In the official conclusion to Hockey East's first half, the Vermont Catamounts and Providence Friars meet in a crucial league contest on Thursday night at Schenider Arena, which will also conclude the three-game conference season series between the teams. The game will be televised across southern New England in Cox Sports in Rhode Island with Mike Logan and Bob Bellemore on the call.
Each side captured a victory in a weekend series to open November at Burlington's Gutterson Fieldhouse, which included a 2-0 shutout for UVM in the finale. Rookie Brody Hoffman made 24 saves as he posted his first-collegiate shutout, while veterans Matt White and H.T. Lenz found the back of the net to pace the Cats to a win.
The key storyline in the game is the absence of stellar Friar freshman goaltender Jon Gillies, who was selected to the inital Team USA roster for the upcoming World Junior Championship, which begins next Wednesday in Ufa, Russia. Head coach Nate Leaman will announce either senior Russ Stein or rookie Dylan Wells to make their first start of the season.
PC enters the contest with a 7-6-2 (5-4-1 HE) record, but is 0-1-1 in its first two December games. A win by the Friars on Thursday night would secure the season series versus Vermont for a second straight year, marking a first in UVM's history in the conference. The Friars had a four-game winning streak in the all-time series (which stands 24-19-6 for UVM) in the most previous meeting.
In their last game, the Black and White came back from two goals down in the third period to tie top-ranked Boston College, 3-3, in front of a sold-out home crowd two Fridays ago. Freshman Nick Saracino knotted the game for good with 11 seconds left in regulation as PC pulled its goalie for the extra skater.
UVM (4-8-3, 3-5-3 HE) has posted a clean split of its first three games in the year's final month, including an impressive 5-2 victory over storied ECAC conference rival St. Lawrence on Saturday night at Appleton Arena in Canton, N.Y. Hoffman made a career-high 39 saves in the contest, while four Catamount skaters posted multi-point efforts, including a goal and two assists from sophomore Kyle Reynolds.
Joshua Kummins is the Hockey East beat writer and a weekend editor for SB Nation Boston. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins.