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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Men's Soccer 2, Marquette 0

Frustration magma turns Golden for Friars

Lately idle offense perks up to help edge Marquette

To start their straight-up intra-division stretch drive, the Friar Footballers were wholly afflicted with mad-dog bites by the Georgetown Hoyas and almighty Connecticut Huskies. What would have preferably been opportunities to help start shaping the playoff picture in the straightest manner instead turned into fidgety surplus conditioning sessions.

That trend appeared to continue in their return home Saturday against Marquette, the offense watching its scoreless spell born way back on September 28 in the waning minutes of a win over Syracuse, live on well into the second half.

Since that season-best 3-1 home triumph of the Orange, definitive offensive nucleus Ryan Maduro’s magnet for primed, swarming defenders snowballed in visibility. Consequently, the Friars played to a scoreless draw with St. John’s in their last home tilt September 28 before they endured the two aforementioned falls by an aggregate 5-0. On pure statistical grounds, Wednesday’s 3-0 pasting in Storrs was their deepest pits on the year.

But Maduro finally cracked that throttling bubble in the 64th minute Saturday and, true to form, led his club to an eventual 2-0 pinning of the Golden Eagles at Glay Field. The insurance conversion came within the final 13 minutes of play off the cleat of a fresh-off-the-bench freshman Alex Redding, his first collegiate pair of points.

Whatever temporary plague the PC strikers’ corps may have had, Marquette would lack sympathy for it. Although Redding’s “welcome to the Big East” goal made him merely the 9th Friar to pitch in a statistical contribution this season, his club, at least, has amassed a grand total of 13 on the year; enough to now pull them back to .500 in conference play (3-3-1) and, depending on West Virginia’s fate against the Hoyas (7:00 start Saturday), lift them back up into the third slot of the Blue Division.

The Golden Eagles roster, conversely, has spread their wealth over a dozen players, but that wealth has been a plebeian-level seven goals in twelve overall games. Saturday’s loss, at best, keeps them in 7th place.

While those soft-boiled stats on the visitors’ part showed through the first half, Maduro’s boiled-over hankering earned him two inciting up front tests of goaltender Matt Pyzdrowski with only ten minutes gone. None of Marquette’s attempts would reach Providence keeper Timothy Murray until the 40:15 mark when Murray was required to make a leaping snag of Michael Greene’s straightaway boot.

The near rerun of the Maduro show carried on through PC’s mostly consistent swarming of the offensive end (3 corner kicks and a few foul-induced free kicks taken by associate Justin Kahle). But all that, plus a dying minute rush attempt by Redding in the left alley that was smothered and pushed out of bounds by a trio of pursuing Eagles, ended up leaving the brimful Glay Field throngs hanging.

After a quick drop-in from the Friars to start the second frame, Marquette mustered a lengthy settlement in Providence territory, but watched two of three shot attempts soar clear of the fence and repetitive fouling put the ball back in the Friars clutch after a while.

At 62:47, PC coach Chaka Daley went all out on an impending Toussaint McClure throw-in and inserted three fresh pairs of legs –one of them Redding’s- for the renewed attack. Stationed at the sideline before the home bleachers, McClure proceeded to thrust the ball to Maduro, whose immediate kick briefly vanished into a scrum. But as he charged forward, it popped back out and dribbled his way for him to knock into the lower right portion of the cage, putting Providence on the board with his fourth shot on the net of the game.

The game suddenly settled into temporary limbo after that, but within another fifteen minutes, the Friars broke out for another onslaught. Freshman midfielder Nick Cianci toured the ball across the center line and forwarded it to Redding in the right alley. Redding circumvented Bernard Rahming after the defender had him a prolonged lockup and cut to the net to lob a high shot in off the crossbar. It ended up awkwardly brushing the top mesh before fluttering down and in after a few seconds of uncertainty, during which onlookers from both sides crashed in an effort to confirm the play had tilted their way.

It all went PC’s way this time. And if they are to keep things their way, they will come to staple their consistency in the four remaining conference contests.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hockey Log

Underhand giants await in Adirondacks

PC Men kick things off by visiting ECAC’s pre-season superpowers

By Al Daniel

The Clarkson and St. Lawrence men’s hockey teams, together with the freshest USA Today poll, have done all that they can to make a sound introductory statement in Week 1 of the 2007-08 campaign.

The natural rivals, pried apart by a mere 10 miles in the most gradient portion of rustic New York State, broke the ice on their season last Sunday at Appleton Arena. It was the ultimate carry-over from last season’s stretch drive as the host Saints –defending regular season champion- prevailed by a mere ice chip on both the goal count (3-2) and shot count (30-29).

As a reward, the October 8 edition of the aforementioned poll thickened the teams’ picture of parity and promise by nationally ranking St. Lawrence 12th and reigning ECAC playoff champion Clarkson 13th.

Of course, recent and distant history alike will still at first dim these two clubs, who welcome the Friars back-to-back this weekend, with skepticism simply owing to their ECAC label. The Saints are one of only two ECAC representatives to have reached the Frozen Four (2000 at the then-Providence Civic Center) in the last decade (Cornell 2003). The conference has not seen so much as a title game appearance since 1990’s Colgate, or an NCAA trophy since Ted Donato’s Harvard Crimson delivered in 1989.

But, as it happens, that more or less puts them in the same realm as the Friars, who, superficially speaking, still have an inclusive ambiguity hovering over their 2007-08 aura. So far, PC’s clearest impression on the public eye has come from last Sunday’s Black-White game. The prime highlight of that contest ended up being none other than resilient goaltending hopeful Ryan Simpson –in the back seat behind fellow returnees Tyler Sims and Chris Mannix all last season- led the way toward muting a much-hyped remodeled offense.

With that, plus general peer-to-peer buzz that has lately circulated, in mind, stats and seniority may just give way to indefinite night-to-night experimentation by coach Tim Army and guesses by buffs in the area of cage assignments. And then there’s the still unattended, popular demand to see the gunsmiths –new and seasoned- break out their blades for real.

Chances are, though, it will take teams like this new black-and-silver roster and aspirant giant UMass-Amherst, whose weekend agenda flip-flops’ that of the Friars and will thus start with a vengeance-thirsty Golden Knights (UMass prevailed in a first round NCAA encounter 1-0) , and their supplementing east coast league about as much time to set a fixed image as the New England autumn.

Beyond Campus

Two-time national runner-up Boston College, currently rated #2 in the nation behind North Dakota and their beacon core generally intact save for Brian Boyle and Cory Schneider, starts all over again in a tangle with the always glimmering Michigan (ranked #9 by USA Today) at the St. Paul, Minn.-based Icebreaker Cup Friday…#15-ranked Maine will pay a two-game visit to Denver, who comes in at #10 despite the two teeth-kicking failures to reach the NCAA bracket in their immediate past.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Soccer Log

Connecticut clash could be a cruncher

By all conspicuous counts, the fine line between the second place Connecticut Huskies and the third place Providence Friars is, well, at its finest as the Battle of Southern New England goes into renewal Wednesday at UConn’s Morrone Stadium.

For starters, there is the unalterable rule that awards a Big East quarter-final bye to the top two dwellers of each division. If the current picture stood as is for the next month, it would only add to the Huskies’ luxury given that they happen to be this year’s hospitality provider for the conference final four round.

And the voltage on the Storrs campus is only bulking up. Junior striker O’Brien White –whose 26 points more than double any of his associates (though four of them have at least cracked double digits)- just nabbed the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week honors, a title immediately preceded by none other than PC’s productive and emotional leader, Ryan Maduro. Thus far, Maduro and Jonathan Medcalf’s 11 notches apiece remain their team’s only runaways.

For blue and white buffs, the Hershey’s syrup on all of that is the fact that the whole team has been simultaneously advanced to the #1 slot in the both latest Soccer America and NSCAAs respective Top 25 rankings. That honor is owed largely, if not exclusively, to a four game winning streak and glittering 11-1 overall transcript that has seen an aggregate 26-5 scoring edge. Not much else can be asked by a fan base that saw its team bow out quickly last year when it was defending the 2005 conference title.

Providence, who has yet to win or lose consecutive games in the conference season, owns 7 points in the standings compared to their increasingly blistering rivals’ 15, although the Friars currently have a game in hand. The next three playoff spots in the Blue Division currently belong to West Virginia, Seton Hall, and Georgetown, all of whom are but one digit behind the Friars. PC’s recent 2-0 road loss to the Hoyas was the newest factor in shaping that frame.

At this rate, it would most likely take either a couple of busted tires for the Huskies or a surprise Vesuvius-esque uprising on the Friars part to reverse each team’s roles come playoff time. Even an upset on Wednesday night, or the fact that UConn has but one more home tilt afterwards, may not help lead to such a scenario.

But on the other hand, save for a friendly at #5-ranked Boston College next Tuesday, Providence is only looking at divisional rivals for the six remaining games on their agenda. One will be the home finale October 28 against first place Notre Dame, who is also #3 nationally in the eyes of Soccer America. The rest of the run will be a plain endeavor to, at best, preserve home field advantage in the preliminary round.

The Huskies have already seen and conquered the Hoyas (1-0 Sept. 15) and the hard-up Pittsburgh Panthers 4-0 last weekend. With four lower seeded Blue pool dwellers still to come, they offer the Friars, the team (most marginally) closest behind their tail an attempt to make a slamming statement on their affairs with the other scrambling squads.

Even if it means settling for the arguably liable situation of thrusting themselves all through the soil towards moral satisfaction, the still swaying, .500 Friars just might fix a hardcore standard for those grinding in the stretch drive.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Soccer Log

Lift-off comes with generous time still left

Most naturally, contrary to what has been seen each and every other time this season, a thoroughly opposite vibe emerged Sunday from the Providence College side of a women’s soccer contest.

Living off of their 1-0 edge of visiting Rutgers courtesy of Greta Houlihan’s early connection, which first of all moistened an egregious scoring drought that had been present since before the Big East schedule commenced, there was more invigoration than relief conveyed from the Friar faithful. Players and supporters could barely stay still, let alone remain sitting as the no longer arid attacking unit constantly stabbed for more.

By game’s end, season-long cornerstone –and often lone shining star- Laura Elfers’ goalie box was suddenly home plate after a walk-off home run. Once that mob was finally breaking up, the long-muted, long-suffering strikers Houlihan, Caitlin Hostetler, and Victoria Neff were still glued to one another in a prolonged three-way embrace.

It may not quite yet have been the eleventh hour when the win struck, but any craving for ultra-epic race towards the post-season can take a back seat, the team’s actions implied. The mere sense of liberation from the pothole of the previous six games, in which they were outscored 15-0, was made most plain in the aftermath of their first Big East win of the season and second overall. Any time it came, so long as it were reasonably timely, it would have been welcome.

The trick now, of course, is to start thawing out the leftover numbness from that fettering of the neck, wrists, and ankles and confirm the shift in momentum. Cracking the goose egg in the conference points column and having a designated offensive player come through (their other two goals from earlier in the season came off the feet of defenders) are mere foundations.

Providence concludes its five game homestand, and its 2007 home slate altogether, this weekend with two fellow American Division tenants of reciprocal stances. The West Virginia Mountaineers, tied for first with Connecticut as they boast a 4-0-1 transcript, drop in on Friday. Pittsburgh, now in a deadlock with the Friars to avoid the basement and riding a three-game skid (the last two falters coming in overtime), will visit the potent Huskies Friday before they hit Glay Field Sunday.

All the while, South Florida and Syracuse, who are each subsisting on 4 points in defense of the division’s last two passports to the Big East preliminary round, will lock horns on Friday. Though the Bulls do have a game in hand on the rest of the American pool, the web of possibilities remains virtually boundless as the conference campaign hovers around halftime.

Save room for Maduro-ness?

It is pretty clear-cut that this week’s centerpiece of on-campus sporting activity concerns the buildup toward Friday’s annual Late Night Madness basketball bash. But reigning Big East offensive player of the week Ryan Maduro and the Men’s Soccer team could genuinely make their own cries for attention. Saturday’s 2-0 falter at Georgetown standstilled the third-place Friars in their attempts to break away from the Blue Division’s middle class gridlock and catch up to mighty rival Connecticut, whom they will visit Wednesday night. The two home dates for the women’s team this weekend will sandwich a men’s tussle with Marquette slated for 1:00 Saturday…Goalkeeper Timothy Murray, who worked up his biggest sweat of the season (9 shots faced) against the more-loaded-than-usual Hoyas, saw a 215:01 shutout streak end during Saturday’s outing in D.C…The Hoyas’ triumph last Saturday was their first overall win on their home turf in 2007, the other two coming in a neutral site exhibition (Harrison, Va. Sept. 2) and in a September 23 1-0 edging of host Louisville…Notre Dame sits atop the Blue Division with the last remaining undefeated record (5-0-1) in conference play. Similarly, their female counterparts are the only team in their conference still holding a perfect winning percentage (5-0).

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hockey Log

Hockey Log: An intriguing introduction

All those who took charge of advertising Sunday’s Men’s Hockey Black-White exhibition and the season it has more or less commenced had been pledging an offensive upgrade via a convincingly potent smattering of freshmen forwards. For their first public display, four of those seven upfront arrivals, along with their two blueline patrolling classmates, Eric Baier and Joe Lavin, were assigned to the White squad and goaded to measure themselves up with the black-clad likes of Jon Rheault and Nick Mazzolini, the Friars’ top two returning point-getters.

The generally younger 14-man corps, complete with no seniors and merely three juniors, ended up pulling through 4-0, subsisting on a 1-0 lead most of the way before a late outburst in the latter of two twenty-minute halves.

All along, the implicit ideal that coach Tim Army had been preaching since everyone dispersed from campus last summer was that the rich younger blood would supply the depth sorely needed to prop up Rheault and Mazzolini’s leading productivity. At the end of the day, whatever they deliver cannot hurt. Providence, despite a general shortage of scoring diversity last year, is coming off a 6th place finish in conference offense, looking up at five schools that all stretched their campaigns beyond the Hockey East tournament.

And, naturally, there is little reason to think that any of those powerhouses are going to give PC’s potentially revamped gun rack a chance to catch up. In that sense, no one welcomed Sunday’s simulation game more than the Friar defenders, for whom Sunday’s scale tilted more in the direction of pressure than publicity. For what it’s worth, their collective work against each other was an encouraging tune-up for a pool that boasts the always well-rounded Boston College, Boston University, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Given all that, spectators who happened into Schneider Arena banking on a shootout of OK Corral proportions can instead take comfort in PC’s evidently efficient honing of their backstopping skills, which statistically is in a bit more need than their offense; Providence ranked 8th in Hockey East last season in the area of goals allowed.

For a considerable slice of the scrimmage, sophomore White Team goaltender Ryan Simpson translated his yearning to improve the most smoothly. The youngest and least seasoned (1-3-0 as a freshman) of three returning crease custodians for this season, Simpson outdueled junior Chris Mannix (incumbent starter Tyler Sims did not suit up) as he denied all 21 Black stabs. Although the buckled-down, two-way manner of play in neutral ice generally kept things to a dead heat, the Black Team retained the upper hand in the shooting gallery (21-19 final) and would often shower multiple bids in one buzzing visit to the zone.

But Simpson’s chin-standing effort, which climaxed with a penalty kill within the final three minutes, ultimately paved the White Team towards augmenting their lead with a connection on each of their last three shots. Junior Pierce Norton wrapped it all up with an empty netter moments after the Whites withstood a 6-on-4 sequence in their own end.

Special Silver Guest

Who/what else? The Stanley Cup, claimed last spring in part by 1977 Providence alumnus and Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, dropped in at the Schneider Arena hospitality room with the aforementioned victor prior to the intrasquad game. It will have returned and settled into its home for the year in Orange County by Wednesday when the Ducks hoist their title banner before they tangle with the Bruins.

First Full Test Looming

The Friars have four days to build upon what they displayed Sunday before they venture to the northern New York woodlands for the weekend. As they have done to kick off their schedule the previous two seasons, they will encounter two of the ECACHL’s standout hunks, St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The neighboring rivals, who finished 1-2 in their conference last season -the Saints taking first place in the standings before watching Clarkson raise the playoff trophy- scrimmaged with one another Sunday at SLU’s Appleton Arena, the Saints squeaking through 3-2.

Outside Campus

Two pre-season top dogs in the women’s game, New Hampshire of Hockey East and St. Lawrence of the ECAC, wasted no time kindling early visions of March drama as they rematched last year’s national quarter-final at Appleton Arena this past weekend. Both powerhouses were breaking in their new skates on the heels of being deemed the team to beat in their respective conference coaches’ polls. Friday’s 4-2 Wildcat win saw 10 different skaters pen their names on the scoresheet for the defending Hockey East champions. The Saints retorted Saturday with a 3-0 punchout highlighted by Carson Duggan’s two decisive second period goals and senior Meghan Gukian’s 14th career shutout effort. The Lady Friars will pay their own visit to St. Lawrence October 20…The Boston University and Northeastern women exchanged bouts with Minnesota and North Dakota over the weekend at Minneapolis’ Ridder Arena. As it happened, both Hub clubs would tie the Fighting Sioux (BU Friday 2-2, Northeastern Saturday by the same score) while dropping two-goal decisions to the routinely radiant Gophers…The Maine men’s team, another team looking to extensively retool its offense, was the first HEA tenant to hold an inter-squad contest, topping the USA U18 team 5-3 with the help of watchful-eyes grabber Billy Ryan’s hat trick….Massachusetts and Vermont each entertained a Quebec-based university (Trois-Rivieres and Acadia respectively). All teams in the men’s conference will have broken in their external schedules by Saturday.