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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Men's Hockey 5, Michigan State 3

State of recovery

Friars rally to bump MSU in eventful third period

DETROIT- At 13:18 of the second period, on its 65th shot of the tournament, Providence College broke its weekend-long goose egg. Freshman Kyle MacKinnon guided a blocked shot by Cody Wild out of his own end and broke for a two-on-one with senior captain Jon Rheault.

McKinnon’s snapper from the near circle wiped the near post and plopped onto the back half of the crease, where Rheault arrived to bury his team-leading ninth strike of the season and knot the Friars with Michigan State, 1-1.

Later, two minutes after John Cavanagh re-knotted the game, Rheault kindled a go-ahead goal that effectively paced his associates to a cathartic 5-3 triumph in the consolation game of the Great Lakes Invitational.

MacKinnon, one of Rheault’s fast-blossoming understudies, joined him in the multi-goal club when he tossed in the eventual winner and an empty netter.

“I was proud of the way we responded from last night,” said Rheault. “We played well last night, had some good chances, but we didn’t really stick with it. Tonight, that was different. We stuck with it the whole game this time."

Goaltender Tyler Sims, despite taking the bulk of Friday’s 6-0 Michigan scorching, got the nod once more Saturday. MSU would be less constricted breaking into his property, but found a generally more alert crease custodian than the Wolverines had.

The Spartans, somewhat drained from their 4-1 arm wrestling falter to Michigan Tech in Friday’s nightcap, authorized an early shooting edge for the Friars. PC toned down the rabidity it had displayed against Michigan, but nonetheless sculpted a 9-4 shooting edge by the seventeenth minute of Saturday’s action and eased Sims into the action more consistently.

Citing the three-week deceleration for exams, head coach Tim Army said, “For a goalie, it’s most difficult for them, so it was a little bit of rust for Tyler, and for a goalie it’s difficult not to see a lot of action.

“He came right back tonight, managed the game really well, and gave us all a chance to get back on track."

But at first, shortly after Wild’s adventurous near-miss in the MSU slot, PC’s last bid of the period, the seasoned, ring-bearing Spartans broke out –visually and statistically. They sprinkled six unanswered stabs within the final 3:30 of the opening frame and seized the upper hand at the 19:04 mark.

Finally able to settle an attack, far side pointman Ryan Turek tapped a lateral feed to his defensive associate Justin Johnston.

Johnston’s subsequent boomer rang the boards and landed in the clutch of winger Chris Mueller, who laced it around the cage to Dustin Gazley

Gazley, who one shift previous had a close shave similar to Wild’s, dropped a simple flicker over the head-spun Sims’ mitt.

Sims fused his borders to resist four bullets on a penalty kill early in the second, after which the Friars authorized four more Spartan shots whilst whittling away at mighty mite stopper Jeff Lerg with comparably more bite. By their second adjournment to the locker room, they held a 24-18 edge on that front and had pulled even in key category.

Returning to yet another fresh sheet, though, MSU flipped the tables once more to regain the edge at 1:11 of the third. Matt Schepke froze a loose clearing attempt at the far outer has marks and shipped it to Michael Ratchuk at the center point. Ratchuk’s trickling attempt was guided home by a screening Nick Sucharski.

A blinding salvo –at least for the contesting stoppers- ensued. Providence outshot the Spartans 21-12 through the closing stanza and gave its petite contingent of fans another round of CPR with 12:11 remaining.

Off a draw to the right of Lerg, PC’s Austin Mayer tapped the disc back to Matt Taormina at the far point. Monitoring Taormina’s nimble blast to the cage, Cavanagh was stationed at the backdoor to lob home a backhander.

“What we did better tonight was we stayed with our game a little bit more,” said Army. “Even when we fell behind late in the first, we came out in the second a lot more poised composed and kept at it.

“Jon’s goal got us on track. You could feel it really lifted our bench. And even when we fell behind again in the third we just stuck to what we need to do well and we got rewarded with the tying goal (again).”

With 10:12 remaining, Rheault accepted Wild’s breakout feed and bolted down the near alley to the MSU goal line. Reaching that depth, he turned to the slot to find Greg Collins, whose rebound skipped past Lerg before Rheault polished the play.

With little more than four minutes left, MacKinnon extracted the puck from a scrum and hustled loose on an end-to-end rush with Pierce Norton hanging back. A quick back-and-forth exchange resulted in a 4-2 edge.

Such an effort proved vital in the final minute when Matchuk and Schepke recollaborated to cut their deficit. Matchuk beamed down the Broadway lane to insert a diving tip-in of Schepke’s feed. But PC stifled MSU’s six-pack attack thereafter before MacKinnon made the facile insurance strike in the game’s waning seconds.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Michigan 6, Men's Hockey 0

Sauer taste for Friar offense

50-shot effort falls through in loss to Michigan

DETROIT- The Providence College Friars turned their backs for split seconds at a time –six times, specifically- and the ever-potent Michigan Wolverines pulled the match away.

Despite owning each frame in the area of shots –ultimately treating Michigan junior Billy Sauer to a game total 50, the bulkiest sweat of his career- PC swallowed a fatal load of brusque meltdowns in its own end and dropped a 6-0 decision in the Great Lakes Invitational semi-final.

The Maize and Blue –second in the latest USCHO poll and at the top of the USA Today rankings- distributed an uncharacteristic twenty-one whacks of their own, but weaved that into a team-high six-goal output for the fourth time this season. Meanwhile, every Providence skater, save for Ben Farrer, broke their personal SOG column –Nick Mazzolini leading the way with seven- but never applied the lamplighting seal.

“They’ve got some opportunistic players,” acknowledged Friars coach Tim Army. “We made some mistakes, and they cashed in.

“I thought we played really well, did a lot of good things, over the whole sixty minutes. We had a lot of opportunities, but we got caught back on our heels, turned the puck over, and that’s how they scored the first goal.”

It only took the radiant Wolverine offense 62 ticks to toss out a morsel of its salsa-based rubber. On his first swift end-to-end rush, forward Tim Miller moved in on starting defender Joe Lavin in the far corner and forwarded a lateral pass to Louis Caporusso in the slot. Caporusso’s ice-bound bid looped around Tyler Sims’ right skate and dripped home.

On one hand, that perked up the Friars as though no other vibrant element around Joe Louis Arena had since their arrival here. They proceeded to sprinkle 13 unanswered shots (period total of 16) over the next fourteen minutes.

On the other hand, none of those stabs came in first-shot-rebound pairs or groups and the Wolverines (3 first period shots) subsisted on nimble clearances before they crashed Sims’ territory again thirty seconds prior to intermission.

Forward Aaron Palushaj jumped a loose puck on his own blue line and quickly forwarded it to Brian Lebler for a two-on-one. Palushaj scurried down the center alley and waited to one-time Lebler’s return feed off of a sprawling Sims’ skate and in.

“That’s why they’re in college,” mused Army in reference to his own students. “They’re young players. We did a lot of good things, but at times we tried to take matters into our own hands. We tried to do too much in situations where we didn’t need to, and I think that’s the general inclination of young players.”

A smattering of key elements took little time to thaw out in the middle period. The Wolverines, while Sauer resisted yet another 16-shot serving, thawed out well enough to test Sims eleven times.

Additionally, the unblemished discipline on both sides came out of hiding at 5:45 when Michigan’s Anthony Ciraulo went off for interference.

But the Friars could not spark on either of their first two power plays, and melted down further when the likes of Kevin Porter –the nation’s leading gunslinger- woke up. Shortly after the halfway mark, Porter broke out with Ciraulo for a shorthanded two-on-one, offering a quick saucer for Ciraulo to put in the roof for the 3-0 lead.

On the subsequent play, Marc Fayne smeared PC’s clean slate when he went off for tripping to set up a thirty-second 4-on-4 sequence. Once Michigan regained full strength, a fresh-out-the-box Palushaj clamped the puck behind the Friar net and zipped it to far point patroller Chad Langlais. Langlais in turn fed Porter, who drilled a low rider from the circle-top to the right of Sims with 6:41 remaining.

Freshman Ben Winnett gave Michigan a quick 5-0 stranglehold with 2:22 left in the frame, collecting a wild-running puck right in front of the cage and tossing in another roofer.

The overcooked Sims (game total 11 saves) took a seat for the third period, giving Chris Mannix his first go-around since November 1. Mannix –who eventually turned away six of seven shots faced while his mates dumped another 18 on Sauer- would have but 4:10 and two far-between shots to acclimate before letting the sixth Wolverine strike through.

After a comparatively lengthy, feisty Friar attack, Michigan’s Travis Turnbull accepted a quick breakout tap from Brandon Naurato and singlehandedly zipped down the near alley to snap the disc through Mannix’s legs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 In Review: Women's Hockey

Holding Their Post
From the moment they rang in the New Year, the Friars kept up their limbo trek, going exactly .500 at 7-7-1 leading up to the Hockey East tournament. Despite forging an iffy regular season record of 15-15-4, a 12-6-3 log against conference rivals left them in a fair position to revive their dynasty that had been snapped by Boston College and New Hampshire in 2006.

There, in the most definitive fashion, the fellow titan Wildcats wrested PC’s solo claim to Hockey East regality a little further, bumping the Friars by a 3-1 count before a gleeful Whittemore Center mass. A week later, the repeat HEA champion did not take the Friars –but rather the blossoming Eagles- with them to represent the New England coast in the NCAAs.

End of an era? Much to the collar-tugging nervewrack of the Friar faithful, the proud ice was appearing to exponentially soften for the former three-peat conference champions. The off-season did, after all, mark the loss of a big-help-in-small-pack senior class, namely the 1-2 scoring punch of Kristin Gigliotti and Sonny Watrous and proven goaltender Jana Bugden.

Throw in four blindsided premature departures and the aforementioned disturbances churning in Chestnut Hill and Durham, and popular analytical opinion did begin to express its doubt in Bob Deraney’s ice pack.

For a team theoretically clad in as many question marks as Jim Carrey’s embodiment of The Riddler, it didn’t help the Friars to break in their new skates with a home game-free October. (It wasn’t like Schneider Arena was undergoing renovations like the men’s basketball shrine downtown, or pushing away its tenants in favor of the circus as the Bruins building does every autumn).

By the time PC did light up its home barn for a November 6 tilt with Northeastern, it had swallowed –in chronological order- two ties, two blowout-shutouts at the hands of almighty St. Lawrence and Connecticut, and a compressing 3-2 tip-over of Boston College. A subsequent 5-4 falter in the home opener set things back touch more.

But all in all, through the first half of the present campaign, less has changed for the Friars than the critics had prophesied. Take that either way: for better or worse. They are gripping an appreciable conference record of 4-2-1, but remain stumped on alien conference tenants, making for an overall transcript of 6-8-2.

As they try to recover from their early slides, the Friars’ night-to-night scoresheets are reflecting a down-to-ice team effort. Gigliotti and Watrous’ logical contemporaries –Mari Pehknonen, Sarah Feldman, and Erin Normore, all fresh off healthy 20-plus point campaigns- are not having any individual runaways.

Then again, the once-arid likes of Kelli Doolin, Cherie Hendrickson, and Kathleen Smith have done a flattering share, Smith so much so that she currently leads the team with 13 points. She is immediately trailed by four nine-pointers –one of them a freshman scoring beacon in Alyse Ruff- and three eight-pointers –another frosh, Amber Yung in that clan. At the first-half buzzer, that all amounts to a goal-per-game average of 2.875, a few notches up from last year’s median of 2.875.

Considering the summer criticisms, that data could be taken with a smile, as could junior Danielle Ciarletta’s more or less secure assumption of Budgen’s crease. But the remaining half of the season will offer up plenty of interesting opposing silos –two more BC get-togethers, two with Connecticut, all three UNH games.

Monday, December 24, 2007

2007 In Review: Women's Soccer

On-field famine, search for firm lift-off rages on

On December 3, thirty-seven long days after tucking away their cleat bags, the PC Women did have a proud privilege in the form of another NCAA Public Recognition Award in the academic sphere.

When it came to worming through the playbooks and penning their feet into the Glay Field soil, though, material credit was again tough to come by. Cultivating an infinitesimal seven goals over a whole eighteen game slate whilst learning that rigid senior goalkeeper Laura Elfers could not always hold her pieces together singlehandedly, PC missed out on any action beyond Halloween with a final 3-14-1 transcript, one of their lightest bushels of victory this decade.

In her second season as the go-to starter, Elfers averaged well more than five saves per game, but was at times overcooked by the Big East’s giants, her worst shelling coming in a 6-0 catastrophe against regional rival Connecticut. Other days, most piercingly at a season-wrapping round trip of New York State, she bent one time too many. The season-long arid Friars heard their post-season death knell when they dropped back-to-back 2-1 decisions at Syracuse and St. John’s.

Long before that, though, PC had squeezed out but three goals over the course of thirteen games and had the numerical lasso draped around their necks in each of their first five conference games. Their last visual hurrah came in the form of a 2-1 toppling of Pittsburgh in the team’s home finale, at least briefly leaving the suspense-driven Friar Fanatics with a dollop of hope.

The team’s runaway vertebra Elfers, and five praetorians, shall snag their degrees at Dunkin Donuts Center this May.

For what it’s worth, though, all eight Friars who scratched their names on the scoresheet over this season are due to return for 2008. Three of them –Christie Gent, Victoria Neff, and Megan Manceralla- will be primed to assume paper-told leadership roles as seniors. Gent, a five-point reaper back in each of her freshman and sophomore campaigns, should feel especially scurvy-riddled as she is assigned to help instill the drive in her peers.

And no time like next training camp to try and splash more on what the Friars were hinting late in 2007 –with feeling. This franchise is without anything better than a single-game two-goal performance or a multi-goal margin of victory since a 3-1 tip-over of Seton Hall on October 8, 2004.

That happens to date back to Elfers’ freshman year. That considered, maybe more than ever, the trite concept of rebuilding would be appropriate to stoke in coach Jim McGirr’s –approaching what will be his fourth year on campus this autumn- office.

He has most every scrap of material he can realistically ask for, minus an experienced, proven goalkeeper. The trick will be to pull an unfamiliar trick and bloat his conglomeration into a start-to-finish contender mold.

2007 In Review: Men's Soccer

Mad finish for the local boy; is the future now?
They came. Their fans saw hors devourers-sized memories unfold through the compact autumn. They calmly curtained it all circa Thanksgiving.

Yeah, that –in short- has fast shaped into the seasonal custom for the Friar Footballers. After gnashing their way to a 9-6-2 overall regular season transcript and home privileges for the preliminary round of the Big East Tournament, the 2007 PC Men dropped their first post-season match –scheduled for an untimely 1:00 Wednesday slot on November 7- by a 2-0 count to Cincinnati.

Seventeen days later, while the campus’ peerless hoops hype was taking effect at the newly renovated Dunk, the kickers politely excused themselves to Virginia and submitted to Old Dominion 1-0 in the national tourney. It was, on a virtual defining front, their third consecutive pair of season-spelling back-to-back blank-slaps.

For the outgoing class of 2008, led by statistical and emotional fireball Ryan Maduro of Bristol, the approach to both tournaments this year was a notch below the bars set in 2005 (no typo: 6-3-8 going in) or 2006 (12-5 through regular season action). Straightening out for the stretch drive to go 4-1-1, including a pleasant 2-2 knot with mighty Notre Dame and a 1-0 road overhaul of Boston College, all spilled over with the advent of November.

But the collective output was ideally distant from their no wins, 5 goals, 16 losses freshman finish in 2004, a campaign which Maduro had –maybe not so coincidentally- missed out on.

Only just grinding out career data of five goals and sixteen points and a runaway team-leading four game-clinching strikes and 56 stabs at the net, Maduro continued to haul in relics for his now stone-fused legacy. Less than three weeks after Glay Field shut down for a little less than another human pregnancy, the captain doubled his franchise-distinctive trophy rack with a repeat mention on the All-Big East First Team and All-Northeast Second Team.

With no new Ocean State-bred strikers yet told of, Maduro’s peerless punch and another four-pair of cleat tracks will be left via Alex Bury, Michael Narcisso, Matt Otte, and Hadrien Toure.
Meantime, a presumed contingent of 19 Friars is bound to return for 2008. And should the likes of Jonathan Medcalf, inclined to step up as a junior after two seasons as Maduro’s attacking zone exec-VP, soon-to-be-senior goalkeeper Timothy Murray, and even late-blooming rookie eye-catcher Alex Redding keep their pace, there should be no hints of a 2004 relapse.

Murray took the full-time backstopping job this year in place of Chris Konokpa, guzzling every last minute worth of playing time and extracting seven shutouts to match the 2006 tandem total (Konopka with 6, Murray 1). On the other hand, PC was also on the receiving end of seven lemon-based doughnuts.

When they were clicking offensively, Medcalf and Redding both fiercely penned their Maduro apprenticeship applications through the latter half of the year. Medcalf equaled Maduro’s five-goal log. Redding, at first empty and often bench-bound, inserted two game-winning strikes of his own (one against BC, the other in an overtime epic against Seton Hall) and matched still-incubating veterans Justin Kahle and Matt Marcin with seven points.

By pure statistical comparison, Redding’s pace is a touch ahead of Maduro’s so far. How firmly he and Medcalf will spread their web, though, will likely be the deciding factor in the Friars’ pursuit of a next-step upheaval in 2008.