Minnesota State meet in defensive clash

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PROVIDENCE — Expect goals to be hard to come by when two of the top defensive teams in the country collide in the NCAA East Regional on Saturday afternoon at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

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Top-seed Minnesota State is third in the nation in fewest goals allowed, while fourth-seed Providence College is tied for sixth. The Mavericks' goalie, freshman Dryden McKay, has a goals-against average of 1.65 and a save percentage of .931. Friar senior Hayden Hawkey's goals-against average is 1.89 with a .919 save percentage.

So, will it be a race to three goals?

"We've talked about that amongst our staff," Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said after the Mavericks practiced at The Dunk on Friday.

"What do I think? I think they're good. Their top two lines are good on both ends of the rink. They produce consistently, whether it's 5-on-5 or on the power play."

PC coach Nate Leaman said Saturday's winner might not need three goals.

"Both teams are in the top (six) in the country defensively. It could end up a 1-0 or 2-1 game. I haven't thought about a magic number, I just think it's going to be a grind-'em-out game," he said.

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Leaman's team is well-rested. After an upset loss to Boston College in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, the Friars sat last weekend and sweated out tournament results around the country before their at-large bid was announced.

The silver lining to the time off is that some banged-up PC skaters had a chance to get healthy.

"It you talk to a lot of people that have been in that position in the NCAA Tournament over time, some of them have said (that time off is) a blessing, not a curse. We'll have our hands full," said Hastings.

The Minnesota State coach, who saw PC in person at UMass in November while scouting for the World Junior Championship (he was head coach of the U.S. team), has a healthy respect for the Friars.

"From top to bottom, their depth comes off the paper. They're big. They're heavy. I think they look a lot like us, but I think they're a little bigger," Hastings said.There's no question that Minnesota State is a formidable opponent. The Mavericks are one of the oldest teams in the country, with four players born in 1994 and seven born in 1995. At 32-7-2, they lead the NCAA in wins. They are 18-2-1 since the first of the year. And they've won seven in a row.

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On the flip side, they are 1-3-1 against teams that are in the NCAA Tournament, compared to PC's 4-4-1. The only win was their miraculous comeback victory over Bowling Green in the WCHA championship game last Saturday. The program has never won a Division I NCAA Tournament game.

"I know they're hard and heavy and they're really fast," said Jacob Bryson, one of PC's captains. "They're kind of an older group and they play pretty consistently well. I would compare them to Clarkson," which PC edged, 1-0, in the East Regional in Bridgeport last March.

"I expect it to be a heavy game at times. I think momentum will be big," said Leaman.

"Hopefully we can take the pain of that BC series and turn it into a little chip on our shoulder and a second life," he said.

This is the third time in five years that PC has played in the East Regional in Providence -- all of them hosted by Brown University. The Dunk isn't PC's home rink, but the NCAA's decision to keep PC in its home city to boost attendance irks some people in college hockey.

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"The fact of the matter is what makes these sites go is selling tickets," said Leaman. "So if they don't put (Providence College) here, and they don't get a good fan turnout, I don't know how many more years The Dunk is going to bid on it or Brown will bid on it, because they do have to return something to the NCAA. So we think it's great. We're very fortunate to be here. We just hope that they continue to have it here."

In the second game on Saturday at The Dunk, Northeastern and Cornell are scheduled to face off at 4:30 p.m.

The winners will play on Sunday at 4 with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.

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.

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