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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hockey Log

An honorable exit

PC Women compile handful of runner-up highlights

Second place’s inseparable tag-along, namely a puck-sized lump in the throat, was not in total hiding in the aftermath of the Friars’ 1-0 Hockey East championship falter on Sunday.

When the likes of Rachel Crissy, Kelli Doolin, and Sarah Feldman doffed their lids to claim the runner-up trophy, they unveiled standard regretful faces. They had just curtained their distinguished collegiate careers and left a thorough void in this franchise’s championship legacy as PC has yet to revive its banner-hoisting power since they were rookies.

On the other hand, the gushing pride that spawned the knee-jerk sorrow was also a particularly evident firelog in at least keeping Providence around its familiar ring of contention. That may explain why, during the handshake line with the victorious New Hampshire Wildcats, the likes of freshman Jean O’Neill had a clear-cut grin of solace and wait-till-next-year ambition gleaming through her cage.

At the start of the 2007-08 campaign, the Friars were coming off a similar title falter to these same Wildcats and a final overall transcript of 16-16-4. What they underwent afterwards –just as much of it, if not more, being grazed by ink-and-paper rather than skates-and-ice- might have made this run more reckonable.

The better part of the collegiate puck prophets either suggested that the Friars enjoy their heavyweight status in its final days or ditch it pronto, and they presented a CCM bagful of evidence. UNH making an indisputable claim to the distinction of new coastal queens, Boston College’s promising youth movement, the rise of Connecticut and Boston University, not to mention the fact that there weren’t any Kelli Halcisaks, Karen Thatchers, or even Kristin Gigliottis coming to the Divine Campus for training camp.

But as of Sunday’s buzzer, Providence again boasted the exact same 16-16-4 log and had only relinquished their shot at another title –and admission to the NCAA tournament, a side dish that was not automatically offered the last time they were conference champs- on the last possible day. And in some arguable respects, this near-anonymous edition of the Friars saved their best for last over championship weekend on the host UConn campus.

On league-wide awards night, Cherie Hendrickson, another one of the outgoing ring-bearers, accepted the inaugural Turfer Athletic Award for “tenacity, commitment, and innovation.” Hendrickson had just rebounded from an injury-shriveled junior campaign to charge up 14 points over the regular season, matching her aggregate output over her first three seasons.

Hendrickson was one of six Friars to match or surpass personal career years this season, another being classmate Kathleen Smith, who nabbed a spot on the Hockey East First All-Star team upon getting a team-best 30 points out of her precision puckslinging. Power forward Alyse Ruff, meanwhile, was named to the All-Rookie team.

PC, a last-minute confirmation for this year’s playoff upon abolishing the hopes of underachieving BC a week earlier, proceeded to put forth two tournament games with the shot counts of a New Jersey Devils intraquad contest. Yet in the semi-final, they utterly numbed the host Huskies, 5-1, nailing five of 23 stabs and going 3-for-6 on the power play to match a season-best 50% single-game conversion rate.

They also annihilated UConn’s boa constrictor handle on them in Freitas Ice Forum (they were shut out in their two regular season visits there), the Huskies’ hopes for an NCAA berth, and the notion that campus site tournaments are a free ride to cloud nine for the host.

Rivalry still thriving: In the post-game quote spreads published on the Hockey East website, both PC skipper Bob Deraney and UNH counterpart Brian McCloskey expressed self-assurance that their programs’ rivalry is in unruffled health, as though the data didn’t make that point already.

Leading up to their fourth title tilt matchup in six years, the Cats had only relinquished one point in regular season play. That point went to the Friars in a 1-1 knot at Whittemore Center January 19. The 1-0 tally in the championship was the closest differential since PC won the inaugural WHEA banner in 2002-03 by the same score against the same adversary.

And with Smith and Mari Pehkonen’s selection, opposite four Wildcats, the All-Tournament team was all PC and UNH for the fifth time in league history. Pehkonen’s selection was her second in as many years. The tournament MVP roll still consists only of Friars or New Hampshire’s Sam Faber –a two time winner this year and in 2006.

Quick Feeds: In Monday’s final USCHO Top 10 poll of the season, Providence was one of three honorable mentions, receiving five votes…Of the eight schools sharpening up for this weekend’s national quarter-finals, five of them –UNH, Dartmouth, Harvard, Mercyhurst, and St. Lawrence- all encountered the Friars this season.

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