Last conference calls for the year
The customary December deceleration is upon the collegiate hockey universe, and strikingly enough, both Providence College teams have an easier-said-than-done scenario as they each prime themselves for their last dip in Hockey East play this weekend.
Both the women, hosting Maine in a pair of matinees Saturday and Sunday, and the men –swooping up to Vermont Saturday night then coming right back to retool for a couple of ECAC friendlies, have rigidly gripped .500 records in conference play since before Thanksgiving. That said, the natural choices are to charge up a couple more invaluable points pronto, or skid a dollop below the winning-record label and bear that for six weeks at best.
After the Catamount clash, the men will haul in Brown on Tuesday, followed by Union next Friday before having three unremitting weeks to prime up for the prestigious, Detroit-based Great Lakes Invitational over the holidays. The Friars will not resume conference play until a home-and-home with UMass-Lowell over the second weekend of January.
The women, meantime, have their own bite-sized helpings of ECAC visits next week through Yale and Harvard before dropping game action altogether in the cooler for a full month. Even after ringing in 2008 and dusting off their formal game attire, conference play will be held off until January 19, when the Friars tangle with New Hampshire right where the currently sizzling Wildcats zapped their campaign last season.
Clocking several rounds back to the present, though, an arithmetic anti-UNH is dropping in at Schneider Arena this weekend. The Maine women, whom the Friars tied on opening day up in Orono but seven weeks back, have since tumbled to an abysmal 0-4-2 Hockey East transcript, and 1-12-1 overall. That one win dates back to the tail-end of September, when they steamrolled Sacred Heart 6-1.
Since then, the one and only feel good item brewing on the women’s front of Alfond Arena has been the goaltending tandem of Genevieve Turgeon and not-so-shabby freshman sidekick Sarah Bishop.
Turgeon is carrying the label of this week’s top defensive performer in the conference, having at least partially compressed the Black Bears wounds through a 23-save performance towards a scoreless draw last Saturday with Vermont, the only other winless team in Hockey East. Prior to that, Maine may have taken some morally substantial solace in that Turgeon and Bishop had paired up to ultimately keep the final deficit to two goals or less in their last six games.
Then again, Turgeon’s workload during that storm-pacifying visit to Burlington was conspicuously one of the lighter loads. On ten occasions out of fifteen games this season, the Black Bears have authorized at least 35 shots on net. Seven of those nights, either Turgeon or Bishop had been bombarded with at least 40 stabs, including 42 during their only hosting to the Friars.
Eerily enough, Providence has only recently restocked that once-characteristic rapid fire that seemed to taper off after they bussed out of Orono. They did not again chalk up 40-plus bids in a single contest until last week’s 5-2 Mayor’s Cup triumph over Brown, which they followed up on with a season-best output of 48, seven of which went through against Robert Morris.
For tomorrow’s 2:00 draw, immediate history calls for a netminding rematch between Turgeon and PC’s Danielle Ciarletta, given that Turgeon’s three consecutive prior starts culminated in Maine’s first point since she dueled to that draw with Ciarletta, who has made six consecutive appearances in the Friar crease.
Breakaway opportunity: The PC men have a much stricter set of cards waiting patiently at the face-off dot of Gutterson Fieldhouse. Right now, the Friars and Catamounts are at the top half of a four-way lock in the middle of the conference standings, opposite Boston College and Lowell. With each team subsisting on eight points, by virtue of games in hand, Vermont stands at fourth overall, the Friars fifth.
Of the four aforementioned clubs, only the Riverhawks have more than one inter-conference date left in the calendar year. Toss in the fact that second place is, for the moment, mathematically reachable with UMass-Amherst withholding ten points, while the cellar-dwelling Maine is also within tangible distance with six and will also have two opportunities to bulk up before the prolonged holiday respite.
PC’s posture heading into their solo-game excursion, which thaws out a two-week layoff upon observing Thanksgiving weekend, is point-blankly reflective of their immediate past. When last in action, the Friars snatched a point from the Riverhawks through a 2-2 home draw before spilling an opportunity for more after an earthquake 5-4 overtime falter to New Hampshire, who consequently sits only one point ahead of the Catamounts now.
Having iced the medium-sized bumps from that now seemingly distant clash, the Friars get their first of three season tests with a Catamount team who, like their female counterparts, are coming a tie with Maine, though theirs was a much spicier 5-5 upshot last Sunday and safeguarded a meticulously collected three-game unbeaten streak.