7-7-2. That is not supposed to be the record of this year’s Pioneer hockey team at the break. They are loaded at forward, came into the season with two solid goaltenders, and promised to play all 200 feet of the ice – playing relentless Pioneer Hockey.
In order to conjure up hope, we do not need to go clear back to the Fighting Parsons, DU’s original nickname. Look no further than the Providence College Friars of 2014-2015. At this same time last year, they were 8-6-2. And, just like DU, a preseason top-5 ranking looked undeserved for such an under-performing squad.
Last year, the Friars did not get their first win in regulation until November 1, when they took down Boston University in Boston. Later that month, they did experience a nice four-game winning streak to close out November – allowing only one goal against, before losing to Northeastern.
For most of last season, the Friars lived on the NCAA tournament bubble, dropping games to New Hampshire and Boston College, and tying UConn. Then, on February 7th, the Friars hosted “Drew Brown Night” to honor teammate Drew Brown, who missed the season while battling bone cancer. Inspired by Drew’s presence at the game, the Friars proceeded to crush UConn by a score of 10-1. Perhaps they had the same inspiration DU’s 2003-2004 national championship team had with the death of Keith Magnuson. It seems every championship team has ‘moments’ – a winning streak, comeback victories and a seminal event.
That was the turning point for Providence College.
Providence then went on to defeat Notre Dame, UMass, and Maine to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. As a third seed, they went into the Hockey East Tournament and were dispatched in three games, scoring only four goals. The Friars season rested in the hands of the pairwise rankings and the NCAA selection committee.
The Friars snuck into the NCAA tournament when Minnesota beat Michigan in the Big 10 championship game. In a decision that confounded many, especially the higher seeded DU team, the NCAA placed the #15-seeded Friars in the Providence regional bracket, technically hosted by Brown, that included Miami, Boston College, and Denver. A shaky Providence team played Miami in the first game, which saw the Red Hawks storm back from a 6-2 deficit to nearly tie up the game after pulling their goalie halfway through the third period. Providence finally found the empty net in the third period and won the game 7 to 5.
We all will remember the next day, Providence versus Denver on Providence home ice. DU, the prohibitive favorite, missed opportunity after opportunity but could not score. The Friars finished off the Pioneers with two empty-netters, 4-1 final, to make it to the Frozen Four.
Providence faced Nebraska-Omaha in one of the two semifinals. The Friars took a two-goal lead after the second period, which Omaha halved early in the the third period. 24 seconds later, Providence scored to put the Friars on top 3-1. Providence then netted an empty-net goal to win the semifinal with a score of 4-1.
The underdog Friars went into the Frozen Four championship against rival Boston University. Providence scored first, but BU responded with the two fastest goals in NCAA tournament history and took the lead. But a resilient Providence team tied it up with a Mark Jankowski goal, and BU scored again in the third period with a 3-2 lead. Then BU’s goalie scored on himself, and it took a play from an old Denver assistant head coach, then an associate head coach for Providence. Steve Miller drew up the winning face-off play. The Friars Brandon Tanev hammered the puck past BU Goaltender Matt O’Connor to put the Friars into the lead. Final score 4-3 and the Friar’s first hockey championship in 30 years.
DU can draw inspiration from Providence. While unlikely, and without the possibility of playoffs in in Denver or the western time-zone, all of DU’s objectives heading into the season are still in front of them. They just need a little divine inspiration.