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Providence, Union advance to Regional Final

West Hartford's Jordan Samuels-Thomas chases the puck behind the Providence net, but the Bobcats couldn't get any offense going. PC topped Quinnipiac 4-0. It was the first game the Bobcats were held scoreless since last year's NCAA championship game.
West Hartford's Jordan Samuels-Thomas chases the puck behind the Providence net, but the Bobcats couldn't get any offense going. PC topped Quinnipiac 4-0. It was the first game the Bobcats were held scoreless since last year's NCAA championship game.QuinnipiacBobcats.com

This one wasn’t supposed to go like this. The Providence College Friars, making their first appearance ever at the Webster Bank Arena, ran roughshod over the Quinnipiac Bobcats, 4-0, before 6,529 fans in the second game of the NCAA Bridgeport Regional Tournament on Friday.

In many ways, the game made very little sense. The Bobcats’ outshot the Friars 13-10 in the first period, but Providence’s Mark Jankowski scored the only goal of the period 3:37 into the contest. Late in the first period, Quinnipiac freshman Sam Anas had the Bobcats' best chance all evening when, on a 3-on-2 rush, he hit the crossbar with a nasty wrist shot from the slot.

Then, in the second period, Quinnipiac outshot PC 11-7. Only it was the Friars who found the back of the net three times—Anthony Florentino at the 5:10 mark, Shane Luke at 8:06, and Trevor Mingolaat 14:19.

Bobcats outshooting the Friars 24-17, Providence leading 4-0 after two.

Huh?

“It was a different game out there then what we've been used to all year,” said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “There was a lot of obstruction and hooking and holding and we've got to find a way to fight through it a little bit better.”

By the middle of the third period, with the Friars leading by four goals, it was apparent that the Bobcats’ chances of coming back were roughly the same as Vladimir Putin winning a popularity contest at nearby Temple Beth Shalom.

Then, when Quinnipiac’s Connor Clifton was called for a five-minute major for and a given a game misconduct for mouthing off to the referee, it created the bleakest of scenarios. Best case, the Bobcats kill off the penalty. Worst case, they go down by a five-spot.

What about a short-handed goal, you say? With Providence netminder Jon Gillies stopping everything the Bobcats threw at him all night… well, you know what they say about your chances of hitting the lottery.

The Bobcats killed off the penalty… but their “best case scenario” was being down by four goals with less than two minutes to play. Providence waltzed off with a shockingly easy 4-0 win over the Bobcats—a game eerily familiar to the 4-0 loss they suffered to Yale in last year’s championship game. That was the last game that Quinnipiac had been shut out.

The Friars were 1-for-4 on the power play, while the Bobcats were 0-for-2 with the man advantage. Gillies stopped all 37 shots he faced to pick up his 19th win of the season. Michael Garteig made 22 stops for the Bobcats.

“It's unbelievable when you have a goalie like Jon behind you,” said Jankowski . “If we bend a little too much, we have Jon back there to help us out.”

With the win—the Friars' first NCAA Tournament victory since 1991—Providence improves to 22-10-6, and advances to the finals of the Bridgeport Regional where they will face the Dutchmen of Union College—the Region's No. 1 seed. Union rode two goals by junior Max Novak to a 5-2 victory over the Vermont Catamounts in the first game.

The Dutchmen struck first when, with Novak in the penalty box for slashing, senior forward Matt Hatch gained control of the puck deep in the Vermont zone and raced down the near boards untouched on a 2-on-2 break. He slid around the right side of Vermont defenseman Ron Hamilton and beat Catamount goaltender Brody Hoffman to the stick side to give Union a 1-0 lead 4:15 into the contest. The short-handed goal was Hatch’s 11th of the season.

Vermont tied the game when Chris McCarthy tried feeding teammate Mario Puskarich in front of the net. Puskarich, a freshman forward, deflected the pass to the left side of the crease where McCarthy, who had come around to the front of the net and beat his man to the puck, fired of a quick one-timer past Union goalie Colin Stevens to make it 1-1 with 6:42 left in the first period. Puskarich got the helper on McCarthy’s 17th goal of the season.

Immediately after the faceoff, Nick Luukko took down Union’s Sebastien Gingras and was called for tripping. Up a man, Daniel Carr threw a one-timer that Hoffman stopped. Kevin Sullivan, a senior forward from Darien, looked like he was going to attempt a wrap-around from the right side of the goal, but instead found Novak just to the left of the crease, who flipped a backhander past Hoffman to give the Dutchmen a 2-1 advantage with 5:32 remaining in the period.

Union increased its margin on the with another power play goal. Novak threw the puck on net from the right circle looking for Carr, but the puck hit the stick of Vermont’s Yvan Pattyn, which redirected it past Hoffman to give Union a 3-1 lead.

Senior Matt Bodie wristed one past Hoffman on a 4-on-1 rush to make it 4-1 at 11:25 of the third period. McCarthy found the back of the net for the second time cutting Union's advantage to 4-2 at 13:19, but that was as close as the Catamounts would get. Hatch scored his second goal of the game—his 12th of the season—an empty-netter with 2:43 remaining to wrap up a spot in the finals for Union.

“We had a really solid team last year as well,” said Bodie of last year's Dutchmen who lost to Quinnipiac in the regional final. “The biggest difference is our depth up front. We've been able to roll four lines. Last year we cut it down to three sometimes. I think it is tough for any team to watch four lines. I think that has been huge for our success so far this year.”

Sunday's Final between Providence and Union sets up a match filled with intrigue. Union is totally en fuego. The Dutchmen are 13-0-1 in their last 14 games. Union's last loss came on Jan. 31 to St. Lawrence.

Then there's the coaching match-ups. Providence coach Nate Leaman led the Dutchmen back into the national spotlight when he coached at Union from 2003-2011, while the Dutchmen are coached by former Friar star Rick Bennett—who was an assistant at Union under Leaman.

"I think once the puck is dropped, I don't think anyone on the ice is going to think about it," Leaman said about the “family affair” situation. "It's one game to see who advances. That's our goal and there's really nothing that's going to distract me or the team, I think, from that."

Faceoff for tomorrow's East Regional championship game is set for at 3 p.m., with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four, which will be held April 10-12 in Philadelphia. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.