A series against the first place team in the conference might not seem like the best time to turn early season struggles inside out, but it might be exactly what the doctor ordered for Providence College. The Friars host first place Vermont this weekend in a two-game series at Schneider Arena.
"We need to have another good week of practice. We have Vermont, the first place team in our league, coming into our building. We've got to be prepared for that," said Providence coach Nate Leaman.
Picked to win Hockey East in the preseason in both the media and coaches' polls, the Friars have gotten off to a tough start at 3-4-1, but this weekend presents an opportunity to turn the emotions around in the home locker room and have key players gain some much needed confidence.
Providence holds a 24-21-7 lead in the all-time series between the two schools, but is 6-1-1 over the past eight meetings including last season's series sweep in Burlington.
Last year's leading scorer Ross Mauermann has been held to just two assists in the team's first eight games, but the senior from Janesville, Wis. appears primed for a breakout weekend. He played arguably his best two games of the season last weekend against Merrimack.
"He had two or three great chances in the first period," said Leaman after Saturday's game at Merrimack. "I wouldn't be surprised if he led our team in scoring chances tonight. He'll get going. He's a good player and he's working. He's getting chances and they'll start going in."
Seven of Mauermann's 41 career goals have come against the Catamounts, his highest goal total against any opposing team. He's also added three helpers in nine career games against UVM.
Mauermann isn't the only Friar who is off to a slow start. Two double digit goal scorers from a season ago, Mark Jankowski and Noel Acciari, have just one goal between the two of them.
History aside, scoring goals and creating offense will not be an easy task against a stingy Vermont defense. Kevin Sneddon's team leads Hockey East in scoring defense, allowing a minuscule 1.62 goals against. The Catamounts also lead the league in penalty kill percentage at 92.9 percent and shots on goal against per game at 23.50.
Senior captain Michael Paliotta and junior Alexx Privitera get most of their attention based on offensive numbers from the blue line, but the duo have been Sneddon's top defensive pairing for much of the season for a reason. The two are sound defensively as well and know what to do with the puck on their stick. They do a good job pushing the puck up ice in transition which helps in the possession game.
It helps to have a reliable backstop as well. Junior Brody Hoffman got both starts last weekend and had a nice night statistically on Saturday after an off night on Friday. The Wilkie, Saskatchewan native is a big goaltender who takes up a lot of room in the crease.
At the other end of the ice Vermont will be tasked with going up against a terrific goaltender in Providence junior Jon Gillies. After a rocky start to the season Gillies has put together five consecutive games with a save percentage over .900 and has been .926 or better over the last three. He's certainly playing better between the pipes, but his progression has coincided with the return of John Gilmour and Tom Parisi from injury and Kyle McKenzie from suspension.
Parisi, a junior never really known for his offensive output, has been the Friars' most reliable defenseman in all three zones this season. He has a goal and three assists and is a team-leading +4. He looked especially impressive in the team's game at Merrimack last Saturday.
"He's been our number one [defenseman] all year. He's playing terrific. He's really got his feet moving with the puck well. I thought he generated some chances," said Leaman.
Key to the Series
Special teams could very well play a key role in this series. The Catamounts have the second best power play and best penalty kill in the conference while the Friars are 12th and 11th, respectively. With the way both teams typically play these two games should be close and a special teams goal here or there could be the difference.
Both games will be broadcast on Cox Cable Channel Ocean State Network (OSN) and will start at 7 p.m.
|Vermont (6-1-1, 4-1-1 HE)||Providence (3-4-1, 2-2-0 HE)|
|Head Coach||Kevin Sneddon||Nate Leaman|
|All-Time Series Record||21-24-7||24-21-7|
|Home/Away Record||2-1-1 (Away)||1-1-0 (Home)|
|Goals Per Game||3.12 (5th)||1.88 (11th)|
|Goals Against Per Game||1.62 (1st)||2.75 (7th)|
|Power Play Percentage||20.0% (2nd)||7.1% (12th)|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||92.9% (1st)||74.3% (11th)|
|Leading Scorer (Points)||Michael Paliotta (9)||Trevor Mingoia (5)|
|Leading Goal Scorer||Jonathan Turk (4)||Nick Saracino (3)|
|Assists Leader||Michael Paliotta (7)||Anthony Florentino (4)|
|Top +/-||Michael Paliotta (+7)||Tom Parisi (+4)|
|Most Penalties||Brady Shaw/Rob Hamilton (4)||Mauermann/McKenzie (5)|
|Projected Starting Goalie||Brody Hoffman (1.63/.927)||Jon Gillies (2.57/.917)|
|NHL Draft Picks||2||7|
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSports.