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Providence hockey heads to Frozen Four with strong ties to Buffalo

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 at 5 p.m. April 11. The winner will face Massachusetts (30-9) or Denver (24-11-5), which play in the second semifinal at 8:30 p.m. on April 11.

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

Rolston is in his second season as an assistant coach for the Friars. He previously coached the Buffalo Sabres for 51 games over the lockout-shortened 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 regular-season 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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