Providence reaches fifth Frozen Four – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Providence reaches fifth Frozen Four - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Penguins prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist, Providence advance to Frozen Four
PROVIDENCE — With the memory of losing to Notre Dame in the East Regional final in 2018 still fresh in their minds, the Providence College hockey team was out to make sure history did not repeat itself, beating Cornell, 4-0, in front of their hometown fans at the Dunkin Donuts Center Sunday to advance to the Frozen Four.

Providence (24-11-6) will face defending national champion Minnesota Duluth on April 11 in Buffalo, N.Y. Minnesota-Duluth clinched its third straight trip to the Frozen Four by beating Quinnipiac, 3-1, in the Midwest Regional final in Allentown, Pa. UMass, which defeated Notre Dame in the Northeast regional final Saturday night, will face Denver in the other semifinal.

Leaman’s team had all the makings of one that could repeat as a national title contender. All year, they showed flashes of being able to make the run to the final weekend. Wilkins, along with many of the impact seniors, have the potential to make people remember this squad for a long time. They’ve been a force for so long this year, but just couldn’t keep the consistency down the stretch in the regular season and the conference tournament.

Last year, the Friars were tied with Notre Dame entering the final minute, but the Fighting Irish scored with 27 seconds remaining and held on for a 2-1 win to end Providences season.

Wilkins goal, less than two minutes into the second period, set the tone for the remainder of the game. It wasn’t a fatal blow for the Big Red, but it put them in a panic. Providence can play a defensive, shut-down game on one end of the ice if they need to do it. Cornell just didn’t have an answer for them on either side, getting peppered by the Providence attack and unable to generate real scoring opportunities for long stretches of the game.

It was the worst feeling last year. We were 30 seconds away from an overtime, an overtime that we felt good about, said goalie Hayden Hawkey, who recorded 19 saves for his seventh shutout of the season. But now, to see what weve done all year, we used that as motivation. The guys were talking about it in between periods, about that feeling from last year, it wasnt good, and we didnt want that again.

Neither team was able to generate much offense in the opening 10 minutes, until the Friars got on the board with 9:40 remaining in the first period. Junior Jacob Bryson sent the puck in on net from just inside the blue line from the left. Cornell goalie Austin McGrath (25 saves) made the stop, but sophomore Greg Printz, posting up in front of the goal, was able to corral the loose puck and knock it past McGrath for the only goal of the first period.

It was a huge focus going into the game because we had been trailing a lot recently, said Printz. We just knew that if we got the first goal, wed have a good chance to win, so as soon as we scored the first goal, it was a huge lift for the team. We were able to get comfortable and just play our game.

“It’s funny. We have a new athletic recovery center, and he just started using it this week,” Leaman said. “He told our trainer that he never slept better. He’s putting it into another gear, which is terrific. He’s a good player. He’s a really good player, and we’re just happy to happen.”

For the first time since 2015, when they won it all, @FriarsHockey is heading to the #FrozenFour!#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/rhYWgHYgQZ

If it wasn’t before, it’s now clear this group can beat anyone. They’re heading to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2015, and Friar faithful can point to the junior from Raleigh, N.C., as a significant reason they’ll be booking hotels in Buffalo for next weekend.

The Friars had another opportunity in the closing minute of the first period when Cornell defenseman Matt Nuttle lost his skates in his own zone while retrieving the puck and turned it over. Providences Bryan Lemos gathered it and had a breakaway, but McGrath stayed in position and denied the bid.

Both games this weekend ended with the Friars putting their opponent into a submission hold. Not only did that first goal down 3-0 against Minnesota State start off the avalanche of 10 unanswered goals this weekend, but his goal Saturday changed the game, and possibly, the Providence narrative.

Providence wouldnt have to wait long for another opportunity once the second period started, and this time they capitalized. Jack Dugan circled with the puck just inside the blue line and sent it on net. The initial shot was stopped, as was Kasper Bjorkqvists putback attempt, but Josh Wilkins was able to get it past McGrath when the puck deflected off his skate and in. The play was reviewed, and the call upheld.

Wilkins would be named the regions Most Outstanding player after tallying three goals and two assists over the weekend.

“I think it’s mostly poise,” Wilkins said. “Our coaches talked about that all weekend. Obviously, it’s a pressure situation, these games, but you gotta remain calm and make the right play when you see it.”

Cornell (21-11-4) struggled to generate much offense the entire second period, landing just four shots on goal, and was hoping to avoid further damage, but the Friars would strike again with .6 left on the clock.

“(Scoring the goal) is a confidence thing,” Wilkins said. “After coming off yesterday, those power plays clicked. Today, the confidence rolled over. The pucks seemed to go in. We were making the right plays.”

With his team on the power play, Brandon Duhaime skated down the right side past the goal, then circled wide and kicked the puck back out to Wilkins, who sent it in toward the Cornell goal where Scott Conway was able to re-direct it past McGrath for a 3-0 lead heading into the third period.

Cornell had no answer for how the Friars approached the game in the second period. There would be no comeback because Providence wouldn’t allow it to happen. The Friars outshot Cornell 29-19, but the gap could have been 50.

“It was all about last year.”– @FriarsHockey head coach Nate Leaman on heading to the #FrozenFour#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/bJ7VFuLwi4

Thats just a big-time play, said Providence coach Nate Leaman. One of the guys on the bench told [Duhaime] that there was nine seconds left, and he tried to get to the net. He couldnt get there, but thats just great awareness. Weve got some good players with some good awareness. I thought they executed a great game plan.

“We were a couple of games away from not being in this thing,” Wilkins said. “We’re really excited to go there. Hopefully, we can keep this roll going.”

Duhaime would get a goal of his own, scoring an empty-netter with 1:47 left to account for the 4-0 final.

Wilkins gave the team a chance to make history all over again. If he or another player makes an impact in Buffalo as he did in Providence, the Friars will probably be champions.

Im happy for the players, said Leaman. I think the guys have been waiting to get back to this point all year long. I think there was a lot of ache in our team from losing last year in this game the way we did, with a minute left.

It was not an easy route back to the Frozen Four, as Providence was upset by Boston College in the conference quarterfinals and had to wait out the results of conference championship weekend to see if it would be playing in the NCAA tournament. Everything broke right, and the Friars were slotted in the East Regional as the No. 4 seed, and advanced to the final by defeating Minnesota State, 6-3, in the first round on Saturday.

Altering the course of a weekend by starting an offensive barrage twice all by oneself can sure be vital at this time of year.

Providence had taken this road before. In 2015, Providence lost in the Hockey East quarterfinals, then had to sweat out the conference championship. They were the No. 4 seed in the Providence regional that year as well, and knocked off top seed Miami and No. 2 seed Denver to reach the Frozen Four in Boston, where they would defeat Omaha and Boston University for the schools first national championship.

Cornell was hoping to repeat a little history of its own. In 2003, Cornell defeated Boston College, 2-1, in the regional final in Providence to advance to the Frozen Four, which was held in Buffalo that year as well. The Big Red would go on to lose to UNH, 3-2, and have yet to reach the Frozen Four since.

Share Share Penguins prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist, Providence advance to Frozen Four tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Photo by USCHO.com Providence upset No. 3 seeded Cornell in a stellar 4-0 shutout performance to win the East Regional and advance to the Frozen Four in the 2019 NCAA tournament for the fifth time in program history. This marks the first time the Friars will return to the semifinals since winning the national championship back in 2015.

Penguins prospect, and junior forward, Kasper Bjorkqvist has put together a couple solid performances. He netted the game-tying goal (after Providence was down three) in the Friars incredible 6-3 comeback win against the top-seed in the East, Minnesota State.

TIE. GAME. Jack Dugan wraps around the net on the power play and Kasper Bjorkqvist hammers it home on the doorstep for the @FriarsHockey equalizer. 2nd Period | PC 3 | MSU 3#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/fLVsmXk8DD

In Providences second tourney matchup against Cornell, the Friars — led by the top line play of Bjorkqvist, Josh Wilkins, and Jack Dugan — powered through the Big Red, who just a night earlier, stunned the typically electric (and favorite to win the natty) Northeastern Huskies in a 5-1 victory.

Bjorkqvist found the score sheet again during this game, as he collected a primary assist on Wilkins second period tally after trying to shovel the puck in himself a few seconds prior. The Big Red failed to get a puck past the Friars appropriately named goaltender Hayden Hawkey and were knocked out of the tournament.

Jack Dugan wheels around the offensive zone, throws it on net, and Josh Wilkins is there to take it home for @FriarsHockeys second goal of the game. 2nd Period | PC 2 | CU 0#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/1VDXvAbmzJ

Bjorkqvist, and fellow captain Vincent Desharnais, play specific roles for the Friars. Bjorkqvist, specifically, is known to his teammates and coaches as the voice of the locker room. The two have been outstanding leaders all season, and the entire Providence team and coaching staff feeds off of the two of them game after game.

The 2016 second round draft pick (No. 61 overall) for Pittsburgh now has 30 points (17 goals, 13 assists) in 41 games played, and ranks fourth on the Friars behind three other excellent offensive talents. He continues to emerge as one of the better prospects the Penguins have in their system. His rise has been reflected in the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 list, where Bjorkqvist clocked in at No. 10 in our rankings last summer, up from No. 17 in the summer of 2017.

Providence (24-11-6) is slated to face the defending national champions, Minnesota-Duluth, on April 11 in Buffalo, New York. The Bulldogs clinched their third-straight trip to the Frozen Four after taking down Quinnipiac 3-1 in the Midwest Regional final in Allentown, Pennsylvania. UMass, who defeated Notre Dame in the Northeast Regional final Saturday night, will face Denver in the other semifinal.


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