Prov­i­dence Col­lege hockey team should feel at home in Buf­falo

Rol­ston, three play­ers have lo­cal con­nec­tions

The Buffalo News - - COLLEGES - By Rachel Lenzi

The con­nec­tions to Buf­falo are plenty for the Prov­i­dence Col­lege hockey team.

When the Fri­ars open the Frozen Four next week at KeyBank Cen­ter, their ros­ter will have a few play­ers and one coach who are fa­mil­iar with Western New York. Among those with ties to Buf­falo are Fri­ars as­sis­tant coach Ron Rol­ston, de­fense­men Tyce Thompson and Ja­cob Bryson, and for­ward Jack Du­gan.

“There’ll be some great con­nec­tions there, which, hopefully, we can get some Buf­falo peo­ple root­ing for us,” Prov­i­dence coach Nate Lea­man said.

The Fri­ars (24-11-6) face Min­nesota-Du­luth (27-11-2), the defending na­tional cham­pion, in the first semi­fi­nal April 11 at 5 p.m. The win­ner will face Mas­sachusetts (30-9) or Den­ver (24-115), which play in the sec­ond semi­fi­nal on April 11 at 8:30 p.m.

The na­tional cham­pi­onship game is sched­uled for April 13 at 8 p.m.

Rol­ston is in his sec­ond sea­son as an as­sis­tant coach for the Fri­ars. He pre­vi­ously coached the Buf­falo Sabres for 51 games over the lock­out­short­ened 2012-13 sea­son and the first 20 games of 2013-14. Rol­ston forged his suc­cess as a col­lege coach and as a U.S. na­tional team coach.

“This is the fifth Frozen Four he’s been to, he’s won two na­tional cham­pi­onships and he’s the win­ningest coach for the U.S. Na­tional Team de­vel­op­ment pro­gram,” Lea­man said. “Our play­ers love him and he’s done a ter­rific job with our power play this year. We’re real thank­ful to have Ron on our staff.”

Thompson is a fresh­man for­ward and the younger brother of Sabres for­ward Tage Thompson, who is cur­rently play­ing for the Sabres’ AHL af­fil­i­ate in Rochester. Tyce Thompson has scored eight goals, in­clud­ing three game-win­ners, and 17 as­sists in 41 games this sea­son.“I think Tyce Thompson is a heck of a player,” Lea­man said. “He keeps get­ting bet­ter and he’s been one of our best play­ers down the stretch, in the last 10 games. We’re ex­cited that he keeps grow­ing and we’re ex­cited that he keeps de­vel­op­ing as a player.”

Bryson, a junior, was Buf­falo’s fourth-round draft pick in 2017, and is the Fri­ars’ lead­ing scorer among de­fense­men with four goals and 23 as­sists, and has blocked 54 shots. Du­gan, a fresh­man for­ward from Rochester, is a Ve­gas Golden Knights draft pick. Du­gan is Prov­i­dence’s sec­ond-lead­ing scorer (10 goals, 29 as­sists).

Prov­i­dence made the NCAA Tour­na­ment as an at-large se­lec­tion af­ter Bos­ton Col­lege elim­i­nated the Fri­ars from the Hockey East Con­fer­ence quar­ter­fi­nals tour­na­ment by win­ning a best-of-three se­ries March 17.

Yet the Fri­ars’ strength of sched­ule, as well as a 14-7-3 record for sec­ond place in Hockey East, helped them earn a berth in the NCAA men’s hockey tour­na­ment. Prov­i­dence’s reg­u­larsea­son op­po­nents in­cluded games against five tour­na­ment teams: Notre Dame, Den­ver, At­lantic Hockey cham­pion Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional, Mas­sachusetts and Northeastern.

The Fri­ars have played in the Frozen Four five times, in­clud­ing two un­der Lea­man, who took over the Fri­ars in 2011, af­ter eight sea­sons as head coach at Union Col­lege in Sch­enec­tady. Lea­man has built the Fri­ars into one of Hockey East’s top pro­grams, but said sus­tain­ing suc­cess has been as much of a task as it was to build Prov­i­dence into a na­tional ti­tle con­tender.

“Once you win the na­tional cham­pi­onship, you’re al­ways go­ing up and be­liev­ing, this is the hardest part, build­ing it,” Lea­man said. “But when you’re try­ing to sus­tain that, it’s as hard as build­ing it. There’s a lot of chal­lenges.”

The Fri­ars, how­ever, have a tall task in front of them when they face Min­nesota-Du­luth, the defending na­tional cham­pion. The Bull­dogs are in the Frozen Four for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son.

“None of our guys take for granted that we have this op­por­tu­nity again,” Min­nesota-Du­luth coach Scott San­delin said. “These are very hard things to ac­com­plish, es­pe­cially the way the col­lege game is now, and the par­ity. I think our guys are very re­spect­ful of that and feel very for­tu­nate to have an­other op­por­tu­nity.

“It’s great we’ve got guys that have won a cham­pi­onship and have been there be­fore. You’re hop­ing when they get there, they can rely on that ex­pe­ri­ence and help guys that haven’t been there.”

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