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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Hockey Log

Mount Bishop the heart to stake for

Friars’ excursion to Maine means shooting at growing garrison

Here they go again. As has appeared to be the case every year in recent memory, the Maine Black Bears have to prove their worth having seen critical pre-season priority go to their fellow giants Boston College, Boston University, and UNH.

Save for a 2004 Hockey East crown, the now seventh-year Tim Whitehead Era in Orono is more sharply defined by UMass Meltdown #1 in 2003 and the sequel to that last March.

Two consecutive Frozen Four berths? The rink-eyeing loiterers with laptops still don’t buy it, mostly given that the Bears’ habitual last-second springboard into April action is generally eclipsed by this decade’s WCHA hegemony and a habit of falling short at TD Banknorth Garden –if they make it there at all.

As it stands now, though, Maine, the two-night destination for the Friars this weekend, has salved its national image well enough to stand at #11 in this week’s US College Hockey Online Top 20 file.

By and large, the cornerstone of this jumpstart has expectably been Cycloptic goaltender Ben Bishop, the most imposing figure, both physically and statistically, in Maine’s last two national semi-final shortcomings. From the looks of his junior year transcript as it stands, Big Ben is only fortifying his wall. He has merely snatched two Defensive Player of the Week titles, one shared with PC keeper Chris Mannix, and was bestowed with the distinction of October’s best Hockey East stopper.

In the midst of earning those petite hardware helpings, he was spotlighted on the NCAA page of the November 6 edition of The Hockey News.

Underneath those glorifying digits and labels, though, the output of Bishop’s praetorians denotes “saving grace” as an understatement. Though unblemished since two opening weekend kicks in the teeth at now 5th-ranked Denver, Maine’s consistently shallow offense has kept every night up in the air till the buzzer.

With the Friars lined up to visit Alfond Arena, the Bears will head into their fourth and fifth consecutive conference games, and first two on their home pond, with a 2-0-1 log. An epic 1-1 tie at Boston College last Friday, which saw a fan-fulfilling duel between Bishop and Eagles’ freshman phenom John Muse, followed a pair of one-goal toppings of Northeastern.

Over seven total games, only two Black Bears, seniors Wes Clark and Bret Tyler have laid out a point-per-game median. After the four point impressions of Christopher Hahn and Vince Laise, everybody else is looking at two or less, including presupposed leading weight-lugger Billy Ryan.

Much like the Mainers, PC has had an unusually lengthy layoff from game action, idle since last Thursday’s 5-2 blow from Boston University. And similarly, the Friars’ depth chart has only flexed its strength through so many gunslingers, namely Kyle Laughlin –whose eight-point-in-four-game hot streak was put on hold in the Terrier tilt- Jon Rheault, Matt Taormina, and Pierce Norton. For what it’s worth, Maine has at least had one scoresheet contribution by nineteen skaters compared with the Friars fourteen.

Then there is the goaltending ambiguity on the Providence bench. Mannix had his breakthrough bonfire brewing when he relieved incumbent starter Tyler Sims against the Minutemen, but was tugged back down against BU.

Add the fact that Friar bench boss Tim Army was among those quoted in Bishop’s THN profile, citing the monument Black Bears’ fixture’s intriguing deftness with the puck.

Advantage Maine? Superficially, by a dollop at best. But if the big picture on both fronts is as minimally budged as it seems, just look back to last year’s season series.

In three tussles with the Bear in the Big Blue Pads last season, the Sims-anchored Friars either pitched a shutout or endured one (0-3, 2-0, 0-2 differentials respectively)

Quick Feeds: Both Sims and Bishop have already charged up an infrequent assist this season….Maine freshman Tanner House, who accumulated a goal and a helper in his first seven career games, will be unavailable upon an indefinite suspension for alleged off-ice misconduct… Rheault, still upholding a five-game scoring streak, pitched in on all three goals (2 scored, 1 assisted), in the 3-0 triumph of Maine last year at Schneider Arena…Prior to their match with Northeastern Tuesday, the PC Women observed a moment of silence for the Reverend Philip A. Smith, who passed away Sunday at 74. Smith, himself a PC alumnus from 1963, was Rev. Brian Shanley’s immediate predecessor as the college president, serving that post from 1994-2005…Friar junior Mari Pehknonen inserted Team Finland’s lone goal in Wednesday’s Four Nations Cup opener, a 4-1 falter to almighty Canada. The Finns were in action again late Thursday against host Sweden.

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