Head Coach: Nate Leaman; 7th season
Last Season: 22-12-5 (12-7-3 in HE, 5th); Lost to Notre Dame in HE Quarterfinals; Lost to Harvard in NCAA Round of 16
Losses: D Anthony Florentino, F Garrett Gamez, G Brendan Leahy, F Conor MacPhee, D Kyle McKenzie, D Josh Monk, F Niko Rufo, D Jake Walman
Newcomers: D Jeff Baum, F Mikael Hakkarainen, D Cole Hults, F Matt Koopman, D Ben Mirageas, F Gabriel Mollot-Hill, F Jason O’Neill, F Greg Printz, D Jake Ryczek
Last season was an uncharacteristically down year for head coach Nate Leaman and his team, which had to cope with losing its top four scorers last offseason. However, despite a disappointing year, the Friars still finished fifth in Hockey East and reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. This time around, expectations for Providence are much higher, and they should return to competing for the Hockey East crown.
Despite struggling as a unit last season, Providence’s offense gained valuable experience that will allow them to greatly improve this season. The Friars retain their top four scorers from last season in Erik Foley, Josh Wilkins, Scott Conway, and Captain Brian Pinho, who combined for 52 goals and 76 assists. With this returning talent and expected improvement from other young forwards, the Friars should be able to greatly improve upon their mark of 2.97 goals per game last year.
However, if the Friars are going to be one of the top offensive units in Hockey East, they’ll need more production from Kasper Bjorkqvist, one of the team’s top recruits from last year. Bjorkqvist accounted for 3 goals and 6 assists last season, and will look to at least double those numbers in order to bring the Friars’ attack to a new level. Leaman will also be bringing in six freshmen forwards to supplement the returning offensive talent. Watch for freshman forward Gabriel Mollot-Hill to provide physicality to balance the Providence attack.
The biggest losses for the Friars come in the defensive unit, with Anthony Florentino and Josh Monk graduating, and Jake Walman forgoing his final year of eligibility to sign with the St. Louis Blues. In addition to the defensive capabilities of these three players, their offensive production, 19 goals and 42 assists in total, will be difficult to replicate. Despite these departures, the Friars have the talent and coaching staff to remain one of the top defensive groups in Hockey East. Vincent Desharnais returns to provide stout defense, while rising sophomores Spenser Young and Jacob Bryson aim to deliver a strong scoring punch by improving upon their point totals from last season (12 and 20 points respectively). Also look for freshman Ben Mirageas, a third-round pick by the New York Islanders, to contribute throughout the year. While the defensive unit might struggle at the beginning of the season due to lack of experience, expect these young defensemen to greatly improve as the year goes on, and be ready for the conference slate.
Even though Leaman lost a decent amount of experience on the defensive end, he has to be feeling good about netminder Hayden Hawkey’s potential this season. As a sophomore last year, Hawkey played in all 39 games for the Friars, and finished with a .913 save percentage and 2.19 GAA. Hawkey showed tremendous promise in just his first year as the team’s full-time starter, and should continue to improve as the season progresses. By season’s end, Hawkey will most likely be one of the first names mentioned in discussions of best goaltender in Hockey East.
Bottom Line: The 2017-2018 season has the potential to be a special one for Providence. The greatest strength for this team might be that the squad has no glaring weakness. Despite lacking skaters with true star power, this is an extremely well-balanced team with playmakers from top to bottom. The most troublesome part of the year will most likely be the beginning of the season, as Providence’s young defense could struggle early on. However, the enhanced offensive firepower for the Friars should be able to lift the team until the defense is able to hold its own later in the season. With an offense filled with experience, and a young, scrappy defense, the Friars should be in a position to compete for the Hockey East title this season.