MEN'S HOCKEY: Providence series evolved into a dandy
Four years ago, UND coach Dave Hakstol signed up to play a two-game series against a Providence College program that was en route to a fifth-straight sub-.500 finish. The Friars had finished last or second-to-last in Hockey East for three consecu...
Four years ago, UND coach Dave Hakstol signed up to play a two-game series against a Providence College program that was en route to a fifth-straight sub-.500 finish.
The Friars had finished last or second-to-last in Hockey East for three consecutive seasons and hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament in a decade.
“As luck would have it,” Hakstol said, ‘what a hell of a series this will be.”
In 2011, Providence hired Nate Leaman as head coach and he’s worked the same magic with the Friars as he did in building defending national champion Union College into prominence.
So, the series that didn’t appear to have much pizzazz when it was inked four years ago suddenly commands the spotlight of the college hockey world this weekend.
UND, coming off of an appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four, is the preseason favorite to win the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and is ranked No. 3 in the country.
Providence, a game away from joining UND at the Frozen Four in April, is the preseason favorite to win Hockey East and is currently ranked No. 5 nationally.
This will be the first top-five matchup in Ralph Engelstad Arena since October 2011 and the first regular-season, top-five matchup in college hockey since last January.
“We’re expecting great hockey,” Leaman said. “We’re expecting a very emotional environment. It’s going to be fast, too.
“North Dakota is perennially a top-five, top-10 team. I’ve been a head coach now for 12 years and I haven’t played (at The Ralph) yet, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve heard it’s a tremendous building.”
Leaman quickly rebuilt Providence through strong recruiting classes.
One of his first recruits was walk-on Ross Mauermann, who has led the Friars in scoring all three of his college hockey seasons.
The next year, he added star goalie Jon Gillies, first-round NHL draft pick Mark Jankowski and high-scoring forwards Noel Acciari and Nick Saracino. They are all now upperclassmen. On the blue line, the Friars have four NHL draft picks.
Providence has gone from 14-20-4 to 17-14-7 to 22-11-6 in Leaman’s tenure. Many expect this to be his best team.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” UND captain Stephane Pattyn said. “It’s always fun to play against a team that’s expected to be at the top of the country.”
This weekend’s series was signed as just a one-weekend deal. UND is not scheduled to return to Providence as part of the agreement.
“I was disappointed that when the previous coach scheduled it that we don’t have North Dakota returning,” Leaman said.
But that’s not out of the question. Hakstol said he’s exploring the possibility of a future series to be played in Providence.
“At some point in time, we’ll get out there and play,” he said. “I’d love to go play in their building.”
After a disastrous opening night where NCHC teams went 2-5, it has rebounded to go 11-2 since that point. It now has the best out-of-conference record among the six leagues at 13-7 (.650).
Each league’s nonconference record is directly tied to how many teams it can get in the NCAA tournament come the end of the season.
“It’s one weekend at a time,” Hakstol said. “The nonconference success of our league is so important to all of us collectively. It was a good weekend last weekend, but everybody wakes up this week 0-0.”
UND isn’t the only team to have a marquee nonconference series this weekend. St. Cloud State plays Union on the road and Colorado College travels to take on Boston College and New Hampshire.
“We know how big nonconference is, especially after last year,” said Pattyn, whose team’s next five games are out-of-league play.
- Providence’s Jankowski did not travel with the team to UND and will not play this weekend due to an injury. Friar defenseman Tom Parisi also is out. Acciari did make the trip to The Ralph. Everyone is expected to be available for UND.
- Friar forward Shane Luke and UND forward Bryn Chyzyk were linemates for the Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.