By Sam Scanlon ’19
A sold out Schneider Arena welcomed the second ranked University of Massachusetts Minutemen last Saturday night, a game that has surely been marked on the calendar in the Friars’ locker room since their last meeting on Nov. 10. Chances were traded back and forth throughout the entire contest as shots on net stood at 36 for UMass and 30 for Providence.
The Minutemen made it a point to silence the booming Schneider Arena crowd as they struck first and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. However, early in the second period, Jason O’Neill ’21 ripped a shot into the back of the net for the equalizer. O’Neill’s timely tally was good enough for his fourth of the season.
Not long after, Josh Wilkins ’20 buried a centering feed from Davis Bunz ’21. Lately, Wilkins has been a huge part of the Friars offense, as the Hobey Baker Award nominee leads the team with 33 points. With his goal on Saturday, he became the first Friar in 16 years to have three straight 30-point seasons. His playmaking ability, coupled with scoring touch, is pivotal for the Friars’ offensive production.
As the third period opened up with a 2-2 scoreboard, Hayden Hawkey ’19 battled to keep it tied up. The goaltender made several sprawling saves to keep the Friars’ hopes of an upset intact.
It took under three minutes of play for the score to break a tie as Scott Conway ’19 shoveled in his 13th goal of the season that sent Schneider Arena into a frenzy. Desperately trying to survive the late UMass onslaught, the clock hit 00.0 and the Friars bench stormed onto the ice to congratulate Hawkey on a crucial victory.
Although beating UMass was a huge feat, the Friars needed to turn right around and travel to the University of Connecticut for another important Hockey East matchup on Tuesday night.
Another early opposition goal struck the back of the net in this contest as well, as the Huskies took the lead. However, Wilkins once again proved why he is the team’s leading scorer as he evened the score less than a minute later.
An incredible passing play by Conway, Jack Dugan ’22 and Kasper Björkqvist ’20 gave the Friars their first lead of the contest. Dugan has impressed with his vision and precise passing ability all season long, as he was able to find Björkqvist on the door step for an easy tap in goal for Björkqvist’s team-leading 14th of the year.
The teams skated into the locker room tied at two following the second period for the second game in a row, but Wilkins and the Friars were surely going to come out firing in the third. Wilkins tallied two more goals in the period to complete the first Friars’ hat-trick since Björkqvist did it in 2017. In order for this team to have a successful playoff run, Wilkins is going to need to stay hot.
Brandon Duhaime ’20 got in on the action as well, as he fired his ninth goal of the year past the UConn goaltender to complete the 5-2 win over the Huskies.
The Friars are playing their best hockey at the perfect time heading down the stretch into Hockey East Tournament play. They are absolutely going to need to continue their production and ability to win games in these final two Thursday night games against Boston University and Boston College. Two wins against these tough opponents will put the Friars in the best possible position to grab the second seed in the Hockey East Tournament.
Unfortunately, seeds two through eight will not be decided until the final whistle blows and the final buzzer sounds. All seeds are still up for grabs within the top eight as the teams are so close in points. In order for the Friars to lock in second place, games against BU and BC need to be wins, and there needs to be some Hockey East upsets in the coming weeks.