• Check out the Free Press founder's new Rhode Island/New England sports blog
  • http://providencesportsscribe.blogspot.com/

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Holy Cross 6, Men's Hockey 4

Friars upgrade output, but can’t top Crusaders

Down on his iced knees, the cage dislodged, and his head tilted downward, Providence defenseman Mark Fayne was doing all that was logically imaginable to acknowledge his final fate and that of his associates.

Right at the final buzzer of the Friars’ hosting of Holy Cross, Fayne lost a footrace with Peter Lorinser, who poked the puck into the vacated cage to solidify a 6-4 Crusader triumph in an earthquake of a season opening game at Schneider Arena.

In most every way, the forces of nature appeared present and at their stormiest, especially by contrast to PC’s first three road tilts, in which a fair number of allotted slots throughout the scoresheet had been left free of ink. This time around, an offense that previously did not seem to have its net-whacking code nearly as well memorized as their dorm room codes exploded for four second period goals.

But once again, there was a flipside for the still winless Friars (0-3-1-0 overall). Holy Cross, despite thrice allowing PC to pull a knot during that middle frame, was able to keep their pace after sculpting a 2-0 lead within the first five minutes of action thanks to a checking from behind major to Ben Farrer.

Before Farrer was whistled, the Friars’ incentive to unhesitatingly get on task was there, whether or not they took the time to read their invitation when Crusader Marty Dams went off for cross-checking at the 0:38 mark.

A predictable representation of the bound up PC gun rack, their power play, suddenly lashed out four shots on their first opportunity and constantly thrust their bodies on the penalty killers in their clearing attempts. But seconds after Dams’ release, Farrer was caught going too far in his effort to keep the Friar attack flowing.

Promptly turning to the back page of their special teams leaflet, the Friars were pucky dory until Trevor Ludwig joined Farrer in the cell at 4:07. Within another fifteen ticks, Holy Cross broke the ice as Ryan Driscoll, perched at the back door, snuck home left pointman Rob Forschner’s rebound.

And, with the five-minute all-you-can-score buffet still valid, Driscoll struck again thirty-two seconds later, this time squirting out of a right corner scrum, catching up to the fugitive disc, and tipping it through a kneeling netminder Tyler Sims.

The elements generally neutralized both ways from that point until intermission, but it didn’t accurately presage the subsequent forty minutes. PC started to break loose in the shooting gallery, which was 10-apeice through the opening frame, and the top power play unit finally proved to rinse off a little rust when given the chance to start the second.

At 2:53, Eric Baier, holding the puck at the far outer hash marks, forwarded it to fellow blueliner Matt Taiormina on the center point. Taimormina’s straightaway low rider had a brush with Kyle Laughlin’s stick before it went in for the beaconing junior’s second goal in as many games.

It was but two and a half more minutes before the same unit pulled the Friars even. Baier was in the same position as before to accept Greg Collins’ feed and promptly wrist it into the upper right shelf.

That prodded the Crusaders well enough for them to restore their edge on the game’s first even strength conversion at 7:34. After Sims booted away his initial shot, Forschner stayed his course, vacuumed the rebound whilst looping around the walls and handed things over to Brodie Sheahan. Sheahan likewise shipped the puck to Dewey Thomson back in the slot and he nailed it to the left of Sims.

The Friars starting line countered that on another man advantage four minutes later. John Mori was behind the cage to collect his team’s umpteenth wide attempt on the night and nudged it in front to Laughlin by the near post. Laughlin ultimately set up Jon Rheault, who also shanked on a grand three shorthanded breaks, to tip home another equalizer.

But in less than another minute, the equally persistent Crusaders caught Sims on a smooth rush, Lorisner carrying a feed from Matt Werry in from the neutral zone and zipping it top shelf from the far alley.

Long before that point, it was apparent that the toughest task for anyone between the boards was to settle a play. That didn’t stop Holy Cross from trying to lay down a breakout within the final five minutes, nor did it stop PC’s Pierce Norton from pouncing when it broke down. Norton couldn’t finish his spontaneous one-on-one encounter with a jammed goaltender Ian Dams, but a trailing Laughlin was there to roof it, sending things into the closing frame four-all.

The roles that allowed PC to hit the board to start the second period reversed at the same point of the third to give the Crusaders the ultimate game winner. Captain Matt Burke lateralled the puck to right point patroller Mark Znutas, whose rocket was tipped in by Dale Reinhardt.

Sims faced but two more shots afterward, but his skaters could not chip the Crusaders’ defense shield despite near endless possession in the last seventeen minutes.

Hockey Log

Crusade for notoriety

Team that performed 2006 Minnesota Miracle hopes it doesn’t end there

The Atlantic Hockey Association is, in essence, blossoming out of toddlerhood as this season opens. And by fatalistic standards, the Holy Cross Crusaders –who visit the Friars in PC’s home opener Saturday- are due to come out on top again.

So far, Holy Cross owns two of the conference’s four recorded tournament crowns, triumphing in 2004 and 2006, and odd-numbered hiatuses aside, have utilized those crowns on the national platform a little more each time.

“It is hard to win every year because the parity in college hockey is so great,” said Crusader coach Paul Pearl, who used to call Newport County his home when he coached the pucksters of Portsmouth Abbey School.

“Our league is no different. Both of the non-winning years we lost to the eventual champion and I thought both times we were the second best team at that point in the season. Especially in ‘05 when we lost the semis to Mercyhurst in OT and then they went on to win the final, and then lose a one-goal game to (Boston College, 6-5) in the (national) tourney.”

The ten-member “lower class” league was promptly established in 2003 as a shelter for programs that had just lost their auspices from the multi-sport MAAC conference. Under the new heading, the Crusaders nabbed the inaugural AHA tournament, and, in effect, accepted a passport to the NCAA Regionals, though they quickly bowed out to North Dakota.

Rebounding to take the title back from Mercyhurst in 2006, they subsequently pulled off the AHA’s first national highlight that could be seen from space. That, of course, was their 4-3 overtime upset of Minnesota, a team that included now second-year Bruin Phil Kessel.

Going into that tourney opener in Grand Forks, ND, they were strangers from a city that outside media hordes were constantly mispronouncing staring down a cult-followed franchise of Yankee/Cowboy/Les Habitant reverence. In the end, though, you had your alternate ending to Mystery, Alaska.

On top of that, if only for about three hours, the 10,000-plus hospitable Sioux devotees acted as Worcesterians, taking grand pleasure in this downfall of their arch-rival.

Since that night, Holy Cross, and their Atlantic allies, have been gently let down from that cloud nine, though Pearl admitted that that was partially voluntary.

“The Minnesota thing, though a great story, was over the first day of last season,” he said bluntly. “If we dwell on that or try to "pull inspiration," we will be living in the past and not be getting any better. We feel we have a really bright future and are looking forward to that - not looking back.”

Last spring, the Gophers cleansed their Zamboni-weight heartache by abolishing the 2007 Atlantic champion Air Force in the same regional round. The collective trick now for the AHA, which is rumored to have expansion in store what with College Hockey America’s gradual erosion, is to confront the big boys with an attitude of belonging and translate that on the board.

“The Minnesota game was certainly a highlight,” Pearl recalled, “but what we are equally proud of from that season is going 5-2 versus the other conferences. We beat UMass, RPI twice, Dartmouth and Minnesota.

“Holy Cross needs to continue to play well out of league to get national recognition, and in given years, we have. One other factor in that is starting to get some of these games at home. Since our move to Division 1 in 1999 we have only had about 5 percent of our non-league games at home and none against ECAC or Hockey East teams. That changes this year and next, with schools such as Providence coming to our rink.”

This will be the first Friars-Crusaders encounter altogether since November 27, 2004, when PC triumphed 3-1 at Dunkin Donuts Center in the short-lived Coffee Pot Tournament. Holy Cross’ last visit to the House That Lamoriello Built was January 14, 2001, when the Friars claimed a 2-1 decision.

But now, with the foretold upgrade in non-conference showcases, the Crusaders must gear up for a steady climb fueled by a proficient depth chart. And, Pearl offered, starting young always helps.

“I think people would say we have a lot of good players, but no great ones,” he said. “Our philosophy is to play all four lines and six defensemen and try to beat teams with consistency. When we have years with players in new roles, sometimes there is a steep learning curve and we can suffer some growing pains in the regular season while we try to develop cohesion.

“In the early going our top three lines are made up of 4 freshmen, 3 sophomores, a junior and a senior. The sooner the young guys start to score, the sooner we can start winning.”

Only two games are on record as of yet, but that does appear to be happening. Rookie JP Martignetti charged up two helpers, one of them on classmate Joe Brock’s first collegiate goal, in a 6-2 loss to Niagara last Saturday. Goaltender Adam Roy has additionally made an early case to share duties with veterans Ian Dams and Charlie Lockwood.

Grippingly enough, the Friars are similarly banking on replenishment via new blood in their lineup. And so, the tale of two youth groups commences on campus at 7:00 PM Saturday.

One skate in the door

The presupposed middleweight arm-wrestling bout –should it in fact unfold at Schneider tonight- will be nothing new to the Friars. After all, it comes only right after they cracked open their conference slate at Northeastern Friday by slipping in a 3-2 overtime decision that saw a dead-heat shooting gallery of 32 stabs apiece.

As advertised, the raring to improve Huskies were backboned by a sophomore class that wasted no time answering the Matthews Arena Dog Pound dwellers’ “Tell me more” pleas that had carried over from last season. Chris Donovan translated classmate Chad Costello’s second helper of the night into the walk-off conversion 44 seconds into the fourth period while second-year netminder Brad Thiessen compressed 1-0 and 2-1 deficits until junior Ryan Ginand supplied the two equalizers for the host club.

En route to at least earning their first point of the season, Providence let out the bulk of their ammo in the wee stages, outshooting the Huskies 14-9 in the opening frame and finally eroding Thiessen 68 seconds into the middle frame via Matt Taiorma.

Kyle Laughlin’s go-ahead goal for the Friars at 6:37 of the third period was enough to earn him the game’s third star distinction.

Elsewhere in Hockey East, two other showdowns contributed to the opening of the regular season. Across town from the Friars site of competition, UNH thumped Boston University 4-1, giving coach Dick Umile his 400th victory with the Wildcats, while the two UMass schools drew a 2-2 wash in Amherst…Everyone will keep occupied with non-conference exhibitions Saturday before Boston College tangles with Vermont at Gutterson Fieldhouse on Sunday…The Eagles wound up treating their fans to a somewhat momentary Frozen Four rematch last night in Chestnut Hill, playing to a scoreless 40 minutes with the Fighting Sioux went scoreless before the game was reportedly terminated due to ice concerns, likely owing to the Stanley Cup Playoff weather spurt in New England.

Double-knotted

The PC women morphed their overall record to 0-0-2 by tying Colgate, 5-5, in Part I of their ECAC weekend excursion. They spread the scoring wealth amongst nine different skaters (Erin Normore earned the #2 star honor via her two helpers) and quelled six of seven penalties, confining the Raiders to no more than two shots per power play, save for a late regulation clamber in which Danielle Ciarletta squashed three bids to spare her Friars the single point…The Friars will skate into a small-school, big rep tangle with St. Lawrence tonight. It will be the Saints’ –pre-season tops in their league- fourth consecutive hosting to a Hockey East powerhouse, having already split a two-game series with UNH and faltered to Connecticut on Friday, 3-2.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Women's Soccer 2, Pittsburgh 1

Flick of the light switch

Friars seal homestand with invigorating triumph, revive post-season hope

Having just curtained their Senior Day game, this much is all but assured: this year’s installment of the Lady Friars soccer team will not again be seen grinding on Glay Field in formal game attire. That is, unless they can lap up the 12 possible points left in four away games and thus lock in fourth place in their division come tournament week.

On the other hand, with those pivotal road dates laying ahead, the more relevant question remains among the Providence fan base: will they at least be in action beyond the October 28 regular season finale at St. John’s?

Shortly after honoring their senior six-pack in the time-honored annual commemoration Sunday afternoon, they emboldened that possibility with a particularly timely 2-1 triumph of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Not only did it mark the club’s first multi-goal outing of the 2007 campaign and second victory in three tries, but they charged up a second Big East win for the first time since Sunday’s pre-game women of the hour were freshmen in 2004.

If that weren’t enough, the Friars snapped a pure deadlock with the Panthers in a fight to avoid last place in the American Division. Sunday’s contestants brought in identical 1-5 conference records, good enough for 3 points to put them each within striking distance of 6th place (1-4-1) Syracuse.

The win, for the moment, relieves the Friars of the slightly extra burden Pittsburgh now faces of digging out of a tad more dirt. With the Orange having drawn a scoreless wash with Marquette Sunday, the once paralyzed Providence is back in the black, barely bettering Syracuse’s five points with their six.

Riding the moderate surf of Senior Day sentiment immediately before kick-off, the Friars had a distinctly vocal and energetic huddle, almost as if opening the leftover emotion from their previous home win over Rutgers a week before. But in the young stages of the action, Pittsburgh jumped out to pour vinegar into the host’s cup and inflicted a carry-over from Friday’s 3-0 Friar falter to West Virginia, wherein they crumbled after 65 minutes of defensive impeccability.

To start, PC’s Jackie Pestor and Victoria Neff’s persistence managed to stuff up repeated throw-in by Panther Stephanie Davis in the upper portion of their end. Before the ninth minute had elapsed, however, Pittsburgh finally broke in deep, at which point a hustling Ashley Habbel drew a penalty kick, her team’s first this year, in a goal box flurry.

Habbel, already with three game-clinching strikes to her credit, nailed the fifth overall connection of her sophomore season to the right of goalkeeper Laura Elfers, who is now 2-for-4 facing clock-stopper one-on-ones.

But that would be all that the Panthers managed to bring into Elfers’ vicinity through the first 45-minute frame. Meanwhile, the frenzied Friars spent the bulk of the half struggling to settle a play and put freshman Morie Kephart, making her first start for Pittsburgh, to the test.

It would not happen during their first extended tour of offensive grounds and ultimately, Pittsburgh’s clearance sent the ball into a brief hot potato possession pattern around midfield. But PC thrust it back into prime scoring territory again within the final three minutes and sophomore Tara Ricciardi, who nearly penned an assist on Danielle Wieneke’s long-range near-miss in the 18th minute, this time thwarted another opposing breakout attempt to initiate what would end with her game-knotting goal.

Benko ended up assuming control out in the open and tore down the right alley of the Panthers’ half. Once up front before the post, she tapped the ball back to a trailing Ricciardi, who rolled her first career connection into the right corner with 59 ticks left before intermission.

Pittsburgh spotted the latter half with more sustained threats, but forced Elfers to merely play one of their four shot attempts, a generously lighter than normal workload for the Providence senior noted for her long-running cornerstone workhorse role. Kephart herself perked up well enough to answer two PC bids that plowed through her defensive garrison.

But in the 74th minute, Kephart committed a fatal infraction when she went out of her way to confront a rushing tag team of Weineke and Benko. Benko’s awkward kick squirted beyond all of the offensive and defensive bodies at the brim of the goalie and box and trickled in.

The clumsily executed play would be officially tallied as an “own goal” on the blunderstruck Panthers’ part, but it was good enough for the rejuvenated Friar faithful, who at the very least see life for their team to build on starting with the coming weekend’s Midwest journey.

Hockey Log

Men’s Opening Weekend: A plus/minus breakdown

The Friars have officially broken out their 2007-08 share of play and began their kneading with an excursion to the ECAC’s hot spot, upstate New York. Prevalently declared by most critics, the Hockey East coaches’ panel included, a favorite to repeat their fate of last year and nab 8th place in their conference, PC ended up dropping 4-1 and 2-0 respective decisions to projected ECAC 1-2 giants St. Lawrence and Clarkson.

Breakout weekend is merely all that is behind them, and the first conference tussle –a visit this Friday to fellow middleweight Northeastern- is still looming. But as they roll back to campus to mollify that common first night bodily soreness and retool, the Friars’ current superficial shape stands somewhere along these relatively half-full lines:

Plus: The opening period of Friday’s tussle with SLU saw the club’s promised padded out offense’s best expenditure of Rockstar and Powerade, chipping a whopping 15 shots at opposing netminder Justin Pesony. For a moment, at least, the more touted Saints were the ones playing catch-up, mustering 13 bids of their own, all of which senior goalie Tyler Sims handled.

To cap that all off, Pierce Norton broke the ice at 6:18 of the second period, with Sims jumping in on the equation with one of the assists (Matt Germain picked up the other).

Minus: That was it for the upfront spotlight. Within two-and-a-half minutes, the Saints had it knotted up, the Friars persistence was muted by Pesony (34 total saves), and St. Lawrence whacked a presto pair by Sims around the halfway mark of the closing frame, adding a last-minute empty netter.

Curiously enough, Providence was at its rushing peak in the latter half of Saturday’s match in the next village with Clarkson. On both nights, they thrust 11 shots on net in the closing frame, but unlike Friday, when they had already sweated out 24 stabs, it was their busiest session on Saturday. Nothing doing: Golden Knights keeper, an early sight for the critical eye, carried over his effort in a 2-1 overtime edging of UMass towards a 28-save shutout of the Friars.

Plus: Rarely does a team proclaim it can demonstrate enough discipline. PC endured an infinitesimal two nights’ total of 12 penalty minutes, two of those infractions overlapping with an offense by the opposition. The penalty kill confined each adversary to five power play shots –though St. Lawrence collected all of their within one 2:00 sequence- and got through that fully unscathed.

Minus: The power play, hand in hand with the depth chart in general, has yet to show its true colors. However, while it did not go down as an official conversion, Norton’s marker came the very second St. Lawrence’s Derek Keller was to have his jailbreak from a cross-checking sentence. Call it a start in both critical scoring areas, but the Friars assuredly hope it progresses in next to no time. It didn’t happen this time around, at least.

Plus: At the end of the day, it was more or less a pair of pre-season friendlies with proven non-conference powerhouses. A more critical measure-up lies in wait with Friday’s drop in to Matthews Arena, where the Northeastern Huskies are also preaching an enhanced, on-the-rise program and made their first impression Saturday with a 5-1 exhibition triumph of Prince Edward Island.

Opener in Orono

The PC Women will finally delve into the real-deal game slate this afternoon when they visit Maine in the only league game to be held this week. The Friars will be dishing out what they built in a particularly prolonged training camp, the only punctuation mark being their 10-1 exhibition drubbing of the Bluewater Hawks two weeks to date. The Black Bears, conversely, already own a 1-2-0 transcript on the year having surpassed Sacred Heart 6-1 in their only other home date and being annihilated by continuous head-turner Mercyhurst, 9-0, in two road games last week.

Re-Freshment for Eagles

Compared to the now two-layer Frozen Four heartache they left behind last spring, Boston College’s third-place finish at the Icebreaker Cup may just be a dollop of disappointment to start their new campaign. More importantly, the Eagle freshmen were conspicuous by their presence in Friday’s 4-3 OT falter to mighty Michigan and subsequent 4-1 consolation game thumping of Rensselaer. Cory Schneider’s aspirant successor, John Muse, turned aside 46 of 51 shots faced while classmates Nick Petrecki and Joe Whitney collaborated towards Whitney’s first goal on the Wolverines. Whitney went on to charge up two helpers in the third-place triumph. It was actually the second time a BC team had topped RPI in the span of a week as the women’s icers knocked off their Engineer counterparts in overtime last Sunday, 2-1.

Cats Clawed

New Hampshire’s James vanRiemsdyk made his own memorable first impression Friday night, blistering home two goals on a tireless six shots in the Wildcats’ home opener. But in an -at least- rare turn of events, UNH dropped its Canadian University friendly to New Brunswick 4-3. Visiting netminder Michael Ouzas swallowed up 32 of the characteristically loaded Wildcats’ shots.