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Frozen Four: Friars dominate Omaha, finally break Massa

Matt Dewkett

Boston -- There was a point where Providence players began to wonder if they could even get one by Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa.

But, then the tide turned in a span of 3:56 just past the midway point of the second period as the Friars struck twice to open up a 2-0 lead en route to a 4-1 win over the Mavericks and a spot in Saturday's national championship game.

Appearing in their first Frozen Four in 30 years, the Friars dominated the possession from start to finish, cracking Massa's stone wall in the second and then quickly answering a third period Omaha strike that cut the deficit in half.

"I thought we had a good start. We executed our game plan pretty well," said Providence coach Nate Leaman. "I was really pleased with our mental toughness because I thought we could have gotten frustrated, but we stuck with it. We finally got a bounce and got the first one."

Noel Acciari scored his 15th of the season at the 11:02 mark, pouncing on a loose puck that had squirted free from the scrum in front of the net. Providence's leading goal scorer corralled the puck and backhanded it home to put the Friars up 1-0. Nick Saracino and Brian Pinho were credited with the assists.

Mark Jankowski's hard forecheck set up his own goal with 5:02 left to play in the second. He crashed down low, getting the puck up the boards. The puck eventually caromed to Saracino who gave a perfect saucer pass back to Jankowski. The Flames prospect flashed his quick mitts before tossing the puck into the back of the net for the 2-0 advantage.

"It started with Trevor [Mingoia]. He won a great battle against their player and got it to Nick [Saracino], and Nick found me in front of the net. It was a great play by those two players. I just tried to outwait Massa there. He sprawled on the ice. I just tried to get it up over his pad," explained Jankowski.

Jake Guentzel gave Omaha life with 9:14 to play in the third period. Tyler Vessel won a battle along the right boards and got puck out to Guentzel who took a couple steps before cleanly beating Providence goaltender Jon Gillies to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Coaches often talk about winning the shift right after a goal. The Friars certainly did that, putting the Mavericks right back on their heels. Ross Mauermann and Mark Jankowski dug the puck out from behind the net and fed it to Trevor Mingoia out front. Mingoia snapped it right home to regain the two-goal lead for Providence.

"That was a phenomenal shot by Trevor. I don't think any goalie is stopping that. That was a great finish and it was a great comeback from a tough letdown there," said Gillies, who blamed himself for the Omaha goal just 24 seconds earlier.

"To score the very next shift after their goal, that was part of our game plan and part of our team mentality," said Jankowski. "For Trevor to get that huge goal for us the very next shift that was a big play."

Nick Saracino's empty net goal with 31 seconds left gave the Friars a 4-1 lead and a trip back to the national championship game for the first time since 1985.

Gillies made 25 saves for the win while Massa was terrific despite being on the short-end of the stick as far as the outcome was concerned. The senior made 44 saves in his final collegiate game.

"Johnny [Gillies] was able to come up big with some saves and we were able to get a squeaker in the second. I thought [Omaha goalie Ryan Massa] played a terrific game tonight," said Leaman.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.