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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hockey Log

They all ready for this?
Roundly braced New Hampshire next in line for PC Women

So far this month, the Friars’ steady progress has scaled in all-in-all favorable accordance with the taxing tasks on their schedule.

Though the final dozen minutes of their two-game home series with 4th-ranked Mercyhurst made for a limburger-flavored icing on the cake, they kilned a performance good enough for about 24 hours of a supra-.500 record and a dollop of formal ranking recognition, neither of which they have had since the opening week of the season.

Before the Lakers popped open their carbonated bottles to wrest away a 3-0 decision on Sunday, Providence had already handed them their worst-looking loss of the season on Saturday, 7-3, and was one period short of being just the third team to deny Mercyhurst two wins in as many attempts –along with Clarkson and Minnesota-Duluth. In the eyes of US College Hockey Online pollsters, that was good enough for an honorable mention, which as of Monday puts the Friars in the same vicinity as the underachieving Boston College and the aforementioned Clarkson.

What could possibly pose a sweatier dare as the Friars get down to strictly Hockey East action this weekend? Yet another Big Blue Machine: top-ranked New Hampshire. The first installment of the rivals’ three-part season series is slated for Saturday afternoon at Whittemore Center, where ten months ago the Wildcats hoisted the Friars’ once jealously guarded conference championship trophy right in front of them.

In the lengthy interim between meetings, UNH has proven its continuous worth through an embarrassingly seasoned strike force that has delivered as promised and a freshman goaltender –Kayley Herman- who on the one hand wasted no time earning the #1 job, but on the other has not had to deal with any more than 28 shots (5-2 win over Mercyhurst December 8) over 20 games played.

Up front, between seniors Leah Craig, Jennifer Hitchcock, and Sadie Wright-Ward, and junior Sam Faber, the Cats have four triple-digit career point scorers and another two –freshman Jenn Wakefield and sophomore Kelly Paton- have already cracked at least 20 points this season.

With all that, and then some, New Hampshire has passed test after test this season. With only one disruption, it has clung to the top slot in the national rankings since before Thanksgiving, when it yanked the crown in a Napoleonic manner, sweeping two-time national champion Wisconsin. The Wildcats have since only had to settle for second for one week in mid-December, which it ended by winning another titanic tilt with Harvard.

As of this weekend, like the Friars, the Wildcats (19-3-0 overall) have only conference competition to deal with. But they are sporting nothing short of a Patriotic persona with a 10-0 transcript and a 46-8 goal differential against Hockey East rivals.

All that in consideration, a sound performance in New Hampshire may be more momentous for the Friars –or anybody- than it is for Hilary Clinton and John McCain.

Well-padded past: PC goaltender Danielle Ciarletta, who is only just coming off another exceptional response to Mercyhurst’s smoking guns, has also proven herself in Durham before. Aside from two of her three career bouts with the Lakers, her only other 40-plus save performance to date was January 28, 2007, a day in which she aided the Friars to a 2-2 knot with the Wildcats.

Ironically, Ciarletta’s more forgettable square-off with UNH last year was at home, a 7-0 meltdown on February 11.

Not done shuffling: When Mari Pehkonen resumed her full-time duty with the Friars last weekend, her once-constant position to the left of Sarah Feldman and Katy Beach –which had seemed to be making for an effective starting unit- was not handed back to her.

For the first four games of 2008, senior Danielle Tangredi has slipped into that role and has so far been rewarded with a near-doubled productivity level. With an assist at Niagara and a goal against Mercyhurst, Tangredi has beefed up her totals to 4-1-5 through 20 games.

Pehkonen, meantime, assumed the right wing assignment with fiery freshmen Jean O’Neill and Alyse Ruff, who had previously been sandwiching Jackie Duncan and Pamela McDevitt. Ruff started experimenting as the center of her new line and remains the Friars’ top goal-getter (10), though her new line was held pointless in the Mercyhurst series.

PC’s only line that has remained unruffled since before Christmas break –and the most productive of late- is that of Jenna Keilch, Rachel Crissy, and Cherie Hendrickson.

Quick Feeds: Team USA, featuring two Friar recruits and the coaching contributions of Bob Deraney, struck gold at the inaugural U18 World Championships, bumping Canada in the title game, 5-2, Saturday. Ashley Cottrell finished the tournament with 5 goals and assists in as many games while Kate Bacon charged up three goals and a +3 rating… Ciarletta, with a grand total of 79 saves over the two Mercyhurst games, earned her second Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week distinction of the season, previously holding it during the week of November 19…PC will begin its only other unopened season series on Sunday when it hosts Boston University. The Terriers and Friars each have the most conference action left on their table, having played 7 of 21 games apiece. BU’s 4-3-0 HEA record has it one point behind the Friars and cross-town rival Boston College as of this week.

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