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Saturday, December 8, 2007

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.

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