By Sam Scanlon ’19
Every Hockey East series, game, and goal are incredibly crucial at this stage of the season. As the halfway point in the 2018-19 season approaches, Providence College’s matchup against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats last weekend was no different. The No. 10 NCAA Division I ranked Providence College Friars came into the weekend following a disappointing Thanksgiving trip to No. 7 University of Denver, falling in the first contest and tying in the second.
Friday night’s tilt started off on the right foot as Jason O’Neill ’21 deposited his second goal of the season just 20 seconds in. O’Neill’s wrister came from a low angle and was able to sneak by the UNH netminder to put the Friars up 1-0 early in the game. Following a Josh Wilkins ’20 injury, O’Neill had to slide into the first line center role this weekend. Although Wilkins left a large offensive void this weekend, an increase in O’Neill’s production is pivotal for an offense who is capable of dismantling defenses across the NCAA.
UNH struck back in the second period as a Friars’ powerplay mishap led to a 2-on-1 for the Wildcats the other way. A one timer made its way past Hayden Hawkey ’19 and into the back of the net for the equalizer. The rest of regulation would remain scoreless and the Friars would enter their second overtime in a row.
Once again, Hawkey stood tall in his crease making 23 saves, including a number of acrobatic ones down the stretch late in the third period and throughout overtime. Unable to capitalize past the opening 20 seconds, the Friars had to settle for a second straight tie.
Game two appeared to be more of the same, any sort of offensive production was hard to come by. Dominating the Wildcats in shots, UNH was able to capitalize on their first high quality chance in the second period on the powerplay. The third period was well underway and the Friars still had not been able to find the back of the net. However, the timely spark came from an unlikely source as all 6’6” of Vincent Desharnais ’19 took a feed from Brandon Duhaime ’20 in the high slot and sent it past the UNH goalkeeper to tie the game at one with just over nine minutes left to play.
For the second night in a row, a 1-1 scoreboard hung over center ice in the waning moments of the game. With a little under three minutes left to play, Duhaime took the puck and found the speedy 2018 Philadelphia Flyers’ 1st round draft pick (19th overall), Jay O’Brien ’22, streaking down the ice. O’Brien, who has been unable to find the back of the net this season, broke in on a breakaway and slid it across the goal line with 2:32 left in the contest. Following the game, Head Coach Nate Leaman reflected on the goal in his post-game press conference by saying, “big finish for Jay O’Brien. That was great for him to get his first goal at a time that we needed him.”
Spenser Young ’20 provided the insurance tally as he netted his fifth marker of the year. The final score was 3-1 and the Friars were able to grind out a huge 4-point weekend in the Hockey East. Leaman added, “[I’m] really proud of the team how they stuck with it and found a way to win a game on the road…It’s nice that the guys came back and responded with a good team win.”
The Friars close out the first half of the season on Friday with a contest against Merrimack College before heading into break. The action picks back up just after Christmas as they travel to Dartmouth College to participate in the 2018 Ledyard Classic. They will take on Ivy League opponents Brown University and Dartmouth University, two games that the Friars should use to get their offensive weapons back on track.
A weekend series against Miami University (OH), a team that Hawkey kept off the board in Erie, Pennsylvania, is next in January followed by a critical weekend against Hockey East foes Boston College and Boston University just before the Friars return to campus. A stretch that can propel the Friars into a successful second half run is within reach.