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Sabres prospect Bryson has eyes set on national championship

Providence defenseman begins Frozen Four run in Buffalo on Thursday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Jacob Bryson watched as Minnesota State forward Jake Jaremko tapped a backdoor pass into the Providence net, spurring him to issue a promise to his teammates.

Bryson, a junior defenseman for Providence, had allowed Jaremko to escape just long enough to bury the feed across the middle, giving Minnesota State an early 2-0 lead in their opening-round matchup of NCAA Tournament on March 30. 

He skated back to the bench and foreshadowed what would happen next.

"Apparently, I did not hear this, but he came over to the bench and said, 'I'll get that one back,'" Providence coach Nate Leaman said. "Jacob doesn't speak much. He's more of a quiet leader. He leads with his play and his poise. So, when he said that, I'm sure the guys felt a bolt of energy."

Spenser Young, Bryson's defense partner that afternoon, corroborated Leaman's account.

"That's exactly what he said, and I believed him," Young said. "That's probably the only time it's happened, and I don't think it will ever happen again."

The Friars allowed one more goal, trailing 3-0 at the 11:08 mark of the first period. They went on to score six unanswered, including four on the power play, and Bryson was on the ice for all of them.

"When I feel like I make a mistake, I feel like it's my job to get that goal back," Bryson said. "That's what it was like in that game. I told my teammates, 'That was my fault. Listen, I'll get one back.' I think that's why our power play was so successful.

"We were down three goals and I went out there with a passion to get a goal for our team. I didn't score personally, but we got four goals on the power play and I think I played a little part in that. So, that was kind of my comeback."

Tweet from @twolinepass: providence's jacob bryson has a 62.5% 5v5 CF, has been on for all four providence goals, only one against, and is 4-0 in drawing penalties... player of the game

Providence won the following game against Cornell, 4-0, to advance to its first Frozen Four since beating Jack Eichel's Boston University team in the 2015 National Championship. The closest Bryson had come was last season, when the Friars were one win away but lost, 2-1, in the Regional Final against Notre Dame. 

That memory was fresh on the defenseman's mind throughout his junior campaign, particularly in the postseason. Providence's NCAA Tournament run nearly ended before it began due to an opening-round loss to Boston College in the Hockey East Tournament. The Friars practiced for two weeks with their future in doubt before getting the help they needed to secure an at-large bid. 

The regional game against Minnesota State - which was played in Providence - signaled the beginning of a second life. 

"We lost to Boston College," Bryson said. "We didn't know if our season was going to be over or not. I think a lot of people felt, 'We cannot be done.' Last year, we felt that against Notre Dame. We told the team, 'Listen, we don't want this feeling. We know what it was like last year.'"

Providence's bid for a national championship continues with its Frozen Four matchup with Minnesota-Duluth at KeyBank Center on Thursday. If the Friars are successful, expect Bryson to play a major role.   

Since being selected by the Sabres in the fourth round in 2017, Leaman says that Bryson has learned to use his feet to defend and compensate for his lack of size. (He's listed at 5-feet-9-inches tall.) He's become a player that the Friars rely on in all situations.

Now, on the biggest stage in college hockey, Leaman wants to see Bryson take it up a notch.

"Any game he goes into, he has the potential to be the best player on the ice," Leaman said. "I think Jacob is a wonderful player. He's got it both offensively and defensively. He doesn't force the game. He doesn't try to do something that's not there. But, when we get to this stage, I want him to assert himself on the game."

Bryson is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman who's credited with having a high hockey IQ. He's tallied 27 points (4+23) in 41 games and was named to Hockey East's Second All-Star Team. His partner describes him as being a sort of five-tool player for the Friars.

"He's quick, he's smart, he's got a great shot," Young said. "I mean, he runs everything. He's probably one of the best players I've ever played with. He very rarely makes mistakes, which I think is the best thing about him. You can rely on him in every situation. And he plays like he's over six foot, even though he's a little guy."

Tweet from @NCAAIceHockey: Jacob Bryson: Mr. Do-It-All2nd Period | PC 2 | CU 0#NCAAHockey

He also serves an important role in the dressing room, co-captaining the Friars along with fellow junior Kasper Bjorkqvist, his roommate for three seasons. Bjorkqvist is the more vocal of the two; he was the one who spoke to the team during the first intermission against Minnesota state. Bryson tends to lead by example. 

"You know when he's locked in, everyone else is locked in around him," Young said. "I think that speaks for him."

Now, he has a chance to lead the Friars to the top of the mountain, on the ice where he could one day begin his NHL career with the Sabres. The adversity to this point - the loss to Notre Dame, the early deficit against Minnesota State - should only serve as motivation. 

"A lot of the freshmen don't know that experience," Bryson said, reflecting on that first-round comeback. "But as juniors and seniors, we were like, 'We are not losing again. We want to get to that Frozen Four.' Now that we're here, we want to win a national championship."

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