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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.

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