PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Nate Leaman’s Providence Friars come out of this weekend’s quarterfinal series with Merrimack ranked No. 4 in the Pairwise, and guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament no matter their results in this upcoming weekend’s Hockey East Championship.
In fact, the Friars have a 63 percent chance of being a No. 1 seed in the tournament, according to 20,000 Monte Carlo simulations we ran at College Hockey News with our Pairwise Probability Matrix.
Providence’s five losses are tied for second-fewest in the nation, even with North Dakota and only two behind Quinnipiac (27-3-7).
And the Friars move forward in the postseason after a weekend series against Merrimack that Leaman says, absolutely made his team better.
“They’re a well-coached team,” he said. “They make adjustments and attack our weaknesses. … I think Mark (Dennehy) is one of the best coaches in the league.
“As soon as we drew them I knew this was great for us, because win or lose the series I knew we would get better. They contest every inch of the ice, they finish every hit and they force you to win battles with your body. It’s tough to get to their net, and that’s playoff hockey. They’re very good at it, and Mark is a very good coach. He gets the most out of his guys. As soon as last Sunday, when we drew Merrimack, as a coach I was really happy because if you’re going to beat this team, you’re going to get better and I think our team got better this weekend.”
Providence is a team made up of nine seniors, whereas the Warriors had only four in the lineup this weekend — Brian Christie, Ben Bahe, Craig Wyszomirski and Justin Hussar.
The Warriors only have three seniors on their roster next season, with 17 underclassmen on the roster. Merrimack’s best days seem to be ahead of them.
“They have four lines that can all play,” Leaman said. “I matched lines for the first 15 minutes (in Game 1), and after that we pretty much rolled from there, because I know Christie is probably their top line, but I feel like all their lines can score, and I feel like they have good depth. They’re just a really good team.”
Merrimack’s fanbase also impressed last year’s national-champion winning head coach. Merrimack packed three sections full of students at Schneider Arena this past weekend, with about one hundred more season ticket holders spread throughout the arena.
The atmosphere was particularly special on Saturday, when Providence’s band and a large student contingent returned from the Big East basketball tournament in New York, where the Friars’ hoop team fell to Villanova on Friday night in the semifinals.
“It was really big credit to their program, the number of people that traveled,” Leaman said in a pregame interview on the Merrimack Broadcast Network Saturday night.. “It was a great environment. It doesn’t make you feel good, as the home coach, looking up there and seeing the their fans, but when I was driving in this morning (before Game 2), I was thinking what a credit it was to Mark Dennehy and their program, and what they built, and the passion their school has for hockey. I thought it was great.”