by Joe Quirk '23
It has been quite a rollercoaster year for the Providence College men’s and women’s ice hockey programs. After strong starts for both teams that saw them among the nation’s top programs, they have finished their seasons in a nail-biting fashion.
The women’s team finished their season a strong 22-11-4 with a record of 15-8-4 in Hockey East play. According to USCHO they are currently ranked No.12 nationally…which unfortunately is one spot shy of where they needed to be. The NCAA women’s ice hockey playoff tournament is smaller than the men’s tournament, selecting only 11 teams for the field. Four of those teams will earn automatic bids by winning their conference championships, while the rest are selected at-large from the other ranked teams. The Lady Friars found themselves the odd ones out after losing the Hockey East championship last Saturday to Northeastern University.
The Lady Friars limped into Hockey East play after splitting their last four games, losing 2 out of 3 games to Boston College. In their first-round matchup, the Friars hosted the University of Maine. The Black Bears stood no chance, losing the matchup by a score of 5–2. Following their victory, PC traveled to Vermont to face the University of Vermont. Again, the Friars proved victorious winning by a slim margin of 1–0, the lone goal scored by senior Delaney Couture ’23 in the second period. That put the Friars in the Hockey East championship. This marked the 9th conference tournament championship appearance in program history, and the second since head coach Matt Kelly took over the program in 2018. A win would lead to just the third NCAA tournament appearance in program history, the second in Matt Kelly’s tenure, and the program’s first bid since the 2020-2021 season. However, Northeastern University proved too much for the Friars, as they fell by a score of 4–1 on the road. That moved the women’s ice hockey conference championship record to 4–5 all-time and effectively ended their season.
The question now is: what is next for these Lady Friars? This year’s squad was a good mix of returning veteran talent and impressive young prospects. A good chunk of their veteran leadership is gone now, including star-forward Sara Hjalmarsson ’23GS and goaltender Sandra Abstreiter ’23GS. Head coach Matt Kelly has proven in his short time in Friartown that he can build a winning team. However, he failed to repeat his successful NCAA tournament bid the last two seasons, despite being painfully close this season. That year however was also the first for Hjalmarsson and Abstreiter, and next season will be Kelly’s first without his two-star leaders.
As for the men’s program, their season has also been quite bumpy. After a scorching start that made an NCAA tournament bid seem inevitable, the month of January really crushed this team. Over a 5-game stretch spanning from mid-January into early February, the Friars went on a 0-5 skid which included being shut out twice and losing by one point three times. In late February, it had begun to seem like the Friars were getting some wind under their sails again with a 2-0-1 record over their next 3 games. But that was once again followed by an 0-3 record heading into tournament play. The Friars finished the season with a 14-13-7 record and a 7-9-6 record in Hockey East play. That record was good enough to net the Friars the 7-seed in the Hockey East tournament.
The Friars’ late season slide made their chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA championship tournament impossible. Head coach Nate Leaman has been in his biggest NCAA tournament drought since coming to Providence, missing the national tournament the last 3 seasons. With the national recognition he receives for being a good coach, another missed tournament bid could result in him looking for better opportunities elsewhere. A lot is at stake for the Friars to make the NCAA tournament. That said, their chances of an at-large bid were killed once the Friars fell outside the USCHO top-20, with the men’s NCAA tournament only fielding 16 teams, with automatic bids for conference champions. And thus, the Friars only hope of a bid was a conference championship. And those hopes remain alive.
The Friars faced the University of New Hampshire in their first Hockey East tournament game, narrowly winning 2–1 in overtime. After leading 1–0 after the first period thanks to Craig Needham ’23, the Friars surrendered a second period goal to tie the game. Jamie Engelbert ’23 then netted the game-winner just a minute and forty-one seconds into the overtime period. The Friars then traveled to a strong Northeastern University team last Saturday and again had a scare, winning once more by a score of 2–1 in OT. This time, the Friars came back from a one goal deficit after the first period. Freshman Brady Berard ’26 got to be the game-winning hero this time, scoring his first collegiate goal to keep the Friars’ season alive. Now, the Friars are faced with a big test and the highest stakes this weekend. The Hockey East semifinals will be hosted this Friday at the TD Garden in Boston, MA. The Friars are facing Boston University, currently ranked No. 5 nationally according to USCHO. The game will essentially be a home game for BU, as not only is it in their city, but also hockey is the school’s number one sport. If the Friars win, they will play for the Hockey East championship on Saturday, again at the Garden, with a NCAA tournament bid on the line. Now all we can do is wait and see what happens.