Providence College rolls into Grand Forks this weekend to play in a highly-anticipated matchup between two of the top five teams in the country. North Dakota advanced to the Frozen Four a season ago, while the Friars fell to eventual national champion Union in the final of the NCAA East Regional (Bridgeport, CT).
Expectations are high for both programs, and non-conference success is an important step toward fulfilling those title hopes. Since Providence is an unfamiliar foe for fans of the Green and White, I connected with Mark Divver (hockey writer for the Providence Journal) to fill us in on what to expect this weekend (and beyond) from the Friars:
Dave Berger, SiouxSports.com: What should UND fans expect from Providence this weekend? Who are the players to watch?
Mark Divver, Providence Journal: North Dakota fans will see a seasoned (19 returnees), balanced, well-coached team that is backstopped by one of the top goalies in college hockey. Providence College is a team that should be in the Frozen Four conversation come March if they stay healthy.
Players to watch are Ross Mauermann, a tireless worker; Noel Acciari, a devastating hitter when healthy; Jon Gillies, one of the best goalies in the country; three NHL draft picks on defense in John Gilmour, Jake Walman and Anthony Florentino; freshman sniper Brian Pinho; senior winger Nick Saracino.
Gillies is a standout, but the heart and soul of the Friars are captains Mauermann and Acciari. Mauermann is one of the great feel-good stories in college hockey. He came to PC as a walk-on and hasn’t stopped working from day one. There is no harder hitter in college hockey in the east (I can’t speak for the west) than Acciari. He has a rib injury, so if he plays he might have to curtail his checks.
Freshmen Walman and Pinho are top recruits. They are the type of NHL prospects consistently brought in by perennial national contenders such as, well, North Dakota. The fact that they chose Providence College bodes well for the future of the program.
DB: Do you expect junior centers Mark Jankowski and Noel Acciari to play against North Dakota? What would their presence mean to the lineup?
MD: As you probably know, second-line center Jankowski (shoulder) did not make the trip. But the Friars are as deep up front as they’ve been in years, so they should be able to get by without him for the short term. Pinho is a winger, but is capable of playing in the middle, too.
Acciari is questionable because of his injury, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t play. He is a very tough kid – he played a good part of last season with not one but two sprained knees. How physical he can be with his injury remains to be seen. His teammates look up to him, so his presence is very important in a hostile environment.
Another injured player is top four defenseman Tom Parisi (shoulder), who won’t play. Gilmour and Drew McKenzie will be in the lineup for the first time this season, which will help balance the loss of Parisi.
DB: What will the Friars need to do to have success in this important non-conference series? How would you describe their style of play? What do they do well?
MD: Staying out of the penalty box is key for the Friars. They need to play hard between the whistles, but stay away from after-the-whistle scrums.
PC hopes to play with more pace this season after upgrading their team speed over last couple of seasons. They have some defensemen – particularly Gilmour and Walman — who can move the puck and join the attack.
DB: What are the players and coaches saying about this matchup? Is this a weekend that’s been circled on the calendar for a while? Or is it just another pair of games?
MD: I’ve been busy covering the Boston Bruins and Providence Bruins lately, so I haven’t been around the Friars much. Still, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they are very excited. This isn’t just another road trip. Playing North Dakota at the Ralph is a rare treat. It’s as good as it gets in college hockey.
DB: How will the players and coaches handle the increased expectations this season? With a trip to the regional final last year, is a Frozen Four berth a possibility for this club?
MD: PC’s experienced coaching staff should keep the team focused. I don’t expect expectations to be an issue.
With the East Regional at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence and the Frozen Four just up the road in Boston, PC has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the program back on the map without venturing far from home.
I predicted in my season preview that the Friars will reach the Frozen Four. They have the goaltending, a solid defense and a balanced attack. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a rematch of this weekend’s series in Boston in April.
Providence College Team Profile
Head Coach: Nate Leaman (12th season at PC, 192-173-52, .523)
National Ranking: #5
This Season: 1-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East
Last Season: 22-11-6 overall (NCAA East Regional finalist), 11-7-2 Hockey East (3rd)
Team Offense: 3.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 0.0% (0 of 7)
Penalty Kill: 62.5% (5 of 8)
Key players: Freshman F Brian Pinho (2-0-2), Senior F Ross Mauermann (0-2-2), Junior F Noel Acciari (0-0-0), Junior F Nick Saracino (1-1-2), Sophomore D Anthony Florentino (0-2-2), Junior D Tom Parisi (1-1-2), Junior G Jon Gillies (1-1-0, 2.89 GAA, .885 SV%)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (11th season at UND, 263-134-40, .648)
National Ranking: #3
This Season: 3-1-0 overall, 2-0-0-0 NCHC (t-1st)
Last Season: 25-14-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four appearance), 15-9-0-0 NCHC (2nd)
Team Offense: 3.25 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.25 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 29.2% (7 of 24)
Penalty Kill: 81.8% (18 of 22)
Key Players: Senior F Michael Parks (0-4-4), Senior F Mark MacMillan (5-2-7), Junior F Drake Caggiula (0-3-3), Freshman F Nick Schmaltz (1-3-4), Junior D Jordan Schmaltz (1-0-1), Sophomore D Paul LaDue (2-4-6), Junior G Zane McIntyre (3-1-0, 2.21 GAA, .929 SV%)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: January 20, 1989 (Providence RI). North Dakota defeated the homestanding Friars 3-2 in an interconference matchup. In the early years of Hockey East, a scheduling agreement was put in place between the WCHA and Hockey East that had each conference counting these types of games in its league standings.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 29, 1987. In another WCHA-HEA tilt, the Fighting Sioux dispatched Providence College 6-4.
Most Important Meeting: Because of the added attention on the upcoming matchup and what the results of this series might mean for title hopes on both sides, I will call this weekend’s games the most important meetings between the two programs.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 8-5-0 (.615), including a 5-2-0 record in games played in Grand Forks. North Dakota has won the last five games between the two teams, outscoring the Friars 23-10.
Game News and Notes
Providence College plays its home games at Schneider Arena, which holds just over 3000 fans. UND senior forward Mark MacMillan notched his first career hat trick last Saturday night at Colorado College and scored five goals in the weekend sweep. The Friars tied the United States Under-18 team in exhibition action last Thursday. Three of North Dakota’s seven national titles were captured at the Providence Civic Center. Providence College head coach Nate Leaman has built his roster from 13 different states and four Canadian provinces, while UND’s players hail from seven states and four provinces.
It’s hard to imagine anything other than a split in this series. I’ve got North Dakota as the favorite in Friday’s opener as the Friars adjust to Ralph Engelstad Arena and the hometown crowd. Providence goaltender Jon Gillies will make his presence known in the rematch. UND 4-2, PC 3-1.