BOSTON — Billed as a goaltending showdown between Providence’s Jon Gillies and Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Massa, it was the Friar netminder that came out on top. 

He may not have been as tested as much as his Maverick counterpart, but Gillies stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced and the Friars will play for their first national championship after knocking off Omaha, 4-1, Thursday at TD Garden in the Frozen Four semifinals. The Friars will play the winner of Boston University/North Dakota in the championship game Saturday. 

Gillies, a native of South Portland, had a relatively easy night in net as the Friars (25-13-2) dominated the Mavericks at both ends of the ice. But the 6-foot-5, 215-pound netminder came up big when Providence needed him, especially in the third period when the Mavericks fired 10 shots on net, the most for them in any period. Gillies stopped nine shots in the frame with the Friars nursing a two-goal load. 

“I think it’s pretty special for everyone in our community, especially our guys in the locker room, and some of the alumni that are fortunate to be with us throughout our journey,” Gillies said. “And the support has been unbelievable from our fans and all the way through up and down the list, can’t thank them enough.”

As for the goals, they took awhile in the goaltending battle. But Providence’s Noel Acciari broke the stalemate at 11:02 of the second period. Acciari backhanded home a rebound to the right of Massa after the Omaha goaltender attempted to cover up a puck off the stick of Brian Pinho, but couldn’t freeze it. The puck squirted to Acciari, who had an open net to shoot at. 

Acciari’s goal ended a long stretch of frustration as the Friars missed open nets and had a few shots ring off the pipe. 

“Massa played a real good game. He’s one of the best goalies we’ve seen all year,” Providence’s Trevor Mingoia said. “Coach said we got frustrated; I did as well. We’ve got to stick to the game plan. Like coach said, you can’t be frustrated and be done with the game. You gotta continue on playing your game.” 

The Friars came back four minutes later to make it 2-0. Jake Walman retrieved the puck from just inside the blue line and hit Mark Jankowski, who was left all alone in front of the net. Jankowski handled the pass on the backhand, brought it to his forehand and lifted a shot over an outstretched Massa for the goal. 

Having been outshot 33-16 through two periods, the Mavericks (20-13-6) came to life, if only for a minute to halve Providence’s lead mid way through the third period. Jake Guentzel scored Omaha’s first ever Frozen Four goal with a quick wrist shot from the slot after a feed from the sideboards from Tyler Vessel. 

The Friars’ response came on the game’s next shot. After being robbed a couple times by Massa earlier in the game, Trevor Mingoia got the better of the Mavericks goalie in the third period, one-timing a shot into the top left corner over Massa’s blocker. 

“It was probably the biggest moment in the game for us, that and getting the first goal,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said.  Coming back the shift after giving up a goal, they had momentum. And for us to kind of score right back, it deflates their bench a little bit and it picks up your bench a little bit.” 

Providence sealed its first trip to the national championship game with an empty-net goal with 30 seconds left. Nick Saracino did the honors, finishing with a goal and two assists. 

“I just think they were more relaxed than us,” Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. We had a routine. You get into a routine, no matter if you’re in the regular season or the Frozen Four. But I thought when we hit the ice, we didn’t execute like we wanted to. We had simple rules. Yell for the puck. Get it in deep. Try not to turn it over. And we didn’t accomplish that. But give Providence credit. They have more of a veteran set of forwards than we do, and I think they played with more confidence than we did.” 

Despite the loss, Massa was a wall for most of the night. He finished with 44 saves, making no less than 13 in any period. His biggest save came against Saracino immediately following Providence’s third goal when he robbed the junior left wing with a sprawling glove save. 

“For the first time in the school history making it this far in the postseason with a youthful team only bodes well for the future of this program,” Massa said.  It’s hard to even get here and then how much harder it is to win that one game to get you to the national championship finals. So I think it was a great learning experience for these guys and it was an honor to be there for them and experience it with them.” 


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