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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hockey Log

Leading in all senses

The youth movement that was predicted to help replenish Tim Army’s corps has not exactly hit the spot through the first month of PC men’s hockey action. And so, the Friars’ two C-bearers, Kyle Laughlin and Jon Rheault have opted to remind everyone of their prior seasoning and, to an extent, reverse the presupposed roles of guidance.

Since their whole club was blanked by Clarkson and judicial pre-season Hobey Baker candidate David Leggio two weeks back, Laughlin and Rheault have each jumpstarted a four-game scoring streak, good enough for four Friar points in the Hockey East standings.

The junior Laughlin, coming off a 2-9-11 transcript over 36 outings last season, is suddenly in a multi-point game habit, charging up 5-3-8 totals so far. Laughlin charged up an even goal-helper package on both ends of this weekend’s home-and-home with UMass-Amherst, a team with an overall ambiguous pre-season outlook who nonetheless sat at #16 in the USA Today poll this week.

Rheault, PC’s reigning top gun and one of few current Friar athletes to have a biographical snippet on Wikipedia, has earned an assist per night since the team’s conference opener at Northeastern, pitching in two of them in Saturday’s epic 3-3 tie at Mullins Center. He first pitched in on Laughlin’s equalizer at 7:32 of the third period and then, with 6 ticks remaining in regulation, collaborated with John Cavanagh towards defender Matt Taormina’s game-saving blast merely 59 seconds after the Minutemen had used a power play to regain their edge.

To add a little more surprise pleasantry, that was the junior Taorrmina’s third point in as many conference contests.

And in a snap off the draw for the extra session, the two chiefs each opened fire on UMass keeper Paul Dainton, Laughlin going first on a no-time-wasted rush, Rheault tracing his initial wide attempt to at least perk Dainton back up before the Minutemen regrouped.

To a slightly less boiling extent, junior Pierce Norton’s icebreaker on a late second period power play, with both Laughlin and freshman defender Eric Baier (the only rookie with multiple points so far) happened to be in on, mounted his simpler point-per-game ride to three overall outings.

Mannix might be the man

Just as they did on Friday, the Friars did their part to let netminder Chris Mannix ease into his tussle with a slightly hungrier Amherst offense, though it only proved valid for about five minutes this time. With their home crowd working for them, the Minutemen grew to lead the shooting gallery by a landslide after allowing PC to chip at Dainton first. They ended up unloading a hearty six on net in their first swarm compared to three altogether in Friday’s opening frame and mustered double digits in each regulation period (11-14-12 respectively).

But save for three drawbacks, Mannix (34 saves) again triumphantly answered Army’s call to the bench door, made after senior Tyler Sims failed to produce any wins in his first four starts, culminating with a shriveled up 14-save showing in the Oct. 20 6-4 falter to Holy Cross.

Two of Mannix’s most glimmering moments Saturday were withstanding a five-shot barrage during a penalty kill circa the halfway mark and doing likewise to a last-minute overtime downpour where Amherst matched the Friars’ nimble three-shot gush to start that same period.

It was only one weekend against one team to close out one month, but the early stats signify a carry-over ice hankering by a guy who filled but seven openings at the tail end of last season.

Lou re-opens building diary

Time will tell its worth in being officially labeled yet another House That Lamoriello Built, but the two-decade New Jersey GM, Providence graduate, and onetime godfather of both PC pucks and Hockey East, penned his latest chapter of landmark projects Saturday. The Devils christened the Newark-based Prudential Center, though home state rock pin-ups Bon Jovi got first public dibs on Thursday, with a 4-1 drop to Ottawa.

Hitting them at the heart

A manifest crux to Mannix’ dynamics, and those of his associate blueliners, was their ability to wholly stifle and in effect break up what was originally thought to be the Minutemen’s lone cemented line of PJ Fenton, Will Ortiz, and Cory Quirk. With all three coming up empty on Friday, Ortiz was bumped down to the fourth line, but ironically was the only one of the three to break the sudden spell on Saturday, potting Amherst’s second goal early in the third period.

Giant Cat fight

New Hampshire, billed #6 in the nation by USA Today, invited, and swept, the fourth-rated Colorado College Tigers this weekend, pulling off 5-3 and 4-2 triumphs in a sold-out Whittemore Center. The Wildcats saw seven individual multi-point outputs spaced over the series while goaltenders Kevin Regan and Brian Foster split the crease-keeping wealth to improve to 3-0 overall.

Boston’s Muse of Wonder

Up at Chestnut Hill, the goaltending debate appears to have its post more secure. Freshman John Muse is the lone of three Cory Schneider replacement candidates to have patrolled the Boston College crease through five overall games and has made 2-1-2 record out of it along with a .927 save-percentage and hanging up a shutout, albeit a weather-shortened, deadlocked one, against still nationally top-rated North Dakota. Meanwhile, classmate Joe Whitney is hanging out atop the Eagle scoring charts with nine points, matching the team’s goals-against aggregate.

The bulk of Whitney’s early impression is courtesy of a two-goal, four-point display in a 7-1 Friday drubbing of Merrimack, who had come into their conference opener an uncharacteristic 3-0, good enough for a surprise handful of honorable mentions in the polls. The Eagles and Warriors will rematch Sunday at Lawler Arena.

Wolverines devour more beans

Two weeks after they tipped over BC in the semi-final of the Icebreaker Cup, Michigan had its way with the other Hub hunk, wiping out Boston University by 4-2 and 6-2 tallies in Ann Arbor. The Terriers, who are lined up to visit the Friars this Thursday, have thus fallen to 0-4-1 on the year and relinquished four-plus goals in their last four games.

Huskies still hot

The Connecticut women’s team followed up on their decisive 5-0 thumping of the Friars last Thursday by topping their fellow Huskies at Northeastern in a 5-3 marathon, stretching their overall streak to seven wins. With their 10-3 goal differential in two Hockey East games, UConn gets at least temporary dibs over UNH for first place. The 2-0 Wildcats tangle with rival Maine Sunday at 4:00.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Men's Hockey 3, UMass-Amherst 1

Friars keep the command

UMass rally slows down to allow for first PC win

To commence Week #3 of their season, the Providence College Friars reran the newfangled Friday Night First Period Jumpstart Act, laying it out for the first time before their home fans and even augmenting the output, save for the scoreboard.

Yet again, the momentum scale went on to creek smoothly and consistently the opposition’s way, allowing the nightlong suffocated Massachusetts Minutemen to renew their hopes by the third period. But what had worked most soundly for St. Lawrence two weeks back in a 4-1 Friar falter, and exhilaratingly for Northeastern in a 3-2 overtime final, did not come to full pass this time.

Instead, the cliché about a third whirl around that needs no introduction came true for the Friars, who pulled through 3-1 before 1,918 at Schneider Arena in Part I of a home-and-home tilt with the Minutemen.

By all counts, the opening twenty minutes was the most lopsided frame to tilt PC’s way as they dispensed fifteen shots compared to UMass’ three, eight of those bids spacing out over four power plays. Minutemen freshman Paul Dainton’s dynamics that ultimately earned his second star of the game honors were good enough to withstand fourteen of those stabs, but the illicit habits of his peers tripped him up early.

Precisely two and a half minutes after the opening draw, at which point the Friars led the shooting gallery 2-1, Scott Crowder went to the bin for elbowing. On their first man advantage, Providence meticulously cycled the puck for about a minute before the Men finally tipped it out of their end.

But on a quick return trip, forward Greg Collins hung back in the slot slowly creeping towards Dainton whilst waiting out his associates in a scrum at the far hash marks. Jon Rheault emerged and forwarded it to Collins, who proceeded to spoon a backhander upstairs for the icebreaker.

PC ran the shot clock after that, with the aid of three more power plays, including a five-minute, three-stab spree with Minuteman Alex Berry’s head check to Mark Fayne. And they would carry the gush, though tone it down a grade, into the middle frame, outshooting their adversaries 11-8.

Amherst exponentially thawed out over that span, cleaning up their play whilst taking their first two power plays on the game, though they registered no shots on those. It didn’t hurt them, either, to have a play called back after one of the Friars’ last major blizzards of the game around the halfway mark. Post-whistle suspicion that one shot may have reached home compelled referee Dave Hansen to consult video replay before confirming it no goal.

That notwithstanding, in the other crease, junior goaltender Chris Mannix counteracted everything in his first forty minutes of action this season, including a dying seconds sugar rush that spotted two shots against and an obstructive, too-close-for-comfort mirage of bodies nearly ramming him into his net.

Providence temporarily rekindled its touch to simultaneously attain two milestones at 0:25 of the final period, those being their first multi-goal lead of the season and their first even strength connection out of their last six. Near point patroller Trevor Ludwig froze the disc and looped it along the walls to Pierce Norton, who strolled behind the net for a hand-off to Nick Mazzolini, who was coasting in the opposite direction. Mazzolini thrust the puck out in front for a wizardly Kyle Laughlin –who was credited with an assist on Collins’ tally- to sneak through the legs of Dainton.

It was right then and there that the Minutemen, trying to salvage a three game unbeaten string (their only “loss” actually coming in overtime at Clarkson October 12), woke up for real. The PA announcer was nowhere near through disclosing the niceties of the Friars’ insurance goal when Jordan Virtue lured Mannix to a distorted sprawling position and set up Matt Burto to flick one in at 0:41.

Nine minutes later, in the midst of another man advantage and after his club had piled up four unanswered tries, Chris Davis thought he had poked an equalizer through Mannix’s skates from behind the cage. Obscured sight, however, sent Hansen back to the phones, and after a particularly prolonged conference with the video judge and ice level judge, his ruling melted the Mass perk-up.

With 2:09 remaining, Providence, working its first power play since the opening frame, restored the two-goal edge for good. Monitoring their own chosen post, wingers John Cavanagh and Mazzolini each took their stabs before Cavanagh, at the left side, left it up to John Mori in the slot. Barely keeping his blades in order as he collected the shipment –it had, after all, been a shaky stretch drive to the evening- Mori nailed a low flyer to the left of Dainton.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Soccer Log

Redding and able

Men’s Soccer rookie comes to light at opportune point

He and his cleat-clad buds are aiming to prolong it as best they can, to be sure. But the fact is, it won’t be too long before PC's Ryan Maduro starts digging for a follow-up the speculation that his career carries fertile soil beyond Glay Field.

When that day comes, which would be no later than the not-entirely-unfeasible NCAA tournament this December, it will mean the work of the lone current Friar to hail from within Ocean State boundaries (Bristol) and with a nice transcript of individual honors will no longer be valid here.

But now, after an entire season wherein it seemed sophomore Jonathan Medcalf was the lone understudy giving the old “The future is now” declaration, freshman Alex Redding has followed suit in piloting the exponential grind of the 2007 campaign. With three regular season matches left undone, Redding is suddenly the new man for the critical eye, having activated on his touch and not let bar down in the last three games.

The breakout saga began ten days ago, when Redding tilted home an insurance goal towards vanquishing Marquette 2-0, thus snapping a three-game (0-2-1, no goals) slide for Providence.

Three nights later, the still limbo-laden Friars paid what was essentially a can’t-hurt visit to non-conference rival powerhouse Boston College. Kicking things up a mere two miles apart from his alma mater Newton North High, Redding led nostalgia carry him over the collective betting lines and laced home the lone tally marker in a 1-0 upset of the then 9th-ranked Eagles.

He was in the core of the charge once more on Sunday when PC visited and kicked a little more dirt on the Blue Division basement-dwelling Pittsburgh Panthers, collaborating with Maduro to set up Michael Narciso’s eventual winner in a 2-0 knockout. Narciso actually scooped up a rebound of Redding’s initial stab at the keeper, one of his six during his hot streak that, on top of everything else, has nimbly afforded him a team-best .857 shots on goal percentage.

Was there any reward for this? Namely other than cracking his personal goose-eggs, as well as a team spell, and fluffing the pillows of long unstinting goalie Timothy Murray, all towards renewing the shot at preferred playoff momentum?

Try the first two starts of his collegiate career immediately after the Marquette impression followed by the top Big East rookie title for the week of October 22, opposite Murray’s goalkeeping honor of the same caliber.

Their now three-forward strike force that much deeper, and fourth place currently in their grasp, the Friars look to the creeping Seton Hall Pirates (3-4), who come into Wednesday’s match on campus with a game in hand and a four-point deficit for the last home-field slot in the fast-approaching preliminary round after they had snoozed in the cellar through the first portion of the season.

Possible raid

Murray’s of late magic may be a particular requirement more than usual Wednesday. This season, the Seton Hall offense, save for a 2-1 squeeze of Pittsburgh, has either been blanked or gone on a four-plus goal burst this season. During a four-game win streak that was just snapped by Notre Dame last Sunday, they routed Rutgers, Marquette, and non-conference rival Adelphi by respective counts 4-1, 5-1, and 4-0. Kick-off for the Friar-Pirate get together is slated for 3:00.

Now or never for PC Women

Road hostilities have cooled off the women’s team’s late season awakening that put a striking end to their home slate. Having relinquished 4-0 and 1-0 finals at Notre Dame and DePaul last week, their potential make-or-break game for some long inaccessible post-season play lies ahead this Friday night in Syracuse; a subsequent Sunday drop-in on fourth-place St. John’s will be their last call for a three-point rush. Since cracking the win column egg, the Friars have engaged the Orange in a bout for the final round robin berth in the American Division, currently trailing by an 8-6 point count.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hockey Log

Friar ice couple still not getting any (wins)

“Whole lotta hockey left to be played,” they often pronounce in a situation like this, one notable example (or maybe not so much) being Sean Linden, the impressively serene main character of that Slap Shot sequel of about five years ago. Or else, something like that.

All of the 2007-08 stat sheets and record books would give an approving nod to such cool-as-ice posture. Still, in the young hours of the campaign, the rink-going breed of Friar Fanatics has yet to have a right to any feeling other than that of wrench and itch. After all, however little damage it really causes, no one is expected to feel good about stepping in on the wrong skate.

Perhaps the buffs can at least be soothed by the fact that they have only been able to stroll to Schneider Arena once for a formal game thus far. Furthermore, inter-conference action, which at the end of the day is always a tad less important than intra-conference contests, is still the bulk of everyone’s fill thus far.

Nevertheless, both of the Providence College hockey teams have curtained two weeks of action winless, the women (0-1-2) subsisting on two points earned via ties, the men’s 0-3-1-0 transcript moistened merely by an overtime point courtesy of Friday’s 3-2 falter to Northeastern.

And in the aftermath of Saturday, the way all current events are swaying, the Friar faithful was practically looking at the anti-Boston sports scene. In their first home impression, the Friar men did extract more offense and spent a tempestuous second period topping their entire three-goal output of their first three outings with a whopping four power play conversions. But unable to hurdle over the opportune Holy Cross Crusaders in the eventual 6-4 losing effort, they left their fans still hanging on their wait for a straight-up, smoothly paved sixty minute stretch.

The promised offense was visible for the first time in the middle frame, and when lined up with the Crusaders’ jumpy play, penalties were not the sharpest issue, at least not aggregately. An uncharacteristic discipline outburst, i.e. a first period major PC infraction spawned two Holy Cross goals and seemingly tilted the final momentum their way.

Meanwhile, in rustic New York, the women’s team endured one of its most discouraging upshots in recent memory, an 8-0 drubbing by the always counted in St. Lawrence. Superficially, that shows a lot less to build upon compared to what the men mustered in their second period and the Lady Friars’ two preceding ties with Maine and Colgate.

Then again, the Saints are a verified powerhouse in the women’s game and have no direct influence on the Hockey East affairs, which the Friars will soon be able to fixate their eyes on after they again come back to campus to retool.

To reiterate Mr. Linden, there is quite plainly a whole lot of hockey still to come.

The bottom line is, though, the Fanatics, as the stadium tune by CIV goes, can’t wait one minute more for the guys to face the Minutemen of Amherst Friday; and likewise the girls to visit another potent east coast rival, UConn, on Thursday, thus renewing the opportunity to convincingly break out.

Primordial Parity

What applies to the Friars applies to the rest of their conference in that everyone has merely broken in their skates; and both Maine and Merrimack have yet to play a Hockey East game on the men’s side of the conference while the same holds true for half the women’s side. Nonetheless, an unusual number of ties have already found their way to the conference-play column. The two UMass’s drew a 2-2 wash in Amherst Friday while Vermont warded off Boston College well enough for a 3-3 decision at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Both UNH teams started off their Hockey East slate with a win over Boston University.

Losing the lids

On a quirky two occasions Saturday, a Holy Cross hit rendered a Friar player helmetless. With 6:42 gone in the opening frame, defender Matt Celin pinned his opposing point watchman Greg Collins in a routine scrum along the far boards at the PC blueline. Later, at almost the same point of the second period, Mark Fayne was strolling through the right corner of the Friars end trying to initiate a breakout when a 6-1, 200 lb. Dewey Thomson zeroed in for the check.

Sporty sweaters

True to form with the bulk of the hockey world, the Friars presented their new-look RBK design home jerseys. The new scheme is roughly similar to what the Bruins have going with prominent Friar gray shoulder caps and a bold strip of gray-and-black trim across the midsection.