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Thursday, October 2, 2008

On Hockey

PC women must pounce

Every last point counts in the Providence College Friars’ renewed road to redemption. Even those points at stake in interleague contests that don’t break the surface in any standings.

Scratch that. The invisible pairwise points that merely help national pollsters measure everyone up are especially critical for this particular program. A program that sandwiched its one and only conference banner/NCAA bid year (2005) with three years of league glory for lack of an automatic bid policy (2002-2004) and another three with no national bracket membership (2006-08) as penance for not picking up the newly administered automatic bid.

Just their puck luck.

But that trend, these Friars again crave to assert, is as historically frozen as a Cro-Magnon excavation. And there’s no time like the present to roll that assertion out with their season opening four-game home stand, which commences tomorrow night with Part I of a two-night visit by Jackie Barto’s Ohio State Buckeyes.

Friday’s face-off will come a mere five days removed from PC’s 4-1 exhibition victory over the Brampton Junior Thunder, marking their quickest plunge into regulation game rhythm on record.

Contrast that with the past three years –eerily those three in which they’ve fallen short in the Hockey East postseason- when the Friars conducted their one-shot Canadian club invitational, then stashed away the game day attire and broke the whiteboard back out for a full two weeks.

Over each of those three seasons, the October panel of adversaries has grown a pinch tougher on the whole. In direct accordance, the Friars’ final October transcript has grown a pinch tougher to stomach.

In 2005, PC ran up a 3-1-1 overall record in the opening month, though two of those wins were wrenched away from the lightweight Northeastern.

October of 2006 was again highlighted by a pair of wins over the Hub Huskies, but also lowlighted by falters at the hands of Connecticut, St. Lawrence, and Mercyhurst. The record by Halloween that year: 3-4.

In other words, none of the certified or aspirant national contenders who came the Friars’ way in the early going could be solved.

And last autumn, with no help dealt by a month-long fast from home action, Providence throttled the Bluewater Hawks in their exhibition, 10-1, fostered on their own for another two weeks, then drew a 2-2 knot against Maine –the WHEA’s eventual basement dweller who also absorbed an aggregate 11-2 thrashing when they visited PC in December.

The 2007-08 Friars were 1-3-1 when the calendar morphed to November, only cracking the W column at the tail end through a 3-2 tip-over of Boston College. But not before they were shell-shocked by the likes of St. Lawrence, 8-0, and UConn, 5-0.

One month does not a season make. But this author puts it to Mr. Rust and the anti-Lady Luck that they each acted as minimal accomplices in hampering PC’s endeavor to make a searing statement, let alone get momentum cycling in a timely fashion.

The 2008-09 slate flashes wholesomely different circumstances. The Friars have a level, orderly itinerary that has them in action on one or two nights for eight uninterrupted weekends.

And for what it’s worth, as if collecting their dues for last year’s choppier schedules, they get to hang about their own pond and deal with three glaringly familiar interleague rivals –OSU, St. Lawrence, and Colgate- for their first four games.

Recall last season, which saw Providence make excursions to all three of those institutions (their visit to Ohio coming in mid-November). Overall record: 0-3-1. GF-GA differential: 7-19.

These are the teams that the Friars have habitually tangled with as a means of thawing out before they make their indisputable statement within league boundaries. But the plain fact is, to renew their passport to the NCAA bracket, PC can either take back the Hockey East trophy or they can stash away more reliable savings through a healthier nonconference record –especially against the established contenders or those who are also shooting for rebounds, like the Buckeyes and Raiders.

True, they’ve had but three days plus today to retool the depth chart. But the same virtually holds true for the forthcoming Buckeyes, who entertained a scrimmage with Wilfrid Laurier last Friday.

And, if the Friars are to be reliably loud and proud contenders, the heightened pulse that comes with quicker preparation should only signify a poised tempo.

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