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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Hockey Log

Friars yearning for extra points
Statistically similar Niagara team on tap

By Al Daniel

OK, they’ll give this another go-around, but it should be noted that they are now looking at a limited time offer.

Finally ready to thaw out its game schedule after the traditional four-plus-week holiday freeze, the PC women’s hockey team gets one last unremitting string of interleague play, courtesy half of the compact College Hockey America conference. It begins Friday with a two-night stay at Niagara and will carry over to a pair of hostings to mighty Mercyhurst next weekend.

Sure, it does mean pushing off the Hockey East slate –where, at 4-2-1, they have by far cultivated the most substantial pleasure this season- for what will ultimately be a numbing 48-day layoff. They last threw a few pots where it matters first and foremost at the advent of December through a home sweep of Maine and will pick it up again when they visit arch-rival New Hampshire a good two weeks from now.

But the fact is, if the Friars do not pounce on the current agenda and nurse their non-conference transcript to long lost strength, consideration in the national polls could become a more wearisome hunt than the NFL’s collective search for a New England Patriots’ kryptonite.

Ever since its one and only call on to the NCAA tournament in 2005, nonconference follies have had an exponential presence in keeping Providence from another invitation. The Friars went dead-even outside of Hockey East in 2005-06 –the year they also relinquished their conference banner dynasty- at 6-6-2. Last season, they gnashed their way to a runner-up honor in the HEA title tilt, but a fleck-laden 4-10-1 transcript elsewhere dashed their hopes for an extension.

This year, the Friars are but one graduating class –Kathleen Smith, Cherie Hendrickson, and all- away from watching that 2005 legacy taper off to a complete hologram. And the last time they were sent in formal game attire, they tripped and slipped against an underhand Yale and speaks-for-itself Harvard team, leaving them at 2-6-1 against alien league tenants.

Three of PC’s last five interleague falters –spanning from early November to the closure of their 2007 slate- were by chin-knocking 2-1 counts, while the other two were 4-1 upshots against ranked or near-miss adversaries. The month-long layoff, though, is a whole other substance that will only flash its true colors once the Friars apply their on-and-off practice-honed craft against a Niagara team that has already chipped off its own inevitable rust.

The Purple Eagles –who have only chewed off two of their dozen CHA contests- are a fraternal 6-8-4 heading into the New Year lined up with a 6-8-2 Friar squad, and are winless since thumping North Dakota prior Thanksgiving. However, after taking three weeks worth of rest to compress a six-game skid, they took credit for two ties at last week’s Nutmeg Classic at Qunnipiac, though they relinquished 1-0 and 2-0 shootout decisions to Yale and the host Bobcats.

Niagara’s superficial frame flaunts an array of forwards that has been at least slightly more dazzling and consistent than the steady-hiking, no-single-superstar Friars –who have barely squeezed out more goals, 46. Purple Eagle junior Ashley Riggs’ 16 strikes and the respectable aid of Mary McKinnon (9 assists and 13 points) and Venla Heikkla (12 points despite missing 8 games) come to mind. Especially given that Niagara grilled seven goals last weekend versus an aggregate five in that aforementioned six-game freefall.

But the Eagles’ backstopping unit has proven just as susceptible to glacial meltdowns on any given night. Goaltenders Jill Zelonis and Nikki Rudy have each authorized 33 goals this season and bowed in the third period of both Nutmeg games to surrender late leads.

Providence, meantime, appears settled on its depth chart order –despite a simple shakeup in starting units during their last tangle with the tricky juggernaut Crimson. If that’s true, the potential defining element of the Niagara visit will be how much, and in what direction, PC’s skating score has morphed over break.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hockey Log: People of Power

Scribe’s Note: In homage to The Hockey News and its traditional “People of Power and Influence” issue, we offer you an alphabetical list of some of PC Hockey’s most influential people

Tim Army, 1985 alumnus and men’s head coach: In the midst of his third season at the helm of his alma mater, Army is never shy to acknowledge that he himself is still learning his position. His unmistakable PC pride has made for a great base from the day of his hiring. But just like his pad-clad pupils, the former NHL and AHL assistant/head skipper is demonstrating an exponential adjustment –lately hinted at in bite sizes by some more frequent, more decisive victories- and taking the resultant confidence in more rational stride.

Brian Burke, 1977 alumnus and Anaheim Ducks GM: Burke’s fervent “Old Time Hockey” propensities have long made him a unique beacon of attitude in the NHL front offices. But in 2007, he added a whole new sort of shine to his persona when his Ducks penned a Stanley Cup championship. And of course, far from one to forget his roots, the Divine City native made a point of tacking on the Friars’ Black-White intrasquad scrimmage to Lord Stanley’s infinite whistle-stop campaign, three days before the two had to hustle back to the other coast to raise their banner.

Bob Deraney, women’s head coach: Now flanked by a fervent trio of ex-Friars for assistants –Bob Bellemore, Meredith Roth, and the newest additive in Amy Quinlan- Deraney gets closer to becoming only the second Friars coach so stretch his reign to the decade mark. And even as the annual fast-track to a conference banner raises its hurdle and analysts raise the small-school factor, the once-upon-a-time BU Terrier chooses to run on the positive influence of PC’s past and inject a firm stick-to-it-iveness for the present.

Cammi Granato, 1993 alumna: She just can’t stop pioneering, can she? Still safely the women’s program’s all-time goals and points leader, Granato is now converting some personal negative energy and kilning a sound post-USA captain’s legacy. This past November, her willingness to speak her mind for the sake of her still-skating friends even after her dubious release from the Olympic team and her input as an NBC analyst earned her a share of the Lester Patrick Award. Come mid-February, Granato will be among the fourteen newest members of the Friar Athletics Hall of Fame, opposite fellow hockey alumni John Marchetti and Ed Monahan. She is also slated to be enshrined in the IIHF Hall of Fame this May, perhaps striking hopes of another trail-blaze for the women’s game at the main Hall in Toronto.

Lou Lamoriello, Former PC coach/AD: Speaking of not straying from one’s legacy, the tireless Lamoriello handled yet another year of juggling umpteen positions in the New Jersey Devils front office. This particular year, though, he took on a temporary self-assigned post to the Devils bench for the second time in recent memory before calling upon Brent Sutter –a hiring popularly taken for intent to finally decongest the Devils’ stuffy defensive mindset. Still most appreciated back in Providence for leading the assembly of Schneider Arena, Lamoriello dipped that brush yet again and smudged it onto Newark with the late October opening of the Prudential Center.

Erin Normore, women’s junior defender: Every PC women’s hockey buff now understands that Normore knows no positional bounds. But it continues to work for her as she earns herself summer activity with her native Team Canada, retains a hale and hearty plus/minus rate, and puts in regular appearances on the scoresheet from all four corners of the attacking zone. This year, fitting as she is now an upperclassman, she is tipping her scoring scale more to the assists column and seems to have a handful of understudy teammates harmlessly taking after her adventurous strategy.

Jon Rheault, men’s senior forward, co-captain: The team’s reigning MVP is building on that honor in a manner that should only come natural with “The C.” Rheault –also the Friars’ runaway active ironman with 122 career games- has extracted himself, along with a smattering of fellow veterans from a collective pothole that plagued them throughout 2006-07. Already, at the half of this season, he himself has 10 goals and 18 points, a mere seven notches below his 25 total points last year and a pace that has little reason not to surpass his career-best sophomore transcript of 16-14-30. This is especially the case if he clings to the formula he used in December, which brought him four multi-point performances in five games.

Tyler Sims, men’s senior goaltender: Like the aforementioned offensive likes of Rheault, Sims wasted little time in the latter half of 2007 retooling his old game. After nose-diving to an abysmal 7-19-2 junior year record, he goes into the final semester of his college career having already matched his sophomore total of 3 shutouts –not to mention set a franchise record in that area- and with a more respectable 6-6-1 transcript that might continue to hike upward if he and his peers can learn to freeze the evident momentum.

Sonny Watrous, 2007 alumna: Mere months after curtaining her radiant playing career (collegiate totals: 67 goals and 70 assists for a precise point-per-game median) Watrous opted to keep hanging about the PC sports scene –for at least a little while longer- as the official TV timeout MC at men’s hockey game basketball games. And when Cox Communications decided to televise her one-time teammates against Yale on December 6, Watrous took the liberty of reporting on the sidelines before the camera.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Hockey Log: GLI Wrap

Upward swing something to build on
By Al Daniel

Even if the shifting paper-based implications of their come-from-behind 5-3 overhaul of Michigan State were hitting them, the Friars continue to refrain from explicit elation. But when they addressed the media, they were apt to label their high-ranking holiday excursion an opportunity to freeze and push along some momentum when their Hockey East schedule hits its January fast-track next weekend.

Leading up to around the halfway mark of Saturday’s Great Lakes Invitational consolation game, Providence had thrust a never-before-seen ambitious offense against the #1 (Michigan) and #5 (Michigan State) teams in the nation, but what wholly fettered on the scoreboard through their first eighty-plus minutes of action.

But after senior captain Jon Rheault knotted the game at 6:42 of Saturday’s middle frame, the Friars thawed out at a glacial pace to nick the defending NCAA champion and forge a .500 (7-7-2) transcript to take back to the coast for the New Year.

The GLI offered a rather hefty statistical upgrade in PC’s last regular season dose of interconference play. For all the intriguing anarchy that defined the first hunk of the Hockey East schedule –which on PC’s part included an uplifting road sweep of a ranked Maine team in November- the CCHA is understandably the talk of the nation.

And on Day 1, the almighty Michigan Wolverines took that to Tim Army’s corps firsthand, dishing out a 6-0 rout, despite the Friar ability to charge up a bewildering inverse shooting edge of 50-21.

In another twenty-four hours, though, Providence acclimated with enough straightforward steadiness to force-feed some vinegar to a Spartan team that closed out its magical 2007 on an 0-2 GLI finish.

Said Army, “I think what we learned is –and we see it in Hockey East- but when you play against good-quality teams, you need to make sure you stay with your program, stay with your game, and we did that.”

Other than the core category –the scoresheet- little was different between the two chapters of Friartown Meets Hockeytown. Right after dumping their largest bushel of shots of the season on Michigan stopper Billy Sauer –who went on to win tournament MVP honors through a double-overtime shutout of Michigan Tech in the championship tilt- the Friars made an exponential climb towards outshooting Michigan State 45-30 on Saturday, increasing their output by six shots by the period.

The no-duh difference on that front was their swift return to effective offensive interruptions. For the third time in the month of December (dating all the way back to the pre-exams tangles with Brown and Union), Providence registered a four-goal period in an earthquake of a third period, outshooting the Spartans 21-12 and outscoring 4-2 in that window.

Additionally, the inherent underdog jitters that came with both matchups failed to shred the Friars disciplinary record. They paid a mere four trips to the sin bin against Michigan –two of those elbowing minors to Greg Collins well after the game had been wrested away- and two against Michigan State. They remained perfectly regimented against the Wolverines until 11:44 of the middle frame and the following afternoon, from the 1:03 mark of the second period onward, their behavioral slate stayed unscratched.

“That’s really important against any team you play,” said Army. “You want to play hard, skate hard, be physical, but you also want to do things with discipline, with composure, especially on the road –I really consider these road games.

“If you give teams (like that) too many power play opportunities, they’re gonna take advantage of it, so by nature we try to stay out of the box, and I think we did a generally good job of that.”

Whatever ultimate grade may be liable given the wild dynamics of their ice-based term exam and their response to it, the Friars were contented enough with the progressed they signified.

Rheault, who acknowledged that he “had never played in an NHL rink before,” will soon lead his associates into a remaining two-thirds of their Hockey East slate in palpable hopes of soon visiting another vibrant building –TD Banknorth Garden- come late March. If officially commences January 11 with a home-and-home tangle with UMass-Lowell.

When asked if the Skating Friar is at least a little bolder as it looks to that next task, the co-captain said with a sort of low-profile, take-it-in-stride tone, “I think we made our statement, playing against two top teams like that.

“I think (against Michigan) we were a little intimidated, but we know we can play with them, and we proved that against some of the best teams in the country, so when we get back to our Hockey East games, we’ll have that confidence.”