Providence College men's ice hockey coach Tim Army knows his hockey -- he admittedly spends much of his limited free time catching up on his NHL Center Ice package and following his friends from his time coaching in the AHL. Army knows when he is watching strong hockey, and that's what he's seeing in Hockey East this season.
"There's a lot of good hockey right now in this conference, a lot of opportunities," Army said earlier this week. "It's still an open conference in terms of playoff spots, and I'm glad our team is in the thick of it at this point."
Providence (7-8-5) is aiming for their first Hockey East playoff spot in two years, having finished last in the conference in both 2009 and 2010. The Friars were predicted to finish 10th of 10 teams in the preseason, but find themselves in a much better spot than predicted. As of Friday morning, they are ranked No. 7 in Hockey East -- prime spot for a playoff berth.
Interestingly, Providence has fared well where some of their Hockey East conference mates have not -- against out-of-conference teams. The Friars tied Brown, the ECAC foe that has dealt both Boston University and University of New Hampshire losses, back on Dec. 7, 4-4.
The Friars face Maine Friday night, who they played two tight games with earlier in the season. "They are a very good team," Army explains. "We tied them the first time we played, and then lost the second game 5-0, though it was a much tighter game than the score reflected.
"In that second game, we played well into the third. This time around, we need to be conscious of their explosive forwards. They have a deep team, and everyone is engaged, even their defensemen. They have a great power play, and we need to not give them those opportunities this time."
Army credits junior goalie Alex Beaudry for keeping games close for Providence. Despite pulling him for the third period at their loss against Boston College last Friday, Army is still quite confident in his starting goaltender. "Alex really has a poise level and confidence that works well for us," commented Army. "He doesn't let himself get rattled after that first goal, he stays calm and our guys feed off that. He keeps us in games, no doubt. His intangibles enhance his skills as a goalie."
Despite Army’s acknowledgement that his team will "stand around and watch" some of the higher ranked teams they play -- like during last week’s home and home against No. 3 Boston College -- his senior class is trying to keep the team in games and teach their teammates to give full effort.
Army praises his senior captain, Kyle MacKinnon, for that leadership. MacKinnon leads the Friars with 10 goals, tied for fourth in the league. "Kyle has been a great leader for us, and is doing his best to contribute on the scoreboard. He’s having a good year so far."
"Our other seniors, like Benny Ferrer, Matt Germain, Eric Baier, and Ian O’Connor, they are giving great examples to our much younger guys. They not only are contributing offensively, but they are good examples off the ice, set a tempo, make guys understand what is going on, keep the younger guys in check," Army mentions. "Our senior class has just been great with helping through the ups and downs."
While Army is focused on the ups-and-downs of the college hockey season, he lives and breathes hockey in his rare downtimes. During the off-season, he is known for his strong hockey opinions on Twitter (Regarding the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup: "i will say this tho i am tired of hearing about marian hossa and finally winning...to me its not like he carried the team that drafted him")
"I like Twitter. Everyone tells me I need to be on it more, they liked what I had to say!" he laughs.
During the season, he watches his beloved NHL Center Ice package whenever he can, and says that while following professional hockey is fun, he also gets ideas for his own coaching for that. "I love watching from the standpoint of I know I can always learn more about playing and coaching. I can always find ideas and plays to bring to my own team."
"I look up to teams like the Detroit Red Wings for their consistency, and their ability to always find the talent and nurture it, even though they might not have the top pick in the draft," further explains Army. "It has its parallels to what I try to do with my team."
The Race for Hobey Begins
College hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, the Hobey Baker Award, began fan voting this week to narrow the field to ten semi-finalists. Twenty-one of the quarterfinalists play in New England.
Hockey East has 17 of the quarterfinalists, including three strong candidates in Boston College’s goaltender John Muse and forwards Cam Atkinson and Brian Gibbons. Atkinson, a junior averaging a strong 1.35 points per game, may be the strongest contender of the three Eagles listed. He is currently second in the nation in goals scored. Muse has tended net in two national championships, however, so the time may be due to recognize the senior goaltender for his poise in the offseason.
New Hampshire’s Paul Thompson, who is fourth in the nation in overall scoring, is another strong contender from Hockey East. Thompson has an outstanding 1.63 points per game, and is easily quarterbacking a UNH offense that is easily one of the best in the country as of late.
Maine’s Gustav Nyguist, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award a year ago, may see this year’s stock fall if Maine continues its inconsistency. Merrmiack goaltender Joe Cannata could be a surprising contender, given Merrimack's quick rise to the ranks of Hockey East’s leaders this season.
Nationally No. 1 ranked Yale has two of the leading contenders in Danny Keaney and Broc Little. Little, whose name dots most of the offensive statistics in the game this season, is considered to have the edge out of the two.
The following are all of the New England college hockey players in the running for the Hobey Baker Award. Fan voting and coaches voting will determine the ten semifinalists, which will be announced in March. The Hobey "Hat Trick," the three finalists for the award, are determined soon after, and the eventual winner is announced between the semifinal and final games of the Frozen Four.
- Broc Little, Senior Forward, Yale
- Denny Kearney, Senior Forward, Yale
- Gustav Nyquist, Junior Forward, Maine
- Spencer Abbott, Junior Forward, Maine
- Joe Cannata, Junior Goalie, Merrimack
- Stephane Da Costa, Sophomore Forward, Merrimack
- Chris Rawlings, Sophomore Goalie, Northeastern
- Tyler McNeely, Senior Forward, Northeastern
- Wade MacLeod, Senior Forward, Northeastern
- Alex Beaudry, Junior Goalie, Providence
- Ian O'Connor, Senior Forward, Providence
- Kyle MacKinnon, Senior Forward, Providence
- David Vallorani, Junior Forward, UMass Lowell
- Riley Wetmore, Sophomore Forward, UMass Lowell
- Alex Killorn, Junior Forward, Harvard
- Brian Gibbons, Senior Forward, BC
- Cam Atkinson, Junior Forward, BC
- John Muse, Senior Goalie, BC
- Mike Sislo, Senior Forward, UNH
- Paul Thompson, Senior Forward, UNH
- Phil DeSimone, Senior Forward, UNH