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Friars Only Undefeated Team Left in Division I

Matt Dewkett

Providence College hasn't lost a hockey game since March 15, 2015.

Let that sink in. The defending national champion Friars are the only undefeated team left in Division I hockey at the semester break. After Thursday's 4-1 win over crosstown rival Brown, they became the first team to reach Christmas without a loss since Colorado College pulled off the feat in the 1995-96 season.

Nate Leaman's squad enters the break with a 12-0-3 record and a scoring margin of +31 while giving up less than two goals per game.

In this era of extreme parity in college hockey, there is little chance the Friars finish the season undefeated, an accomplishment not duplicated since the 1969-70 Cornell squad led by Ned Harkness.

What makes the Friars' first half dominance so remarkable is the fact they did so while breaking in a new starting goaltender, replacing Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player Jon Gillies, who left early to sign with the Calgary Flames.

In hindsight, this impressive start should not come as too big of a surprise, given Providence boasts one of the top defensive corps in Division I. Just how good is the Providence blue line? Anaheim prospect and NTDP alum Steven Ruggiero and 2016 NHL Draft prospect Vincent Desharnais have combined to play in just 10 total games. Those are two very good defensemen who were healthy scratches on more nights than not.

Before being injured in the second to last game of the first semester, sophomore Jake Walman had a first half to remember. The St. Louis Blues draft pick made a huge jump from a stellar freshman season. He posted 11 goals and added eight assists in 14 games played.

Tom Parisi, John Gilmour and Anthony Florentino have added 27 more points from the blue line. Add in Kyle McKenzie and Josh Monk, and it's been the best six regulars in college hockey. Besides maybe North Dakota, it's hard to argue there is a better defense in Division I than the Friars.

Junior Nick Ellis, in his first season as the starter, has a .940 save percentage. The Millersville, Md. native has allowed just two goals over the past three games, and has two shutouts in his last five starts.

The offense has been no slouch, despite having to make up for the losses of Noah Acciari and Ross Mauermann. Mark Jankowski continues to develop his game and progress towards the next level. His added strength has allowed him to be a force in all areas of the offensive zone. Nick Saracino recorded his 100th career point against Brown. Despite a lack of size, Trevor Mingoia continues to be a force below the goal line, distributing pucks to linemates and finding the score sheet. Brandon Tanev's elite speed has allowed him to have a tremendous impact in all three zones.

What really stands out is Leaman's ability to develop his players. A tireless preacher of hard work, Leaman has guided his players to progressing and getting better each day. Take Saracino for example. The St. Louis, Mo. native has seen his offensive production increase by 10 points in each of his first three seasons. He's on pace for a similar spike this season.

Up next for the Friars is a matchup against a resurgent Cornell squad in the semifinals of the Florida College Classic. Then there is the potential second round matchup against Boston College, which could be the start of three out of four against the Eagles.

If Nate Leaman's team survives unscathed this gauntlet during the next five games, it could be onto something special.