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Strong Finish, Goaltending Lift Providence to Key Non-Conference Win Over Denver

2015 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

PROVIDENCE -- The end of the 2016 calendar year was a tale of two different games for the Providence College Friars.

After settling for a tie in their series opener with No. 2 Denver, head coach Nate Leaman’s Friars put together a complete effort and were resilient Saturday night, scoring twice in the third period to snag a 3-1 win at Schneider Arena.

The teams finished two periods tied at one, but the Friars held an 11-7 shots advantage in the final frame and used goals from freshman Josh Wilkins and senior Conor MacPhee to jump to 8-6-4 on the season.

“I thought we weren’t very detailed last night, but I thought tonight we were a little more detailed,” Leaman said. “It was a great game. I thought both teams pushed both ways, they’re an extremely well-coached team and they did some things we hadn’t seen this year.”

The hosts dominated much of the final frame, scoring their second power-play goal of the night just 1:16 in. Wilkins took a great feed from freshman Brandon Duhaime on a give-and-go for the game-winner, while sophomore Bryan Lemos won a draw back to MacPhee in the slot to give PC some insurance at the 14:20 marker.

Sophomore Hayden Hawkey made seven saves in each period en route to his eighth victory, but was not tested much in the third until its later stages when the Pioneers opted to pull junior Tanner Jaillet in favor of an extra skater for four-plus minutes.

The Pioneers closed the shots gap in that stretch, but the Friars held strong to preserve their tenth win in 14 home games against ranked opponents since 2014-15.

“The key really was how Hayden played. He had a good weekend,” Leaman said. “Last night, he made a save in the third period that probably preserved the (2-2) tie for us. Tonight, he made some good saves when they pulled the goalie there.”

On the flip side, the loss was Denver’s first on road ice this season after a 5-0-2 start. Overall, the Pioneers return home with a 12-4-4 record.

The visitors got off to a strong start and forced Hawkey into seeing the brunt of the early action, but the Friars picked up their offensive pace in the latter half of the first period. The frame saw just 15 combined shots on goal with PC holding a slim 8-7 edge.

PC finally broke the ice four minutes into the second, taking advantage of a 5-on-3 power play as sophomore Scott Conway followed up junior Brian Pinho’s shot for a rebound goal at the right crease, his sixth of the season.

Pinho took over the team lead in points after assisting on both PC goals in Friday’s series opener. The Capitals prospect and North Andover, Mass., native’s helper to Conway was his 12th assist and 17th point.

“I thought Providence was the better team,” Denver head coach Jim Montgomery said. “They out-competed us and out-special teamed us. When you lose both of those battles, you’re usually not going to come out on top.”

Denver did answer the bell with a man-up goal of its own at the 9:42 mark as senior captain Will Butcher took sophomore Dylan Gambrell’s feed for a slapper from the center point that rode through traffic and beat Hawkey over his blocker.

That was as close as the visitors would come as the Friars struck for a second power-play strike with Wilkins’ sixth goal of the season, padded their lead and did not commit a penalty in the final frame.

“One of the first things I mentioned to the guys after the game is their poise,” Leaman said. “I thought the guys did a much better job of focusing on what they could control. We had more energy in the third period and we were a lot more poised.

“That’s growth (for a young team),” Leaman added. “It’s a good win against a good team.”

Leaman believes the lessons learned through this weekend series against a challenging opponent will pay dividends as Hockey East play begins in earnest next week.

The Friars’ next game presents another challenge as they travel to Fenway Park next Saturday to take on Boston College, the first-place team in the standings by four points. Their following league series come against Vermont and UMass Lowell.

“Hopefully, it can be a little bit of a springboard,” Leaman said. “And, get the belief going in the locker room a little bit,” Leaman said. “These are the type of series you want to play non-conference. That’s going to help us for the second half because they play fast and they play hard. You’ve got to be plugged in all the time.”