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Monday, December 31, 2007

Hockey Log: GLI Wrap

Upward swing something to build on
By Al Daniel

Even if the shifting paper-based implications of their come-from-behind 5-3 overhaul of Michigan State were hitting them, the Friars continue to refrain from explicit elation. But when they addressed the media, they were apt to label their high-ranking holiday excursion an opportunity to freeze and push along some momentum when their Hockey East schedule hits its January fast-track next weekend.

Leading up to around the halfway mark of Saturday’s Great Lakes Invitational consolation game, Providence had thrust a never-before-seen ambitious offense against the #1 (Michigan) and #5 (Michigan State) teams in the nation, but what wholly fettered on the scoreboard through their first eighty-plus minutes of action.

But after senior captain Jon Rheault knotted the game at 6:42 of Saturday’s middle frame, the Friars thawed out at a glacial pace to nick the defending NCAA champion and forge a .500 (7-7-2) transcript to take back to the coast for the New Year.

The GLI offered a rather hefty statistical upgrade in PC’s last regular season dose of interconference play. For all the intriguing anarchy that defined the first hunk of the Hockey East schedule –which on PC’s part included an uplifting road sweep of a ranked Maine team in November- the CCHA is understandably the talk of the nation.

And on Day 1, the almighty Michigan Wolverines took that to Tim Army’s corps firsthand, dishing out a 6-0 rout, despite the Friar ability to charge up a bewildering inverse shooting edge of 50-21.

In another twenty-four hours, though, Providence acclimated with enough straightforward steadiness to force-feed some vinegar to a Spartan team that closed out its magical 2007 on an 0-2 GLI finish.

Said Army, “I think what we learned is –and we see it in Hockey East- but when you play against good-quality teams, you need to make sure you stay with your program, stay with your game, and we did that.”

Other than the core category –the scoresheet- little was different between the two chapters of Friartown Meets Hockeytown. Right after dumping their largest bushel of shots of the season on Michigan stopper Billy Sauer –who went on to win tournament MVP honors through a double-overtime shutout of Michigan Tech in the championship tilt- the Friars made an exponential climb towards outshooting Michigan State 45-30 on Saturday, increasing their output by six shots by the period.

The no-duh difference on that front was their swift return to effective offensive interruptions. For the third time in the month of December (dating all the way back to the pre-exams tangles with Brown and Union), Providence registered a four-goal period in an earthquake of a third period, outshooting the Spartans 21-12 and outscoring 4-2 in that window.

Additionally, the inherent underdog jitters that came with both matchups failed to shred the Friars disciplinary record. They paid a mere four trips to the sin bin against Michigan –two of those elbowing minors to Greg Collins well after the game had been wrested away- and two against Michigan State. They remained perfectly regimented against the Wolverines until 11:44 of the middle frame and the following afternoon, from the 1:03 mark of the second period onward, their behavioral slate stayed unscratched.

“That’s really important against any team you play,” said Army. “You want to play hard, skate hard, be physical, but you also want to do things with discipline, with composure, especially on the road –I really consider these road games.

“If you give teams (like that) too many power play opportunities, they’re gonna take advantage of it, so by nature we try to stay out of the box, and I think we did a generally good job of that.”

Whatever ultimate grade may be liable given the wild dynamics of their ice-based term exam and their response to it, the Friars were contented enough with the progressed they signified.

Rheault, who acknowledged that he “had never played in an NHL rink before,” will soon lead his associates into a remaining two-thirds of their Hockey East slate in palpable hopes of soon visiting another vibrant building –TD Banknorth Garden- come late March. If officially commences January 11 with a home-and-home tangle with UMass-Lowell.

When asked if the Skating Friar is at least a little bolder as it looks to that next task, the co-captain said with a sort of low-profile, take-it-in-stride tone, “I think we made our statement, playing against two top teams like that.

“I think (against Michigan) we were a little intimidated, but we know we can play with them, and we proved that against some of the best teams in the country, so when we get back to our Hockey East games, we’ll have that confidence.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Men's Hockey 5, Michigan State 3

State of recovery


Friars rally to bump MSU in eventful third period


DETROIT- At 13:18 of the second period, on its 65th shot of the tournament, Providence College broke its weekend-long goose egg. Freshman Kyle MacKinnon guided a blocked shot by Cody Wild out of his own end and broke for a two-on-one with senior captain Jon Rheault.



McKinnon’s snapper from the near circle wiped the near post and plopped onto the back half of the crease, where Rheault arrived to bury his team-leading ninth strike of the season and knot the Friars with Michigan State, 1-1.



Later, two minutes after John Cavanagh re-knotted the game, Rheault kindled a go-ahead goal that effectively paced his associates to a cathartic 5-3 triumph in the consolation game of the Great Lakes Invitational.



MacKinnon, one of Rheault’s fast-blossoming understudies, joined him in the multi-goal club when he tossed in the eventual winner and an empty netter.



“I was proud of the way we responded from last night,” said Rheault. “We played well last night, had some good chances, but we didn’t really stick with it. Tonight, that was different. We stuck with it the whole game this time."



Goaltender Tyler Sims, despite taking the bulk of Friday’s 6-0 Michigan scorching, got the nod once more Saturday. MSU would be less constricted breaking into his property, but found a generally more alert crease custodian than the Wolverines had.



The Spartans, somewhat drained from their 4-1 arm wrestling falter to Michigan Tech in Friday’s nightcap, authorized an early shooting edge for the Friars. PC toned down the rabidity it had displayed against Michigan, but nonetheless sculpted a 9-4 shooting edge by the seventeenth minute of Saturday’s action and eased Sims into the action more consistently.



Citing the three-week deceleration for exams, head coach Tim Army said, “For a goalie, it’s most difficult for them, so it was a little bit of rust for Tyler, and for a goalie it’s difficult not to see a lot of action.



“He came right back tonight, managed the game really well, and gave us all a chance to get back on track."



But at first, shortly after Wild’s adventurous near-miss in the MSU slot, PC’s last bid of the period, the seasoned, ring-bearing Spartans broke out –visually and statistically. They sprinkled six unanswered stabs within the final 3:30 of the opening frame and seized the upper hand at the 19:04 mark.



Finally able to settle an attack, far side pointman Ryan Turek tapped a lateral feed to his defensive associate Justin Johnston.



Johnston’s subsequent boomer rang the boards and landed in the clutch of winger Chris Mueller, who laced it around the cage to Dustin Gazley



Gazley, who one shift previous had a close shave similar to Wild’s, dropped a simple flicker over the head-spun Sims’ mitt.



Sims fused his borders to resist four bullets on a penalty kill early in the second, after which the Friars authorized four more Spartan shots whilst whittling away at mighty mite stopper Jeff Lerg with comparably more bite. By their second adjournment to the locker room, they held a 24-18 edge on that front and had pulled even in key category.



Returning to yet another fresh sheet, though, MSU flipped the tables once more to regain the edge at 1:11 of the third. Matt Schepke froze a loose clearing attempt at the far outer has marks and shipped it to Michael Ratchuk at the center point. Ratchuk’s trickling attempt was guided home by a screening Nick Sucharski.



A blinding salvo –at least for the contesting stoppers- ensued. Providence outshot the Spartans 21-12 through the closing stanza and gave its petite contingent of fans another round of CPR with 12:11 remaining.



Off a draw to the right of Lerg, PC’s Austin Mayer tapped the disc back to Matt Taormina at the far point. Monitoring Taormina’s nimble blast to the cage, Cavanagh was stationed at the backdoor to lob home a backhander.



“What we did better tonight was we stayed with our game a little bit more,” said Army. “Even when we fell behind late in the first, we came out in the second a lot more poised composed and kept at it.



“Jon’s goal got us on track. You could feel it really lifted our bench. And even when we fell behind again in the third we just stuck to what we need to do well and we got rewarded with the tying goal (again).”



With 10:12 remaining, Rheault accepted Wild’s breakout feed and bolted down the near alley to the MSU goal line. Reaching that depth, he turned to the slot to find Greg Collins, whose rebound skipped past Lerg before Rheault polished the play.



With little more than four minutes left, MacKinnon extracted the puck from a scrum and hustled loose on an end-to-end rush with Pierce Norton hanging back. A quick back-and-forth exchange resulted in a 4-2 edge.



Such an effort proved vital in the final minute when Matchuk and Schepke recollaborated to cut their deficit. Matchuk beamed down the Broadway lane to insert a diving tip-in of Schepke’s feed. But PC stifled MSU’s six-pack attack thereafter before MacKinnon made the facile insurance strike in the game’s waning seconds.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Michigan 6, Men's Hockey 0

Sauer taste for Friar offense

50-shot effort falls through in loss to Michigan

DETROIT- The Providence College Friars turned their backs for split seconds at a time –six times, specifically- and the ever-potent Michigan Wolverines pulled the match away.

Despite owning each frame in the area of shots –ultimately treating Michigan junior Billy Sauer to a game total 50, the bulkiest sweat of his career- PC swallowed a fatal load of brusque meltdowns in its own end and dropped a 6-0 decision in the Great Lakes Invitational semi-final.

The Maize and Blue –second in the latest USCHO poll and at the top of the USA Today rankings- distributed an uncharacteristic twenty-one whacks of their own, but weaved that into a team-high six-goal output for the fourth time this season. Meanwhile, every Providence skater, save for Ben Farrer, broke their personal SOG column –Nick Mazzolini leading the way with seven- but never applied the lamplighting seal.

“They’ve got some opportunistic players,” acknowledged Friars coach Tim Army. “We made some mistakes, and they cashed in.

“I thought we played really well, did a lot of good things, over the whole sixty minutes. We had a lot of opportunities, but we got caught back on our heels, turned the puck over, and that’s how they scored the first goal.”

It only took the radiant Wolverine offense 62 ticks to toss out a morsel of its salsa-based rubber. On his first swift end-to-end rush, forward Tim Miller moved in on starting defender Joe Lavin in the far corner and forwarded a lateral pass to Louis Caporusso in the slot. Caporusso’s ice-bound bid looped around Tyler Sims’ right skate and dripped home.

On one hand, that perked up the Friars as though no other vibrant element around Joe Louis Arena had since their arrival here. They proceeded to sprinkle 13 unanswered shots (period total of 16) over the next fourteen minutes.

On the other hand, none of those stabs came in first-shot-rebound pairs or groups and the Wolverines (3 first period shots) subsisted on nimble clearances before they crashed Sims’ territory again thirty seconds prior to intermission.

Forward Aaron Palushaj jumped a loose puck on his own blue line and quickly forwarded it to Brian Lebler for a two-on-one. Palushaj scurried down the center alley and waited to one-time Lebler’s return feed off of a sprawling Sims’ skate and in.

“That’s why they’re in college,” mused Army in reference to his own students. “They’re young players. We did a lot of good things, but at times we tried to take matters into our own hands. We tried to do too much in situations where we didn’t need to, and I think that’s the general inclination of young players.”

A smattering of key elements took little time to thaw out in the middle period. The Wolverines, while Sauer resisted yet another 16-shot serving, thawed out well enough to test Sims eleven times.

Additionally, the unblemished discipline on both sides came out of hiding at 5:45 when Michigan’s Anthony Ciraulo went off for interference.

But the Friars could not spark on either of their first two power plays, and melted down further when the likes of Kevin Porter –the nation’s leading gunslinger- woke up. Shortly after the halfway mark, Porter broke out with Ciraulo for a shorthanded two-on-one, offering a quick saucer for Ciraulo to put in the roof for the 3-0 lead.

On the subsequent play, Marc Fayne smeared PC’s clean slate when he went off for tripping to set up a thirty-second 4-on-4 sequence. Once Michigan regained full strength, a fresh-out-the-box Palushaj clamped the puck behind the Friar net and zipped it to far point patroller Chad Langlais. Langlais in turn fed Porter, who drilled a low rider from the circle-top to the right of Sims with 6:41 remaining.

Freshman Ben Winnett gave Michigan a quick 5-0 stranglehold with 2:22 left in the frame, collecting a wild-running puck right in front of the cage and tossing in another roofer.

The overcooked Sims (game total 11 saves) took a seat for the third period, giving Chris Mannix his first go-around since November 1. Mannix –who eventually turned away six of seven shots faced while his mates dumped another 18 on Sauer- would have but 4:10 and two far-between shots to acclimate before letting the sixth Wolverine strike through.

After a comparatively lengthy, feisty Friar attack, Michigan’s Travis Turnbull accepted a quick breakout tap from Brandon Naurato and singlehandedly zipped down the near alley to snap the disc through Mannix’s legs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 In Review: Women's Hockey

Holding Their Post
From the moment they rang in the New Year, the Friars kept up their limbo trek, going exactly .500 at 7-7-1 leading up to the Hockey East tournament. Despite forging an iffy regular season record of 15-15-4, a 12-6-3 log against conference rivals left them in a fair position to revive their dynasty that had been snapped by Boston College and New Hampshire in 2006.

There, in the most definitive fashion, the fellow titan Wildcats wrested PC’s solo claim to Hockey East regality a little further, bumping the Friars by a 3-1 count before a gleeful Whittemore Center mass. A week later, the repeat HEA champion did not take the Friars –but rather the blossoming Eagles- with them to represent the New England coast in the NCAAs.

End of an era? Much to the collar-tugging nervewrack of the Friar faithful, the proud ice was appearing to exponentially soften for the former three-peat conference champions. The off-season did, after all, mark the loss of a big-help-in-small-pack senior class, namely the 1-2 scoring punch of Kristin Gigliotti and Sonny Watrous and proven goaltender Jana Bugden.

Throw in four blindsided premature departures and the aforementioned disturbances churning in Chestnut Hill and Durham, and popular analytical opinion did begin to express its doubt in Bob Deraney’s ice pack.

For a team theoretically clad in as many question marks as Jim Carrey’s embodiment of The Riddler, it didn’t help the Friars to break in their new skates with a home game-free October. (It wasn’t like Schneider Arena was undergoing renovations like the men’s basketball shrine downtown, or pushing away its tenants in favor of the circus as the Bruins building does every autumn).

By the time PC did light up its home barn for a November 6 tilt with Northeastern, it had swallowed –in chronological order- two ties, two blowout-shutouts at the hands of almighty St. Lawrence and Connecticut, and a compressing 3-2 tip-over of Boston College. A subsequent 5-4 falter in the home opener set things back touch more.

But all in all, through the first half of the present campaign, less has changed for the Friars than the critics had prophesied. Take that either way: for better or worse. They are gripping an appreciable conference record of 4-2-1, but remain stumped on alien conference tenants, making for an overall transcript of 6-8-2.

As they try to recover from their early slides, the Friars’ night-to-night scoresheets are reflecting a down-to-ice team effort. Gigliotti and Watrous’ logical contemporaries –Mari Pehknonen, Sarah Feldman, and Erin Normore, all fresh off healthy 20-plus point campaigns- are not having any individual runaways.

Then again, the once-arid likes of Kelli Doolin, Cherie Hendrickson, and Kathleen Smith have done a flattering share, Smith so much so that she currently leads the team with 13 points. She is immediately trailed by four nine-pointers –one of them a freshman scoring beacon in Alyse Ruff- and three eight-pointers –another frosh, Amber Yung in that clan. At the first-half buzzer, that all amounts to a goal-per-game average of 2.875, a few notches up from last year’s median of 2.875.

Considering the summer criticisms, that data could be taken with a smile, as could junior Danielle Ciarletta’s more or less secure assumption of Budgen’s crease. But the remaining half of the season will offer up plenty of interesting opposing silos –two more BC get-togethers, two with Connecticut, all three UNH games.

Monday, December 24, 2007

2007 In Review: Women's Soccer

On-field famine, search for firm lift-off rages on

On December 3, thirty-seven long days after tucking away their cleat bags, the PC Women did have a proud privilege in the form of another NCAA Public Recognition Award in the academic sphere.

When it came to worming through the playbooks and penning their feet into the Glay Field soil, though, material credit was again tough to come by. Cultivating an infinitesimal seven goals over a whole eighteen game slate whilst learning that rigid senior goalkeeper Laura Elfers could not always hold her pieces together singlehandedly, PC missed out on any action beyond Halloween with a final 3-14-1 transcript, one of their lightest bushels of victory this decade.

In her second season as the go-to starter, Elfers averaged well more than five saves per game, but was at times overcooked by the Big East’s giants, her worst shelling coming in a 6-0 catastrophe against regional rival Connecticut. Other days, most piercingly at a season-wrapping round trip of New York State, she bent one time too many. The season-long arid Friars heard their post-season death knell when they dropped back-to-back 2-1 decisions at Syracuse and St. John’s.

Long before that, though, PC had squeezed out but three goals over the course of thirteen games and had the numerical lasso draped around their necks in each of their first five conference games. Their last visual hurrah came in the form of a 2-1 toppling of Pittsburgh in the team’s home finale, at least briefly leaving the suspense-driven Friar Fanatics with a dollop of hope.

The team’s runaway vertebra Elfers, and five praetorians, shall snag their degrees at Dunkin Donuts Center this May.

For what it’s worth, though, all eight Friars who scratched their names on the scoresheet over this season are due to return for 2008. Three of them –Christie Gent, Victoria Neff, and Megan Manceralla- will be primed to assume paper-told leadership roles as seniors. Gent, a five-point reaper back in each of her freshman and sophomore campaigns, should feel especially scurvy-riddled as she is assigned to help instill the drive in her peers.

And no time like next training camp to try and splash more on what the Friars were hinting late in 2007 –with feeling. This franchise is without anything better than a single-game two-goal performance or a multi-goal margin of victory since a 3-1 tip-over of Seton Hall on October 8, 2004.

That happens to date back to Elfers’ freshman year. That considered, maybe more than ever, the trite concept of rebuilding would be appropriate to stoke in coach Jim McGirr’s –approaching what will be his fourth year on campus this autumn- office.

He has most every scrap of material he can realistically ask for, minus an experienced, proven goalkeeper. The trick will be to pull an unfamiliar trick and bloat his conglomeration into a start-to-finish contender mold.

2007 In Review: Men's Soccer

Mad finish for the local boy; is the future now?
They came. Their fans saw hors devourers-sized memories unfold through the compact autumn. They calmly curtained it all circa Thanksgiving.

Yeah, that –in short- has fast shaped into the seasonal custom for the Friar Footballers. After gnashing their way to a 9-6-2 overall regular season transcript and home privileges for the preliminary round of the Big East Tournament, the 2007 PC Men dropped their first post-season match –scheduled for an untimely 1:00 Wednesday slot on November 7- by a 2-0 count to Cincinnati.

Seventeen days later, while the campus’ peerless hoops hype was taking effect at the newly renovated Dunk, the kickers politely excused themselves to Virginia and submitted to Old Dominion 1-0 in the national tourney. It was, on a virtual defining front, their third consecutive pair of season-spelling back-to-back blank-slaps.

For the outgoing class of 2008, led by statistical and emotional fireball Ryan Maduro of Bristol, the approach to both tournaments this year was a notch below the bars set in 2005 (no typo: 6-3-8 going in) or 2006 (12-5 through regular season action). Straightening out for the stretch drive to go 4-1-1, including a pleasant 2-2 knot with mighty Notre Dame and a 1-0 road overhaul of Boston College, all spilled over with the advent of November.

But the collective output was ideally distant from their no wins, 5 goals, 16 losses freshman finish in 2004, a campaign which Maduro had –maybe not so coincidentally- missed out on.

Only just grinding out career data of five goals and sixteen points and a runaway team-leading four game-clinching strikes and 56 stabs at the net, Maduro continued to haul in relics for his now stone-fused legacy. Less than three weeks after Glay Field shut down for a little less than another human pregnancy, the captain doubled his franchise-distinctive trophy rack with a repeat mention on the All-Big East First Team and All-Northeast Second Team.

With no new Ocean State-bred strikers yet told of, Maduro’s peerless punch and another four-pair of cleat tracks will be left via Alex Bury, Michael Narcisso, Matt Otte, and Hadrien Toure.
Meantime, a presumed contingent of 19 Friars is bound to return for 2008. And should the likes of Jonathan Medcalf, inclined to step up as a junior after two seasons as Maduro’s attacking zone exec-VP, soon-to-be-senior goalkeeper Timothy Murray, and even late-blooming rookie eye-catcher Alex Redding keep their pace, there should be no hints of a 2004 relapse.

Murray took the full-time backstopping job this year in place of Chris Konokpa, guzzling every last minute worth of playing time and extracting seven shutouts to match the 2006 tandem total (Konopka with 6, Murray 1). On the other hand, PC was also on the receiving end of seven lemon-based doughnuts.

When they were clicking offensively, Medcalf and Redding both fiercely penned their Maduro apprenticeship applications through the latter half of the year. Medcalf equaled Maduro’s five-goal log. Redding, at first empty and often bench-bound, inserted two game-winning strikes of his own (one against BC, the other in an overtime epic against Seton Hall) and matched still-incubating veterans Justin Kahle and Matt Marcin with seven points.

By pure statistical comparison, Redding’s pace is a touch ahead of Maduro’s so far. How firmly he and Medcalf will spread their web, though, will likely be the deciding factor in the Friars’ pursuit of a next-step upheaval in 2008.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Wolverines, Spartans, Huskies: Oh my
Friars to be flanked with ranked competition at GLI


Like the quirky title character in the NBC prime time series, My Name Is Earl, the 2007-08 Michigan Wolverines were briefly at the top of their world, only to have a blindside strike reassign them to their original state.
Ranked #1 in the nation over their first of three game-free weeks, the PC Men’s fast-coming adversary watched their CCHA rival Miami Redhawks reclaim the weekly throne through its sweeping impression at 16th-rated Rensselaer last weekend.
The fact of the matter is, though, this is still the Maize and Blue we’re talking about. The Big Blue M (sounds almost like a local insectan icon, does it not?), the football-famous winged helmets, the Yost Nasties, the works.
At this coming weekend’s Great Lakes Invitational, together with arch-rival Michigan State –a rigid fifth in the NCAA pool- and the WCHA’s resurgent Michigan Tech Huskies, the Wolverines happen to be inviting the Friars into a vat of some of college hockey’s choppiest western waters in years. Puckheads along the coast may have been missing it due to the hot-enough molecular activity in Hockey East, but the best of the CCHA this season are kilning a CCCP type of impression.
The 2007 Spartans’ startling Frozen Four overhaul of a luckless Boston College team snapped a nine-year national title drought for CCHA tenants, which took effect after Red Berenson’s pupils claimed the 1998 crown against the same Eagle franchise.
With that pothole out of the way, the likes of the Wolverines, Spartans, Redhawks, #6 Notre Dame, and even #19 Bowling Green State are all calling upon the frozen rain spirits to shuffle the glory away from the hegemonic WCHA and ever-feisty Hockey East bigwigs.
More to the point at hand, there is a more personal burden weighing on the Wolverines as Friday’s 4:30 face-off at Joe Louis Arena looms. Michigan, after jealously guarding the GLI title for a nine-year stretch up until 1996, has not won the hailed holiday tourney since. Over the past ten years, while Michigan Tech sat in a rather comatose, forgotten state, first-place has gone to either the Spartans or the at-large invitee.
Whew. Quite a bit for Tim Army’s corps to be digesting in its own block of sharpening for this tournament. What’s the ultimate angle from Schneider?
Start with the educated guess that The Joe will likely live up to its occasional “Yost East” pet name as up to 10,000 tireless “Hail to the Victors” songsters make the leap from Ann Arbor. The Friars have done the better chunk of their clotting on unchartered ponds this season –their last three invaluable conference victories date back to excursions to Vermont and Maine.
Still, Army acknowledges “We haven’t confronted that number, but we have played some difficult road games though the buildings don’t seat that kind of capacity (as that of Joe Louis Arena).
“We’ve been able to play well in some difficult places. Obviously there will be more people, it is Michigan…but our focus is to be ready to play and not to play on our heels but to play on our toes.”
An alleged culprit as to Michigan’s GLI spell has been its generous offering to the coinciding World Junior tournament. This season, the Wolverines will be without freshmen forwards Carl Hegelin of Sweden and Matt Rust and Max Pacioretty of Team USA and the latter two’s countryman blueliner, Chris Summers.
The other skate may drop on Friar Fanatic forecasters in that the nation’s top gun, Michigan senior Kevin Porter (18-11-29 totals through 18 games) and not-too-distant classmate Chad Kolarik (12-12-24) are still hanging about. Even with that to the side, Army cautioned, “They’re really deep. They’ve obviously got some good kids who will be at World Juniors, but you can’t be #1 without a deep roster.
“(For them) it’ll be an opportunity for other players who ordinarily don’t see as much ice time. They certainly will want to step up, so I expect that we will see the very best that Michigan has to offer.”
Additionally, whatever transpires on Friday and whatever its effect on Saturday’s slate may be, it will pose an opportunity for the ambitious Friars, particularly junior defender Matt Taormina.
Taormina, native to the Detroit suburb of Washington Township, has timed his precision puckslinging rather well leading up to his holiday homecoming. His 16 points have knotted him with senior captain Jon Rheault atop the Friars scoring charts, virtually matched his frosh-soph aggregate of 18, and make him the most consistent scoring backliner in the nation.
Now he has a chance to, with the rest of his Ocean State colleagues, test his new two-way trend against some alien big boys in his one-time backyard.
“I think it’s great for Matt,” Army bluntly noted, adding “because we’re a Hockey East team, and because one our seven non-conference games is always against Brown, it’s difficult for our kids from the Midwest to play in their hometown. So for Matt, he’ll have a lot of family and friends in the stands and it’ll be a great opportunity to illustrate how much he has progressed in his two-plus years here.”


Vaguely Familiar Settings
The largest one-sided hostile mass that the Friars confronted happens to date back to the previous holiday break when they visited the Badger Showdown. There, they submitted to the then-defending champion Badgers, 5-0, in the third-place game before a record 14,784 at Kohl Center.
Citing the rarely encountered circumstances, which he may be in for again should PC tangle with Michigan State, Army said “We didn’t initiate a great deal of play that game, so especially for the guys who are returning this year, we’ll try to draw on that.”
One day prior to that Badger beating, the aforementioned Taormina inserted the Friars’ lone offensive highlight of that experience, scoring in a 2-1 falter to yet another Michigan tenant, Lake Superior State.
PC’s last post-Christmas cheer came as a first-place finish in third, and most likely last, Dunkin Coffee Pot in 2005.


Making a fair case
In defense of its national crown, Michigan State is subsisting on a propitious bushel of disciplined veterans that has helped it to a respectable fourth place in its conference (with a few games in hand, mind you) and an overall 12-3-2 transcript. Four of the Spartans’ junior forwards –top gun Tim Kennedy, Justin Abdelkader, Tim Crowder, Nick Sucharski- have all charged up at least 13 points through 17 games played while having yet to hatch the goose egg in their respective penalty minutes column. Another three hefty heat gun bearers –seniors Bryan Lerg and Daniel Vukovic and junior Matt Schepke- have done time for a mere eight minutes apiece this season.
With precisely half of their regular season agenda over with, the Spartans, backed by mighty mite netminder Jeff Lerg, are on pace to enter the post-season with 24 wins –six more than what they had at the beginning of last March.
Going into the specifics of this weekend, though, MSU is seeking its fifth consecutive berth in the GLI title game and its third crowning achievement in four years.


Technologically revived
There was a time when the legendary John MacInnes –the namesake for the GLI’s championship trophy- was coaching the Michigan Tech Huskies to the same level of reverence as Herb Brooks’ Minnesota program and the earliest versions of Professor Parker’s Pupils at Boston University.
But the co-founders of the 43-year-old tournament from Yooper Country are now without a sip from their late godfather’s cup since 1980. The modernized, hard-luck Huskies have not so much as won a single GLI game since 2000.
Only recently, though, fifth-year coach Jamie Russell has brought MTU back into the frame of recognition, helping it to an appearance at last year’s WCHA Final 5. Only a recent 0-1-1 upshot in a two-game series with regional rival Northern Michigan has docked the Huskies from the national polls as they make their always-treasured Motown excursion.
The freshest USCHO assessment has both the Huskies and Friars with honorable mentions, holding 15 and 5 votes respectively.


Tournament Miscellany
Rhode Island has twice previously been represented in the GLI. Brown University charged up fourth-place and third-place achievements in 1970 and 1976…With the Friars’ input, Hockey East will have had a Detroit holiday ambassador for the sixth time since the league’s inception, fifth in eight seasons, and fourth in six seasons. None of those invitees left Motown winless. Most recently, the Hub Hunks of BU and BC split championships in 2002 and 2003 before New Hampshire nabbed a consolation win over MTU in 2004…A smattering of GLI alums now with the Providence and/or Boston Bruins include: BC’s Andrew Alberts, Bobby Allen, and Chris Collins, Matt Hunwick of Michigan, and Mark Stuart of Colorado College in 2005…The Friars-Wolverines all-time series has but two chapters to speak of, both Michigan victories. Their previous meeting was at the Nebraska-Omaha-based Maverick Stampede on October 12, 2001…PC’s last encounter with Michigan State was during Army’s senior year in 1985, when a goal-total factor declared the Friars (6-5 differential) the winner of a two-game NCAA playoff round, sending them to their last Frozen Four, also at Joe Louis…The Providence franchise is 3-5-2 lifetime against MTU, last encountering the Huskies in the Upper Peninsula on January 28, 1989 and extracting a 5-2 triumph…Outside the action in Detroit, the rest of Hockey East’s holiday tournament activity reads as follows: Maine will pay its routine visit to Estero for the Florida Everblades College Classic, opposite UMass-Lowell; UMass-Amherst grinds in nearby Tampa at the Lightning College Classic; Northeastern partakes in the Badger Showdown; Boston College visits the Minneapolis-based Dodge Holiday Classic; Vermont hangs about its home pond for the Catamount Cup, inviting Holy Cross, Quinnipiac, and Western Michigan this season…League actions rekindles Sunday, December 30, when Merrimack visits BU.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hockey Log

Wish Lists

Scribe’s note: The latest edition of The Hockey News (press date: December 25) features a column to “offer up a wish list for all 30 NHL teams.” Here now is the PC program’s version of that report:

MEN’S WISH LIST

A momentum trapper: To an extent, the Friars have already received Part I of this present. Thanksgiving break proved an effective filter as PC went from swaying through an earthquake of October and November to vacuuming six succeeding points in the first week of December. On top of that, they are but three points removed from first place (shared by Northeastern and New Hampshire for the moment) and have games in hand on all conference rivals except Vermont.

What they would do for a MacInnes Cup of cheer at the Great Lakes Invitational to make them that much more reckonable when they return to the coast in 2008…

Home cooking: It wasn’t until their recent hot streak that this edition of the Friars had much going for them in the House That Lamoriello Built. Uncharacteristically sparse masses (partially owing to conflicting men’s basketball action) watched decisive 8-0 and 5-2 triumphs in a pair of ECAC contests just before exams. But in Hockey East action, PC’s home record currently stands at an iffy 1-2-1 while they have rounded up seven more invaluable points over four consecutive road excursions, a string which actually dates back to the end of October.

After the New Year, they will have exactly two-thirds of their conference slate waiting, ten of those eighteen games at home. Once that rolls around, the new trick for Army’s corps will be to put the “control” in “cruise control” as they pursue their first passport to TD Banknorth Garden in seven years.

WOMEN’S WISH LIST

Poise under pressure: For all that they have to subsist on so far, the Friars have had trouble budging ranked opponents (1-4 record) and non-conference rivals (2-6-1). Additionally, quite inverse to the men, the PC women have but one road triumph to speak of, an icebreaking 3-2 overhaul at Boston College back on October 30.

That was also their lone win against a nationally heralded team. Otherwise, they have missed out on similar opportunities against St. Lawrence, Connecticut, Dartmouth, and Harvard. That’s not even counting a sweep at the hands of Ohio State, who was not ranked that particular weekend but has nonetheless hovered around the elite square all season.

Come what may, the Friars are more than likely to have more opportunities to make their case to join the club. Their return home features a two-game tangle with the mighty forgotten, but mighty good Mercyhurst. And they haven’t even gotten around to their season series with roundly braced rival New Hampshire.

Four of the Friars last six setbacks have been a one-goal difference as well. A reversal of luck in that sphere would make for an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Fanfare: Very little –even five home victories and an all-in-all comfortable position in the Hockey East standings (4-2-1 transcript, tied for second place)- has helped to attract Friar Fanatics to a women’s game this season. As is the case with the men’s team, though, PC has exactly two-thirds of its Hockey East slate and a grand total of eight home outings yet to come.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Huskies on top for good Thiessen

The Northeastern men’s hockey team’s frosh-piloted ride to redemption last year proved easy come, easy go when it came time to apply the Sharpie-strong stamp last March. Workhorse goaltender Brad Thiessen was the apt object of derision for the ever-hostile Conte Forum as he swallowed a six-goal scorching and his Huskies curtained their season with a 7-1 quarter-final loss to Boston College.

But right away, as the perked up Dog Pound Dwellers have given the “tell me more” signal, Thiessen has made a smoother carry-over to this season than any of his peers. Thus far, only junior Joe Vitale has cultivated double-digit points, and nobody has exceeded five goals through Northeastern’s first 13 games.

Thiessen, meantime, has responded to yet more tempests with an identical GAA and save percentage to last year and has the panting Huskies settled comfortably into first place with a 6-3-1 conference record as the holiday freeze takes over; all this in spite of the fact that his club boasts an aggregate scoring edge of 35-33, 30-26 in conference action.

All summer, most every critic sensed at least another manifest step towards renewed mobility for the briefly, but distressingly comatose franchise. For all intents and purposes, Thiessen’s early impression has epitomized and exceeded the prophecies.

Not that long ago –namely the 2005-06 season- the position of crease custodian was by far the boldest item on Northeastern’s “Help Wanted” spread. Going in, skipper Greg Cronin was forced to bid farewell to the reliable Keni Gibson, a sound 15-game winner his senior year. Immediately, Cronin juggled the next-in-line Adam Geragosian opposite two since-vanished frosh named Doug Jewer and Dave Thaler.

The reason for those departures? Try the fact that the new trifecta kilned a 3-24-7 overall showing and, despite seizing every last one of those precious points out of a Hockey East game, the Huskies missed out on post-season activity.

When yet another new kid landed in the form of Thiessen, his senior associate Geragosian had only just come off his first year of substantial playing time (25 games) after patiently waiting out Gibson. Yet, perhaps owing to Geragosian’s collar-tugging log of 3-14-6, Thiessen would appear in all but three games for the Huskies, battering his way to a an eventual transcript of 11-17-5 and helping the franchise to an overall 10-win improvement.

And, fundamentally speaking, he has fortified his game by plowing through the most adverse conditions. While classmates Chad Costello and Kyle Kraemer finished 1-2 on the still-dehydrated scoring chart with 22 and 19 points, Thiessen worked overtime in 11out of 33 games played in his rookie campaign, going a reasonable 3-3-5 in that situation.

Little has changed in the tests laid before him this season. Ditto his answers. But this time around, the overall glitches have been less conspicuous.

For starters, he backed the Huskies to an opening night OT triumph over the Friars, to whom he had previously lost and tied in the exact same scenario. A string of four losses followed, but after a third-period benching against New Hampshire at the tail-end of that skid Nov. 2, Thiessen has gone 6-0-2 over eight succeeding appearances, including another three lovely bonus rounds. Among those were two ties and a 4-3 road overhaul of none other than BC that required 2 saves on his part before Jimmy Russo inserted the clincher with 4 ticks remaining.

All those points have amounted to a pleasant surprise, though one ought to be reminded that the last-place Merrimack Warriors are a not-so-distant six notches behind the Huskies. But so long as Thiessen stays true to his grinding form and his praetorians make better scoring habits, Northeastern just might, for once, be looking at a non-Beanpot outing to TD Banknorth Garden.

Cats are top titans

Four days after the USCHO polls flip-flopped their positioning, the #2-ranked New Hampshire women’s team hosted and zapped the previously undefeated Harvard, 4-1, in an altogether less-is-more fashion Friday night.

Despite dispensing what was by far their most infinitesimal bushel of shots –game total 12- the feisty Wildcats converted on one-third of those stabs. Within seven minutes of action, Wildcat freshman phenom Kayley Herman (22 total saves) held a 4-1 saves advantage over her opponent, Christina Kessler, who had already authorized a power play goal to Courtney Birchard at 6:49.

Kessler –still second in the nation in the area of shutouts and save percentage- went on to deal with a mere two shots apiece in the latter two periods, yet uncharacteristically whiffed on three of them. Sam Faber, Hockey East’s top gun and the lone Cat to muster more than two shots on the night, pitched in two goals to sandwich teammate Micaela Long’s conversion and sculpt a commanding 4-0 edge at 3:07 of the closing frame, wherein Harvard dictated the shooting gallery by an 11-2 count, but did not hit the board until the revered Jenny Brine (team-leading six shots) and Sarah Vallaincourt collaborated when a slim 10:43 remained.

The Crimson, now 11-1, themselves matched a season-low in the shooting gallery, having also dispensed 23 in a 5-1 win over St. Lawrence on November 24.

Miscellany

Last week, USA Hockey personnel toured and assessed each of its final three candidates for the site of the 2009 World U18 Championships –Providence being their final stop on Tuesday. On the national program’s official website, executive director Dave Ogrean said that they plan to make their final cuts between the Divine City, St. Cloud, Minn., and Fargo, N.D. early next month…Within six days of their blurrily detailed suspension, Boston University veterans Brian Ewing, Dan McGoff, Brian McGuirk, and Brandon Yip were all reinstated Wednesday, having missed but two games and presumably primed to resume play with the rest of the Terriers against Merrimack December 30. The only striking difference now is that McGuirk has been stripped of his captain’s C…A Harvard Athletics press release announced that former Crimson and current Team USA women’s face Angela Ruggiero will participate in an Olympic goodwill military tour. Ruggiero will tag along with fellow Olympic athletes Shawn Crawford, Jessica Mendoza, Shannon Miller, and Mike Whitmarsh on a ten-day visit to Afghanistan…Hockey East’s last gift before Christmas is a serving of the Maine-UNH rivalry at Whittemore Center on Sunday afternoon, 4:00 PM. All that a win would mean for the host Wildcats is officially leap-frogging three other conference rivals (Amherst, BC, Lowell) and forging a virtual tie with Northeastern, which has a game in hand. Meanwhile, the healing Black Bears could similarly pull even with the Friars for sixth place if they snagged a two-point package, augmenting their total to 10.

Quick Feeds

Going into the halfway mark of the season, seven veteran Friar women players are currently on pace to, rather facilely, post career scoring years. Senior forward Cherie Hendrickson has already done so with nine points, bettering her freshman and sophomore totals of seven…Defender Colleen Martin leads Providence in plus/minus with a sound +7 rate in overall play. Tied for runner-up with a +6 apiece are Martin’s blueline colleague Erin Normore and goaltender Danielle Ciarletta. Collectively, the Friars are even on that front overall and plus-5 in Hockey East action…In fourteen games played this year –the same number of appearances in 2006-07- Ciarletta has already surpassed her sophomore saves total of 301 with 309 at the half of the current season…Through fourteen games this season, the PC men have drawn first blood on twelve occasions and lost both of the exceptions, the last of those being the home opener against Holy Cross October 20…According to coach Tim Army, the Friars will resume formal practices before the regional members of their roster take off for home on Thursday. The remainder of the team will leave on Friday before everyone reconvenes on Boxing Day.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hockey Log

Grooming for the Great Lakes

It will be hard to for anyone blame Providence College coach Tim Army if, come December 27, he is preoccupied with 1985.

The Friars are meticulously spending a three-week, no-game gap physically retooling and strategically fostering in preparation for an excursion to the illustrious Great Lakes Invitational at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, the site where Army captained the Friars to their last of two Frozen Four appearances.

Though not one to divert too far from the task at hand, the coach admitted that this holiday treat means cracking open a class-of-its-own memory album.

“This will be an enjoyable trip for a lot of reasons,” he said Friday in a phone interview. “It does bring back some good memories for me as a player and a coach.”

Army proceeded to briefly recall his senior year as a PC puckster, when he personally bagged the inaugural Hockey East scoring title and successively piloted the Friars to Motown, where they fell short in the title tilt to RPI, 2-1. Additionally, Army has had some momentous brushes with the Red Wings, having been a sidekick skipper for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1997 and the Cinderella Washington Capitals of 1998.

“That was a really great time for our franchise,” he said of both experiences, one wherein the Ducks won their first ever playoff round and the other when the Caps trekked to their first Stanley Cup Final before submitting to the dynastic pupils of Scotty Bowman.

Swooping back to the present, Army hopes to use the college game’s most popularly acclaimed holiday tournament to similarly advance the Friar Hockey tag.

“(Previous head coach) Paul Pooley had already received a commitment (to the GLI),” he recalls. “So when I took over in 2005 and was given the schedule, this was on the horizon. It’s obviously very exciting.”

But the short, simple truth of the matter is it won’t be easy. As of the December 10 polls all three GLI staples –Michigan, Michigan State, and Michigan Tech- are all in the spotlight. While Providence earned its first honorable mention of the year, receiving a cumulative 7 votes from the USCHO panel after its overriding home impressions against Brown and Union, Michigan Tech leads the unranked reckonables with 58 votes.

Meantime, the Wolverines, lined up with the Friars for Day 1 of the tournament, only recently usurped the top slot in the nation from CCHA rival Miami-Ohio. The defending national champion Spartans are rigidly clutching the #5 position.

Come what may, the third-year PC coach declared that he has finally adjusted comfortably to the college game’s customary December deceleration, which has been backed nicely by his team’s 3-0 transcript and 17-2 goal differential between Thanksgiving and exams.

Now, Army says, the forthcoming agenda –informal skates, a hefty helping of gym activity, a four-to-five-day home respite, “an intense practice” on Boxing Day, and a subsequent skate in Detroit- should effectively preserve the recent magic and warm up his squad to the unchartered, vibrant western pool.

“We’ll utilize our time effectively,” he said. “I feel really good with how we’re using our time.

“All three teams in that tournament are having great years, they’re very deep,” he observed. “Whoever you play is gonna be very good, and it’s a great challenge. It’s a great opportunity for our program to try and improve on a game-to-game basis.”

“We will have had four formal practices (between now and then), but I think it will be a good break for us. It came at a really good time.”

Feature: European Influence

Scribe’s note: This week’s edition of The Hockey News (press date: December 4) included an NHL team’s column with a specific focus on “the level of European influence” Just for fun, and to provide work for a little more ink, here now is the PC program’s version of that report:

It has to count for something that junior Mari Pehkonen’s presence with her North American teams has been constantly shriveled by international obligations.

Even more so given that Pehkonen first came to the Ocean State already with a sprinkling of Torino Olympic experience –which disrupted her only year at Minnesota-Duluth- in her diary. And then add the fact that her Italian job amounted to three goals in five games.

To follow up on that, in both of her years with the PC Women, Pehkonen has taken leave for two weeks in November to represent her native Finland in the Four Nations Cup and habitually caps her collegiate season by priming for the Women’s World Championships.

Though she generally hung about and impressed on her home half of the Atlantic up until her commitment to UMD, jet lag has never been a problem in Pehknonen’s new lifestyle. In 2006, she snagged a goal-assist package in her first game back from Torino with the Bulldogs, a 5-1 pasting of Minnesota State-Mankato.

More recently, she flew back from Sweden four days prior to the Friars mid-November excursion to Ohio State and proceeded to toss in an assist against the otherwise stifling Buckeyes.

And quirkily enough, Pehkonen –who is also profiled on the Finnish edition of Wikipedia- transferred to Providence side-by-side with goaltender Danielle Ciarletta after Ciarletta’s crease was usurped by Olympic phenom Kim Martin of rival Sweden. The slick Pehkonen has since augmented her scoring output (29 points as a sophomore compared to 14 as a freshman) and all but affixed herself to the starting line.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Eagles carry on without Motherwell’s coddle

For the moment, as they put their Hockey East slate on ice for the holidays, the Boston College Eagles have appeared to convert their negative energy.

Considering the ceaselessly succeeding lesions inflicted all this season on the two-time national finalist, the latest being the abrupt flight of two-way connoisseur Brett Motherwell, there may have been no better cure than a sweep of time-honored rival Boston University. The Eagles attained just that last weekend, stamping the Terriers in a home-and-home series by a 10-5 aggregate and settled into second overall in the conference, albeit tightly sandwiched by Northeastern (13 points) and New Hampshire (11 points going into this weekend).

As of December 3, USCHO’s national poll has them in the #17 slot, behind the 8th-ranked Wildcats, #11 UMass-Amherst, and #12 Northeastern.

Back on November 15, though, BC was precisely in the middle of a six-game (0-3-3) winless slide when the lately troubled Motherwell had opted to bolt Chestnut Hill and parachute onto the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. For the Eagles, that was 81 games, 44 assists, and 51 blueline-bred points lost.

As if the burden of filling the bottomless skates of another multifaceted skater, the towering Brian Boyle, and the off-season farewell to would-be senior goaltender Cory Schneider weren’t enough. Add the fact that returning scoring beacon Brock Bradford has been out since opening weekend with a shattered arm.

Going into the BU set, the tempest had concocted an uncharacteristic 2-3-3 (3-4-4 overall) transcript for Jerry York’s pupils.

Forty-eight hours, two hat tricks (one by Nathan Gerbe, the other by fast-blossoming freshman Ben Smith), and 74 saves by Schneider successor John Muse later, the Eagles were above .500 for the first time since their stunning, dream-dashing overhaul by Michigan State last April.

And when BC buffs step back, they can take comfort in the fact that they have only witnessed one shortcoming by a multi-goal margin, that being a 5-2 slide at New Hampshire November 10.

Another family album remake

To an impartial city gent, another ho-hum changing of the guard -an event historically inclined to occur when the game switches campuses each year- took place in the PC Men’s 8-0 Mayor’s Cup thrashing of Brown last Tuesday. But as USCHO subsequently reported, it was expectably more to the Friar Fanatics and intriguingly more to coach Tim Army.

Army’s father, Tom, partook in a memorable steamrolling of the Bears back in his day. Tim had his turn as a player. And now the coach Tim Army has, in a way, preserved the at least one-shot tradition for another generation.

The distinguished college hockey website noted that the last Divine City Dance to end so one-sidedly occurred in Army’s junior season with the Friars, when he partook in another 8-0 triumph –mind you the Mayor’s Cup concept was still three years away at the time.

Regardless, Tom Army has his own memories from the program’s most decisive win over the cross-town rival altogether, a 9-0 win from 1961.

The younger Army cited the fact that he and his father have quickly sparked a traditional pre-game phone conversation when the city’s prize is on the line.

In the online report, the skipper was quoted: “I just talked about the importance of the game from a city standpoint, from a state standpoint.

“For alumni and former players at both schools it means an awful lot. We’ve kind of preached the message for three years.”

Crowning Collaboration

The aforementioned Boyle is in the midst of almost spotlessly translating his Chestnut Hill achievements up in New Hampshire with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs –and with noteworthy aide from a not-too-ancient collegiate rival, that being Teddy Purcell.

Purcell relinquished his three remaining allotted years at the University of Maine to sign with the Los Angeles Kings last summer and in turn snuck over state boundaries to converge with the bruising, blazing monument Boyle, who had already tasted a prolonged 2007 Calder Cup run with the Monarchs.

Though Boyle has apparently settled into a defensive designation –though based on his four-year track with the Eagles, that still may not be written in stone- Purcell has been on the giving end on five of six occasions where the two have collaborated for a goal.

At any rate, Purcell stood atop the AHL charts with 31 points (24 assists among them) heading into this weekend and bagged the league’s Rookie of the Month crown for November. Boyle, meantime, was the sixth-hottest point-getter in the league with 17 through 22 games played.

Meanwhile, in the same organization, ex-UMass Minuteman Jon Quick won his NHL debut Thursday, sufficiently handling a petite workload of 17 shots towards LA’s 8-2 home drubbing of the Buffalo Sabres.

Augmenting Acquaintances

His offensive crop much more substantial post-Thanksgiving, PC Women’s coach Bob Deraney has, for the most part, solidified his depth chart. At the same time, he is in the gradually thawing habit of shuffling at random points of the game, pairing some of his still-dry scorers with those who have progressed of late, the implicit intent being to stretch the already well-shared magic to the whole roster.

Full-time fourth line center Pamela McDevitt was seen sandwiched between freshmen pin-ups Alyse Ruff and Jean O’Neill in place of Jackie Duncan once per period in Thursday’s Yale game. Likewise, the always positionally flexible Stephanie Morris, who this particular season has devoted most of her ice time to defensive tasks, gave Duncan a breather early in the third period.

Lake Whittemore Monsters

Ever since usurping the #1 distinction from the two-time national champion Wisconsin in a mid-November series, the New Hampshire Women have rigidly stayed true to form. Carrying a six-game winning streak into this weekend’s series with #6 Mercyhurst, their last line of business before the holidays, the Wildcats boast a 15-2-0 overall transcript and a flood of individual hardware gravy.

Rookie goaltender Kayley Herman, the league’s top rookie in November, has likely assumed the Wildcats’ once-ambiguous starting position as she sits at the top in five of the league’s six categories in her position. Meanwhile, six skaters, most notably the runaway junior Sam Faber, have point-per-game rates or better for the last undefeated team (9-0, plus a stark 40-8 aggregate score) in Hockey East action.

Merry-Mack

The lottery ball order that has defined the Hockey East standings through the imminent holiday break has applied to everyone, the oft-derided Merrimack program included. Early as it is, a while they are merely tied with Boston University for 8th place at the moment (the Terriers also have a game in hand) the Warriors are already seeing promising specimens, particularly the fact that forwards Rob Ricci and Matt Jones have already exceeded 2006-07 top gun Pat Kimball’s 11 points (Ricci: 16, Jones: 12). Maybe add that their 3-5-1 transcript heading into Saturday’s tilt with basement-laden Maine has essentially matched their 2006-07 conference-only finish of 3-22-2.

Czech This Out

Last Monday, the weekly NHL on Versus broadcast took intermission time to deliver the US World Junior Championship roster, which will include three Hockey East rookies –BU’s Brian Strait and Colin Wilson and UNH phenom James vanRiemsdyk. It will be a not-so-long-awaited reunion for the three ex-National Development Program partners (opposite PC’s Joe Lavin). Strait, Wilson, and vanRiemsdyk will reconvene at their former skating abode, Michigan’s Ann Arbor Ice Cube, later this week before they will fly to the Czech Republic-hosted holiday tournament looking to build the World U18 gold medal that they shared last spring.

Quick Feeds

At Friday’s tilt with Union, unmistakable Bruins vocalist Rene Rancourt appeared at Schneider Arena, decked in a black #20 Friars jersey, Santa hat, and all, to –surprise, surprise- belt out the national anthem and later rouse the Friar Fanatics with a string of Christmas carols during the first intermission....Friday’s game was also preceded with a moment of silence for Dr. Jack Boyle, grandfather of defenseman Cody Wild and devout Friars fan, who passed away December 1…Over their three-game winning wave to start the month of December, the Friars have seen a dozen individual multi-point performances, including one for each game by now leading scorer Jon Rheault (season total of 16). Rheault is also running away in the area of shots on goal with a grand total of 70 through 14 games…Overall, the PC Men are #2 amongst Hockey East teams on both the power play and penalty kill and have the best special team’s net at +13. In exclusively conference play, they are tops with both the PK and net rates…Going into the holiday freeze, PC Women’s freshman Alyse Ruff’s seven goals in conference play have landed her in a four-way with three UNH Wildcats (Sam Faber, Jennifer Hitchcock, Jenn Wakefield) in that area.

Harvard 4, Women's Hockey 1

Buckled-down Friars blinded by Crimson

For the better part of Saturday night’s first period, the Providence College Friars, forty-eight hours removed from a stinging setback to Yale, appeared refreshed and primed to convert their energy against a fiery Harvard team.

But for the second straight game, the second period defined another Friar falter. The 2nd-nationally ranked Crimson, fueled by their starting unit of Sarah Vallaincourt, Jenny Brine, and Liza Ryabnika, broke out for three goals to sculpt the eventual 4-1 final, PC’s first multi-goal defeat in a month.

With the win, the Crimson, who had not played a non-ECAC game before their drop-in at UConn on Friday, augmented their season log to 11-0. The Frias, meantime, continue to have their hard luck with non-conference and ranked rivals, withholding 2-7 and 1-4 transcripts in those respective situations.

Despite the overall array of positives that the Friars had exploited in their 4-1 run prior to hosting the still undefeated Crimson, coach Bob Deraney decided to tweak his formula Saturday. For the first time in the homestand, he did not start his blazing, seasoned line of Mari Peknonen, Sarah Feldman, and Katy Beach –who would concoct the lone home highlight of the night anyway.

Additionally, freshman goaltender Jennifer Smith (28 saves) got the nod for the first time since she compressed another poll-based Hub club –Boston College- at the tail-end of October. And at first, Smith was introduced to Harvard in undemanding 101 form while her associates whittled through the Crimson defense to ultimately lead in shots on goal 7-3 within the first 15:50 of play.

Within seconds of that mark, though, an interference call against Friars blueliner Colleen Martin perked up the Harvard power play for the icebreaker. Hastily regrouping after an immediate off-the-draw clear, Ryabkina shuffled through neutral ice and forwarded the puck to Vallaincourt, whose 22 points through her first ten games matched her linemates’ (11 each) aggregate.

Vallaincourt stepped to the high slot and turned to the far circle to find Caitlin Cahow, who one-timed an ice-kisser through Smith’s pads.

Up to about that point, Providence was faring most pucky dory with its perceptible short-shift strategy –a must when raging against machines such as Harvard- keeping the action virtually uninterrupted in the opening frame. But upon returning to a fresh sheet, the visitors deposited a hefty load of salt before the Friars to steal the momentum.

At 7:53 of the second, Ryabnika absorbed Brine’s feed and aroused a congested crash to the net with her shot, which Smith froze with her stick, but watched as Vallaincourt extracted the rebound and buried it in the gaping right half of the net.

The Friars, who kept enough pace to lather on sixteen shots in the first forty minutes, did cut the deficit on one of umpteen dusty attacking zone grinds at 13:03. Beach found herself a lone ranger to the left of stopper Christina Kessler while her linemates and point patroller Kathleen Smith barely kept the puck onside before the Friars bench. Breaking out into a little more air, Smith rolled the biscuit to the unguarded Beach, who painstakingly retained her balance whilst lacing it home around Kessler’s blades.

It only took another forty-five seconds, though, for a two-minute holding sentence to Jenna Keilch and anther collaboration by the glimmering Harvard strike force –who swept the game’s three-star selection- to restore the two-goal difference.

Vaillancourt, stationed at the far point, whooshed a magnetic parallel pass to Brine, who just as nimbly handed over to Ryabnika for a back-door tap-in.

Within the final three minutes of the second, Brine inserted what would be the final lamp-lighter just as her team was through eroding a mini-PC power play –instituted when Crimson skater Anna MacDonald got a high-sticking call during her own team’s power play. Brine ambushed PC blueliner Amber Yung, who was awaiting a round-the-boards feed from Pehknonen, and hustled away down the far lane to stuff in her third point of the period.

Harvard –though at their busiest in the closing stanza- let up in the scoring department over that span, coming up empty on thirteen sparsely distributed stabs at Smith. But they likewise kept draining the Friars’ tanks, allotting them a mere two shots.

PC’s game total of 18 shots was virtually half of what it had cooked up in each of its six previous games.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Men's Hockey 5, Union 2

Skating Clutch Men

PC power play thaws out in third to top Union

Well in advance of his early December slate, Providence College coach Tim Army had expressed conviction that playing every three nights over a one-week period would be notably taxing for his increasingly evolving corps. And after two seemingly facile triumphs of Vermont and Brown, the Friars were indeed yanked down from cloud nine to start their tangle with a scurvy-stricken Union Dutchmen team.

Union, 1-5 in their six preceding games, jumped to an early shooting edge and lassoed the revamped Friars for a 1-1 tally that stood rigidly for more than thirty minutes of play.

But an ever-dreaded penalty plague ultimately came to haunt the Dutchmen early in the third period as PC busted the knot on its eighth man advantage of the evening via Kyle Laughlin with 17:59 to spare in regulation. Moments later, fellow captain Jon Rheault kept the newfound momentum rushing and the Friars paced themselves to a four-goal frame and 5-2 triumph in their last appearance at home this calendar year.

The Friars will now make a delicate effort to securely freeze this momentum in the three game-less weeks leading up to their year-end excursion to the Detroit-based Great Lakes Invitational.

The uplifting final stanza was a rushed reversal back to what has had Providence turning heads since returning from Thanksgiving break with a collectively resurfaced feeling. But the final product of what is now their lengthiest winning streak this season was nothing short of a gradual climb away from a storyline that defined their games before the rare holiday.

The Dutchmen barely withheld a 13-11 shooting edge at the first buzzer, neither team leading by more than three on that front, and they needed but 64 seconds to respond to the Friars icebreaker around the halfway mark of that period.

First, though, PC’s Greg Collins and Austin Mayer forked in a four-man scrum in the right corner of the Union zone, Mayer eventually pulling through and lacing a feed around the net intended for center Kyle MacKinnon, but which instead reached senior blueliner Trevor Ludwig. Ludwig, without a goal since his freshman campaign, gave the Friars a 1-0 edge with a blast over southpaw goaltender Justin Mrazek’s trapper.

The Dutchmen countered on their very next visit to Tyler Sims’ territory to snap his shutout streak at 130:37 worth of playing time. Off a draw in the far circle, winger Adam Presiniuk sent the PC stopper sprawling after his long-range bid. Center Mario Valery-Trabucco pounced to swipe home the rebound.

Union’s offensive output spiraled in the second to an infinitesimal three shot count. But Mrazek stood his ground against twenty smoothly distributed Friar stabs –eight of them on power plays- to keep the game tied through two.

In the waning stages of the middle frame, there were two most-abbreviated 5-on-3 sequences that favored the Friars (neither lasted more than fifteen seconds). A two-minute hooking sentence to Michael Beynon that carried over to the third was itself 15 ticks from expiration when fellow defender Brendan Milnarrow was whistled for tripping, giving PC’s night-long arid power play unit yet another mulligan.

This time, they clicked as Laughlin, one of the few not to brush the scoresheet against Brown, charged up his seventh of the year.

In another 1:38, defender Matt Taormina hunted down a no-icing behind his own net and laced it around the near boards to Wild. Wild lobbed a neutral zone-length Hail Mary to Rheault at the opposite blue line and watched the captain stretch his multi-point streak to three games with a breakaway, bar-down strike at 3:39.

The Friars subsisted on the resultant 3-1 advantage for the next twelve minutes. Through that stretch, they chalked up another eight shots compared to Union’s four (the Dutchmen were allotted but one shot on their own back-to-back set of power plays), and ultimately sprinkled a pair of empty netters within the final five minutes.

While Collins was off for hitting from behind, Mrazek darted to the bench surprisingly early to afford the Dutchmen a six-pack attack. However, Nick Mazzolini quelled the attack and set Wild up at the other end with 4:14 on the board.

Three minutes later, Mazzolini performed an encore in his own end and helped himself to a leisurely breakaway conversion for the Friars fifth goal, more than enough for Sims and Co. to shrug off Union defender Mike Schreiber’s last-minute power play tally.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Yale 2, Women's Hockey 1

Friars pinned by feisty Bulldogs

Thursday’s contesting teams were rolling in completely inverse directions at puck-drop: the host Providence College Friars smoothly subsisting on a four-game winning streak, the Yale Bulldogs 0-5-1 in their previous six outings. Yet the Dogs proved by far to be the most effectively resistant visitor during PC’s six-game homestand, which concludes Saturday against Harvard.

Whether those circumstances factored in the heat of the play or not, PC coach Bob Deraney acted on his inclination to throw a challenge flag when Yale shone in the middle frame to scurry ahead 2-1. On the equalizer at the 5:22 mark, Friars backliner Brittany Simpson had been chasing a fugitive puck off an attacking-zone face-off, seeking a routine regrouping session in neutral ice.

Instead, Simpson was entangled by Yale’s Caroline Murphy, who dropped on top of her at the far circle top of the Providence end. While the Friar faithful cried foul, alleging interference, Murphy’s fellow winger Kristin Stupay subsequently accepted Danielle Koslowski’s quick handover and snapped it bar down.

Four-and-a-half-minutes later, the officials agreed to go to the newfangled video booth when Helen Resor’s eventual winner was seemingly set up by a high-stick. The call nonetheless stood and the Friars, unable to recompense even in a 16-shot third period saw the 2-1 deficit solidify, and their hot streak vanquished.

Aside from the ultimately decisive, call-it-what-you-will second period, the revamped Providence team had all of its winning elements whirling through Thursday’s contest. Although, the conversely starved Bulldogs kept their borders considerably tighter than, say, the Maine Black Bears or Robert Morris Colonials before them.

The Friars were confined to a game total of 35 shots, their lowest since their last road excursion to Ohio State prior Thanksgiving and were barely outshot in the second by a 10-9 differential.

Nonetheless, they ran away with the shooting gallery for the first chunk of the opening frame, pouring out seven unanswered stabs to lead that category 8-1 by 7:04. But for the next eight minutes of play, the puck took a tour about as random as the footbag that a handful of Friars kick around an hour before each game, and neither team registered another shot until PC’s master puckslinger, Kathleen Smith, unleashed a slapper with 4:19 remaining.

Yale held the Friar strikers off for another lengthy stretch of hot potato in neutral ice before surrendering a wildly executed icebreaker with 1:05 till intermission.

In a sequence rather characteristic of the contest, an array of bodies tumbled in a scrum for the puck along the far red-line boards. When it squirted out, a fresh-off-the-bench Smith swooped in, darted into the Yale zone, and found Kelli Doolin scurrying down the middle alley. Doolin, flocked by backchecking Bulldogs, took her own tumble as she still managed to absorb Smith’s feed and tap it through goaltender Shivon Zilis before pulling off a full-body rollover to the right of the cage.

The Bulldogs, who mustered an infinitesimal two attempts at Friars stopper Danielle Ciarletta, remained hushed even through a power play in the wee minutes of the second period. But not long after that expired, Murray and Stupay caught their peculiar break on the team’s third shot.

Later, at 9:55 of that period, Kristi Howser took her own whack in a heavily congested area along the near post. Ciarletta tilted it over before the vacant left frame of the cage and Resor pounced to swat in the eventual winner.

Yale –which, the win aside, has now not surpassed two goals in its last seven games- looked to have a sufficient grip on its newfound momentum until precisely 90 ticks remained in the middle frame. It was then that defender Carlee Ness was flagged for checking PC’s Pamela McDevitt, seventy seconds before she was joined by Mandi Schwartz, caught tripping in the midst of the Friars growingly familiar power play swarm.

But the Bulldogs deprived the Friars of any shots on the two carry-over advantages, and even when her defending skaters melted and gave her the sweatiest period of the night, Zilis (game total: 34 saves) answered everything.

Providence, which has yet to fall by more than one goal on home ice, ran up five shots in the waning two minutes with six attackers, but could not sustain any prolonged buzzes as Yale cleared its zone three times.