BOSTON—Providence advanced to the national championship game by defeating Nebraska-Omaha 4-1 in the Frozen Four. Seeking their first-ever national title, the Friars are returning to the NCAA final for the first time since 1985. Here are three thoughts from Thursday’s first semifinal matchup:
1. Ryan Massa was out of his mind, and it wasn’t enough.
If Omaha was going to have any chance of advancing to the title game in its first Frozen Four appearance, the Mavericks needed goaltender Ryan Massa to outduel counterpart Jon Gillies. Massa answered the bell several times, finishing with 44 saves despite his team’s loss.
A 24-year-old undrafted senior, Massa was the nation’s leader in save percentage entering Thursday, and he showed why early and often. Through the midway point of the second period, it looked like Massa would steal the game for a reeling UNO squad, making several saves in traffic and stoning Trevor Mingoia and Noel Acciari right in front of the net in the first period.
Without Massa, this one would have been a total gongshow.
2. Providence kept Omaha’s young guns in check.
Nebraska-Omaha brought 18 underclassmen with it to Boston and was known as a run-and-gun team with young electric scorers like Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega. But the Providence defense absolutely owned the Mavericks in the neutral zone and refused to give Omaha skaters space in the middle of the ice. Ortega, who goes by the nickname “California Hot Sauce,” was held to a mild performance. The Friars allowed the Mavericks' 20-goal scorer just two shots on net.
Guentzel would tally Omaha’s lone goal to pull the Mavericks within one with 9:14 left to play, but the Friars responded with a goal 24 seconds later, and that was that. Omaha's leading scorer, Guentzel registered a team-high six shots on net.
3. The Friars have a Calgary connection.
The Calgary Flames have three draft picks on the Providence roster in Gillies, Mark Jankowski and John Gilmour.
Gillies wasn’t tested quite as much as his Omaha counterpart, but when the time came he was exactly as advertised: consistent.
A third-round pick in 2012, Gillies finished with 25 saves to earn the victory. It would be a big surprise if the Flames don’t approach the incredibly smooth junior after the weekend with a contract. At 6’5”, he projects well to the next level.
Jankowski, the No. 21 pick in 2012, has had a down year in terms of goal scoring, but he put forth a masterful performance against Omaha. The junior center displayed nice hands while netting his seventh goal of the season to put the Friars up 2-0 in the second period.
Gilmour, a junior defenseman, was selected by the Flames in the seventh round in 2013.