Cornell can punch its ticket to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2003.

Eldon Lindsay/Cornell Athletics

Cornell can punch its ticket to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2003.

March 31, 2019

Regional Final Review: What to Know as Cornell Seeks First Frozen Four Berth Since 2003 Against Providence

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As much as Cornell men’s hockey and NCAA hockey fans might gripe, it’ll be a hostile environment for Cornell in the East Regional Final Sunday despite the Red serving as the home team.

No. 3 seed Cornell and hometown No. 4 Providence will battle it out in Rhode Island’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center Sunday at 4 p.m. for the right to play in the Frozen Four. The Red downed No. 2 Northeastern, 5-1, in the late semifinal while the Friars blew by No. 1 Minnesota State, 6-3, in the early game.

Here are some notes, logistics and storylines ahead of Cornell’s first Regional Final since 2012:

Who, what, when, where:
No. 3 Cornell; No. 4 Providence at 4 p.m. from The Dunk, broadcast nationality on ESPN2 (U.S. stream) and locally in Ithaca on WHCU 97.7 FM/870 AM. Live updates on www.cornellsun.com and on Twitter with @DailySunSports.

How we got here:
Cornell scored just 4:02 into its semifinal and blasted by red-hot Northeastern, 5-1, to reach its first Regional Final since 2012. Playing in place of an injured Matt Galajda, sophomore goalie Austin McGrath made 20 stops on the night and the Cornell penalty kill was 1-for-5.

Providence went down 3-0 before storming back with six unanswered goals for the 6-3 win over top-ranked Minnesota State. Tied at three apiece, a major penalty on one of the Mavericks’ best players gave Providence five minutes of uninterrupted power-play time, and the Friars capitalized by scoring twice on the man-advantage. They later added an empty-netter to reach the 6-3 final score.

Scouting Providence:
Despite being one of the “last teams in” for this NCAA Tournament, the Friars boast no shortage of high-flying talent, magnified wholly when playing in front of its hometown fans.

First-team Hockey East all-star Josh Wilkins leads all Providence scorers with 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists), including two tallies in the Friars’ win over Minnesota State. On the blueline, juniors Jacob Bryson and Spenser Young anchor a defensive corps that was the No. 2 unit in Hockey East in the regular season, allowing just two goals per game.

In net, the Friars are led in net by senior Hayden Hawkey — the winningest netminder in Providence program history. The three-year starter has started every game but one since his sophomore year and made 31 saves in the Friars’ semifinal win over the Mavericks.

Providence was upset by Boston College in three games in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, but a 21-9-6 overall regular season record, tie for No. 2 finish in the conference regular season and No. 14 PairWise ranking was good enough to earn the Friars an at-large bid to the tournament.

So far, Providence has made the most of its chance. A lethal power play unit against Minnesota State in the semifinal — 4-for-6 on the afternoon — was the difference-maker. Cornell’s penalty-killing unit, meanwhile, is 20-for-23 this postseason.

The series against the Friars:
As a former inhabitant of the ECAC until the Hockey East schism in 1984, Providence and Cornell used to be a rather common matchup. But since then, the two teams have met just six times, the last being a notable Cornell overtime win over the then-reigning champion Friars at the now-defunct Florida College Hockey Classic in 2015.

The two teams sit at a deadlocked 9-9-1 head-to-head record all-time, but one of Cornell’s most famous postseason wins came against Providence in 1979, when the Red came back from down 5-1 in the third period of the ECAC Quarterfinals to eventually win, 6-5.

Familiar face, different place:
Despite very little recent history against the Friars, Cornell and its coaching staff is very familiar with the schemes of Providence head coach Nate Leaman. The Friar bench boss last served as head coach for Union from 2003-11 and played a key part in recruiting members of the Dutchmen’s 2014 national title squad — which won the year before he earned the title with Providence.

Even before that, Leaman was an assistant at Harvard for several years.

It’s McGrath’s team now:
With Galajda on the shelf, McGrath has taken over for Cornell between the pipes. McGrath started for part of the season, too, and has amassed a 5-2-1 record with a .923 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average in 12 appearances this season. He was instrumental with 20 saves in Cornell’s semifinal win over Northeastern.

Tricky case of history:
The last time the Frozen Four was in Buffalo in 2003, Cornell made it there, and the Red is looking to repeat history this year. That time, Cornell was also placed in Providence for the Regional before ultimately falling to New Hampshire in the national semifinals.

The last time Cornell found itself in Providence, however, was 2009, when the Red — for the first time — downed Northeastern in the first round before falling to Bemidji State in the Regional Finals. In that respect, Cornell is looking to flip the script.

Sunday’s final comes, of course, after Cornell has been bumped out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years.

What Cornell is saying:
Head coach Mike Schafer ’86 on Leaman and Providence: “We watched a ton of tape on them throughout the whole course of the week, and of Minnesota State. We’re fully prepared to play them. They’re a good hockey team, they’re well coached. I coached against [Providence head coach Nate Leaman] when he was at Union. [We have a] good idea of what they want to do. Pretty simple and hard-working team. Very basic in the fact that they don’t try to trick you, they’re just going to try to beat you. It should be fun, but we’re well prepared, we’re ready to go. Everything’s broken down already. It’s just a matter of getting our athletes back, getting them fed and giving them an opportunity for them to see the information that we have.”

Schafer on going on the penalty kill five times Saturday: “We’re a basic hockey team when it gets down to it. We’re not trying to trick you. The one area I was disappointed was our lack of discipline with our sticks tonight. We deserved the calls that were called against us, and we’re going to have to be a lot better in that area tomorrow night. As you obviously watched, they put up three or four power play goals tonight, so we’re going to have to make sure that we’re a lot more disciplined with our sticks tomorrow night.

Senior forward and captain Mitch Vanderlaan on getting past the first round: “We’re not too far focused. Obviously, we want to make it to Buffalo, but we’re really focused on tomorrow. Make sure we get some water into us, get some sleep, watch some film and get ready for tomorrow.”

What Providence is saying:
Leaman on playing either Cornell or Northeastern: “For Hockey East purposes, we’d like to play the Huskies just because for the league and league pride to get three teams into the final eight, but at this time of the year you are going to play a great team. Doesn’t matter who you are playing. The Huskies have certainly been hot. We scouted Cornell on tape also. I think they are very good We just have to be prepared. We were in this spot last year getting to the final eight, and we’ve done a lot of work to get back to this point, so we just want to make sure we put our foot forward and play a good game.”

Providence forward Josh Wilkins on defenseman Jacob Bryson, who was on the ice for all six Friar goals Saturday: “He’s one of the best, if not the best, defensemen in the country. His poise and his ability to make plays really helps us out. There’s never any panic, whether we’re up or down. That helps everyone. He’s one of the most important parts of our team.”

Updated bracket:
Denver and UMass are the two teams to have their tickets punched to the Frozen Four, and the remaining matchups of Minnesota Duluth-Quinnipiac and Cornell-Providence look to join them.

Minnesota State joined St. Cloud State as a fellow No. 1 seed to go down in the first round.

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