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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hockey Log

Higher hurdle ahead for PC Women
Mighty Mercyhurst a few rungs higher than average

Friars’ goaltender Danielle Ciarletta is in the spotlight on all counts right now, at least around her home barn as three other Hockey East goalies –BC’s Molly Schaus, UConn’s Brittany Wilson, and Northeastern’s Leah Sulyma- vacuumed the league’s weekly honors.

Come what may, around the Providence campus, Ciarletta is clutching the distinction of Athlete of the Week after an ever-so-vital pair of shutouts at her anti-nemesis, Niagara, last weekend.

Hold that thought. Yet another personally noteworthy rival is approaching the now proven starter in the form of Mercyhurst, whom Ciarletta bowed to on the road during her first month as a Friar, 4-3, despite pushing away a career best 45 stabs back on October 28, 2006.

Leading up to the two matinees at Schneider Arena this weekend, all stats have shown PC easing itself into the full-swing chunk of the season at an impeccable pace, spacing out seven goals and confining Niagara to a rather slim 40 shots over two games. But Mercyhurst, which will be reopening its game schedule for the first time in four weeks, will naturally offer a longer fused, mutated test compared to their CHA-rival Purple Eagles.

Despite being one of the last teams to finally snap out of its holiday layoff, the Lakers (14-4-2) are 4th in the nation this week according to US College Hockey Online, their best rating since they stood at #3 in early November.

All but established regulars in the NCAA tournament (three consecutive appearances) and an intriguing standout on their western Pennsylvania campus sports scene in recent years, the Lakers should offer Ciarletta another oxen-sized workload. Forwards Meghan Agosta (25 goals and 40 points through 20 games played) and Valerie Chouinard (26 points) have already exceeded 100 shots on net apiece. A whopping ten Lakers boast at least a .100 connection percentage, three are .200 or better.

More vitally, Mercyhurst also offers the Friars their last whirl around with a non-conference adversary –let alone one who is ranked. Should they bear out their all-around progress to the max and pull off a sweep, the revamping Friars would solidify an even interleague transcript of 6-6-1. Not to mention, they have vanquished a nationally staged foe but once in five openings so far this season and still have a full season series with #1 New Hampshire to try and rev up for.

Fresh Familiarity
In the upcoming series, PC’s Finnish springboard, Mari Pehkonen, will promptly rematch with four Team Canada Lakers a mere six days after the Mighty Maple Leaf tipped over her countrywomen at the European Air Canada Cup in Germany. In Sunday’s gold medal tilt, the well-traveled Pehkonen pitched in an assist on the Finns’ second strike for a 2-0 edge at intermission, but Canada pulled even at 4-4 through two frames before finalizing a 7-5 triumph.

The Canadians’ forty-minute onslaught –which saw eighteen points split amongst a dozen skaters- included 1-2-3 showcases by Mercyhurst’s own Agosta and Chouinard, a goal-assist package for Jesse Scanzano, and a key helper from Stephanie Jones that forged the 4-4 knot.

Pehkonen’s second helper of the game, her fifth point in all four tournament games, had one-time Ohio State Buckeye Emma Laaksonen re-knot everything, 5-5, at 1:36 the third before Agosta and Chouinard assisted on the clinching and insurance tallies.

Also note that the Lakers’ probable starting goaltender, senior Laura Hosier, served as Canada’s back-up to Shannon Szabados.

Time out for a future look
With Friar coach Bob Deraney part of the bench trinity, the inaugural U.S. Women’s World U18 team has made a juggernaut impression in round robin action, with two NLI recruits to PC’s skating sorority well in the booming mix.

Kate Bacon was one of eight Amerks to strike the mesh in Tuesday’s tournament opener, a facile 11-0 romp of Russia. Her prospective Friar associate, Ashley Cottrell, potted two goals in that route and followed up with a 2-2-4 performance –enough for claim to the team’s competitive Player of the Game honors- in a duplicate 11-0 steamrolling of Switzerland Wednesday.

To add to the taxes back on campus, all eight countries in the Calgary-based tournament are guaranteed action through Saturday, meaning Deraney will be unavailable to serve his full time position for at least Part II of the Mercyhurst series. Nonetheless, assistant Meredith Roth has taken assertive charge in practice this week and will assume the head position behind the bench come Saturday’s 2:00 face-off.

Quick Feeds: PC’s steadiest scorer –senior Kathleen Smith- has four assists in as many career tangles with the Lakers, including a playmaker hat trick in the aforementioned 4-3 road falter last season…Agosta charged up two assists per game in last year’s two-game series at Erie, which the Lakers capped with a 3-0 triumph…This weekend will be Mercyhurst’s last regular season get-together with a Hockey East resident, having already hosted and swept Maine and Boston University and split a series with UNH.

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