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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Hope on Huntington Avenue?
Near-perfect October for NU hockey

Two weeks back, the royal rooters following the full scope of Friar Puck were twice slit in the ego upon watching their men’s team break in the 2008-09 schedule with an unsightly 4-0 home falter to Northeastern on a Friday night, then getting word that their women’s team had fallen short, 1-0, in their Hockey East opener up at the Dog House the following day.

In the men’s sector, so much for making a statement against a fellow dream-big middleweight. On the women’s front, so much for scoring some immediate self-assertion and keeping the long-plebeian Huskies in their place.

Upon stepping back to retool their spirits, those same Friar fans should be apt to have scanned the standings and taken that as an “Oh, maybe it’s not me” type of revelation.

Both of the inhabitants of the rustic, going-on-centennial Matthews Arena were undefeated going into this weekend’s action, the male pupils of Greg Cronin standing at 5-0-1 and Dave Flint’s newly inherited ladies’ roster off to a 5-0-2 start.

Overall, the NU men are the last amongst the Hockey East populace to taste sincere defeat (they claimed a tie even as they slipped in a shootout at Alaska October 10) and –heading into Friday’s excursion to New Hampshire- were perched atop the conference standings at 4-0 in intraleague action. Through six ventures, goaltender Brad Thiessen has authorized a slim eight goals whilst indulging in 21 goals worth of offensive support –a primordial all-around upgrade from his first two campaigns.

Flint’s team, unmistakably bolstered by the iron curtain goaltending twosome of Leah Sulyma and Florence Schelling, carried on from their blanking of the Friars to zap Connecticut, 3-0, formulating their 2-0 Hockey East record. With four shutouts altogether, and a pleasingly cozy 18-5 GF-GA differential, they went into yesterday’s tangle with Boston College knowing that –barring the fashionable shootout- only one team could emerge from the ice chips with still no regulation losses.

Heading into the men’s Friday night trip to New Hampshire, the two Husky teams had concocted an aggregate October record of 10-0-3.

Maybe now is the time for Flint to borrow the recent history text sitting in Cronin’s office. The Northeastern men have stashed up early prosperity before, only to learn in the pinnacle of the pennant race that a contender can’t live out on goaltending alone.

Naturally, under Flint, a seasoned goaltending instructor credited for tutoring Andrew Raycroft –among others- and with Sulyma and Schelling carrying Chanda Gunn’s old torch, the women’s sect makes Northeastern the Massachusetts Institute of Goaltending. But just as Thiessen sorely needed Joe Vitale, Tyler McNeely, and Steve Silva to consistently sparkle the scoresheet, so too will the NU women need continued, or better yet enhanced, output from Kristi Kehoe and Co.

If everyone fulfills those duties, the Huskies will all have held up their end of the bargain. It’s tough to read, though, if that notion alone suffices for a scurvy-riddled fan base that hasn’t seen a Beanpot title for its boys since 1988 or its girls since 1998. Potential probably can’t quench a thirst pedaled by a program that hasn’t gone Gardening for the Lamoriello Trophy since 1989 (men’s) or one that hasn’t laid claim to a conference crown since one dozen years and one conference ago (women’s, ECAC title in 1997).

But it’s a game of gradualness, and NU is about as “NU and Improved” as the still-awakening eye can decipher.

Back in action, with similar traction
Freshly bestowed Boston College men’s captain Brock Bradford naturally needed a dollop of sentimental Rockstar to round out last spring’s taste of Frozen Four glory. Bradford, who gnashed and ground through every last game of the Eagles’ back-to-back shortcomings as a freshman and sophomore, was confined to the sidelines for the better part of his junior campaign due to a twice fragmented arm. Though indubitably the ideal teamster this game is expected to concoct, he divulged his personal extra sheet of hunger for a repeat.

“I try not to think about what happened last year,” Bradford recently told Inside College Hockey. “But sitting up in the stands during the national title run really motivated me and made me want to be a big part of it this year…and I think we have a good opportunity to do something special with this team this year.”

For his part, Bradford entered Thursday’s visit from Merrimack with six points through four games –knotting him with sophomore Brian Gibbons for the team lead- a singular team-best 15 registered shots, and was in a seven-way draw for second under the Eagles’ plus/minus heading. Additionally, all three of his goals have gone down as special team strikes (two on the power play, one on the PK).

Spagnoli available, if need be
David Spagnoli, a walk-on freshman out of LaSalle Academy who has acted as PC’s emergency practice goalie over Ryan Simpson’s recycled rehab regimen, has brought a frustratingly illegible background to the public eye. Lacking official citizenship on the Friars’ roster, he is known for little beyond his tenure with the Rams and a sliver of playoff action he saw last spring with the EJHL’s Bridgewater Bandits, when he was credited for a clumsily executed own goal on the part of the Boston Jr. Bruins.

Spagnoli’s fuzzy, altogether brittle-looking resume should have cautionary Friar Fanatics hoping that circumstances allow him to remain strictly an animate shooter tutor for weekend afternoons. But head coach Tim Army generously values his plug-in presence opposite Justin Gates and Chris Mannix. “He’d be our third guy,” the coach said in an implicitly hypothetical context. “So we have good depth in that position, and we’ll see what happens with Ryan.”

Bishop’s Blues’ slate special
Maine dropout Ben Bishop, who discarded what would currently be his senior season with no credible warning last March, scraped out 85 minutes worth of ice time on an emergency recall to his hometown St. Louis Blues last weekend. With established starter Chris Mason recovering from an appendectomy, Bishop got the milestone call from coach Andy Murray prior to the second period of an eventual loss to the Kings when Manny Legace had to give up on playing through an ailing hip sustained when he stumbled over special guest Sarah Palin’s carpet.

Bishop proceeded to authorize two goals on 17 shots faced in a no decision, then played the better part of a 4-0 triumph over Florida the following night, pushing away a light dozen shots before he gave way to Marek Schwarz.

And, wouldn’t you know it? The Blues’ Goalie Guild is suddenly mirroring that of the Bruins, hastily hauling in former Nebraska-Omaha backstop Chris Holt. Back across the river to Peoria (AHL) so soon, Big Ben?

New England west control
The frequency of interleague action is entering its clockwork period of deceleration, and the collective men’s Hockey East populace is emerging from the icy dust with a primordial upper hand on its bigwig and central western counterparts. The coastal league’s head-to-head log with the CCHA: 7-2-2. With the WCHA: 5-1-0. A few of the savory individual dishes for the not-so-picky regionalists: North Dakota being run out of the Icebreaker Invitational courtesy 5-1 and 3-2 lashings by Boston University and UMass-Amherst; still-floundering Wisconsin starting off with a fruitless excursion to New Hampshire and Boston College; UMass-Lowell pulling off a split at Michigan State’s home pond, including a 3-0 shutout October 16; and, as a climax to a very red October, BU’s 7-2 throttling of Michigan.

Fond mini memories
Out west, all the human interest buzz continues to center on Minnesota State junior Zach Harrison, whose twig is destined for the 2008 In Review sect of the Hockey Hall of Fame after he used it to pot a natural shorthanded hat trick against North Dakota two weeks ago. Puck nuts back here in the Divine City may recall ten years ago, when the same honor was bestowed upon P-Bruin Cameron Mann, who polished off his team’s historic ten-goal tempest en route to a 14-2 throttling of the Syracuse Crunch, one of many milestones in the supernatural 1999 Calder Cup conquest.

Sparse showcasing
Ten October games involving one or two Women’s Hockey East tenants have recorded an optional postgame exhibition shootout –i.e. one not necessitated by a pure bred 65-minute deadlock- with results as follows:

Saturday, October 11: BC 5, RPI 2 (shootout 1-0 BC)

Saturday, October 11: UNH 5, Niagara 3 (shootout 1-0 NIA)

Sunday, October 12: UNH 5, Niagara 2 (shootout 1-0 NIA)

Saturday, October 18: Northeastern 1, PC 0 (shootout 1-0 NU)

Saturday, October 18: UConn 2, UVM 1 (shootout 1-0 UVM)

Saturday, October 18: UNH 3, St. Lawrence 2 (shootout 1-0 UNH)

Sunday, October 19: Northeastern 3, UConn 0 (shootout 1-0 UC)

Sunday, October 19: UNH 2, Clarkson 1 (shootout 1-0 UNH)

Thursday, October 23: BU 3, UNH 2 (shootout 3-2 BU)

Friday, October 24: UConn 3, Princeton 0 (shootout 1-0 Princeton)

Quick Feeds: PC women’s senior Mari Pehkonen’s destination for this week’s Four Nations Cup –Lake Placid, N.Y.- is a mere two-and-half hour commute from Syracuse, a sister city to her hometown of Tampere, Finland…The PC men’s alumni game guest list with still about a week left to register: Dennis Burke (played 1992-96), Chris Ciceri (1970-71), Len Clarkin, Ken Richardson (1971-75), Mark Romaine (1987-90), Larry Rooney (1987-91), and Steve Taylor (1980-84)…Would somebody please explain how the Dartmouth women’s program could possibly have been rated 6th in the nation according to USCHO and 5th in the eyes of the coach’s panel even when they didn’t break in their 2008-09 game schedule until this past Friday? Ditto, with perhaps an extra bold question mark, for the Harvard women, who stood at #3 even before they dropped in on 1-7 Quinnipiac to commence their season?…This author, who is also an admitted arena tune junkie, would like to propose a quick fix to the Schneider Arena sound crew’s lackluster inconsistency in acknowledging PC women’s goals: keep that computer up there locked in to YouTube, where a smattering of users have an array of pro hockey goal horns for listening pleasure, and be ready at all times to roll out the Bruins or P-Bruins horn when the Friars light it up…Behind the aforementioned success of Northeastern, BU, UNH, and BC rolled up favorably jutting records on both sides of their rinks in October. Between the men and women, the Terriers posted a cumulative win percentage of .818, the Wildcats .714, and the Eagles .700…Word has it that Jessica Cohen, a productively grinding senior forward at Minnesota-based Shattuck-St. Mary’s, has all but been penned in to join the Friars next season by fellow SSM alumna and assistant coach Meredith Roth…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: A pair of aspirant WCHA women’s bigwigs in Ohio State and St. Cloud State play a two-game set in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the men’s Frozen Four rematch at Conte Forum is lined up for this Friday, one night before the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Paul Pooley pay their second visit to PC in the last three seasons.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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