BY JIMMY GILLIGAN | The Statesman The No. 14 University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team faces defending national champion and No. 4 ranked Providence College in the semifinal of the Northeast Regional Friday at 3:30 p.m.
The Bulldogs make their second consecutive trip to the Northeast Regional after being the last team given an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
They bring confidence with them to the Digital Federal Credit Union Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, the site of the regional—and not just because two of the last three teams to win the national championship were also the last teams to get at-large bids.
“We were there last year and we didn’t get the result we wanted, so the buzz in the room is great,” senior forward Cal Decowski said. “I think we’re just excited to get playing again.”
As the only team in the regional whose campus is not within 60 miles of the DCU Center, the Bulldogs are preparing for a different sort of atmosphere.
“I try to tell our guys (that) it’s not going to be the same as the Frozen Faceoff,” head coach Scott Sandelin said. “Your league tournaments have a little more intimacy, (but) now we’re going out East. We’re not going to have a lot of fans. We’re going to be the only Western team there—it’s just different.”
In last week’s National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff, the reported attendance for both games was well over 10,000 fans. Last season’s Northeast Regional had about half of that attendance.
With Providence College located a mere 39 miles from the DCU Center in Worcester, Friday’s game will nearly be a home game for PC--at least compared to the Bulldogs’ thousand mile trip.
The other two teams in the Northeast Regional are also nearby: Boston College and Northeastern’s campuses are 37 and 54-mile drives, respectively, from the DCU Center.
The Bulldogs would welcome some animosity from the stand this weekend.
“We’d rather play in front of a full stadium of opposing fans,” Decowski said, as compared to an empty rink. “I think that’s a lot more fun to quiet the other fans, and being kind of the enemy. I think we play really well when we’re a team that’s trying to prove something.”
Decowski said that even in an empty rink, his team can generate plenty of energy themselves.
“We have a lot of guys that are vocal and we have a lot of fun when we play,” he said. “So if it’s opposing fans or it’s empty, I think we’ll be good either way.”
Looking ahead to Friday afternoon’s semifinal matchup, the Bulldogs look to continue building on the positive momentum that brought them enough late-season success to make the tournament.
Sandelin acknowledges that in the NCAA tournament, a team’s past is nothing but history.
“It’s a third season for me,” Sandelin said of the NCAA tournament. “You got your regular season, your playoffs and if you’re still playing, now you’ve got the national tournament, so it starts over for everybody.”
WHO ARE THE FRIARS?
The Providence College Friars return 19 players from their 2015 NCAA Championship run, including leading scorer Mark Jankowski, who has 15 goals and 25 assists heading into Friday’s matchup.
Like the Bulldogs, the Friars’ scoring this season has been pretty spread out. Providence’s top line (Foley, Jankowski and Mingoia) have accounted for just 29 percent of their team’s goals this season.
Overall, nine different players have at least 15 points each for the Friars.
As one of the six Hockey East teams in the NCAA tournament, Providence boasts a strong defense. Junior Nick Ellis is currently tied for No. 2 among all NCAA goaltenders in save percentage (.935), and the Friars have the fourth best goals against margin in the nation (1.86).
In comparison, the Bulldogs are No. 8 in the nation in terms of goals allowed per game (2.05).
“It’s going to be a challenge because they protect their goalie very well, so you gotta be willing to go in there and get the second chances,“ Sandelin said.
Ellis is one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award as the top goalie in the nation. The Bulldogs faced two other finalists, North Dakota’s Cam Johnson and St. Cloud’s Charlie Lindgren.
“We play good goalies every weekend,” Decowski said. “Every team in the country has a good goalie, and especially playing two of the top five that are up for the (Mike) Richter Award. So I think knowing that going into it, we can play against any goalie.”
The Friars will be without sophomore defenseman Jake Walman, a Hobey Baker candidate who led all NCAA defensmen in goals (13), points per game (1.04) and power play goals (8) this season.
Walman has been out of the lineup since re-aggravating an injury February 19 that he initially sustained in December. In his absence Providence compiled a 5-1 record.
The Friars have had three common opponents with the Bulldogs this season: the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the University of Miami (Ohio), and Notre Dame. Providence College was 4-2-1 against these opponents, while the Bulldogs were 5-1-3, with four of those wins coming against Miami.
TALE OF THE TAPE
|USCHO ranking||No. 14||No. 4|
|Regular season record||(18-15-5, 11-10-3 NCHC)||(27-6-4, 16-3-3 Hockey East)|
|Last 10 games||7-3||9-1|
|Strength of schedule:||No. 2||No. 18|
|Goals per game||2.7||3.3|
|Goals allowed per game||2.05||1.86|
|Power play conversion rate||.15||.205|
|Penalty kill conversion rate||.133||.155|
|Leading scorer||Tony Cameranesi (10g, 26a)||Mark Jankowski (15g, 25a)|
(goals against average, save percentage)
|Kasimir Kaskisuo: (1.96, .922)||Nick Ellis (1.82, .935)|