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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.

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