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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Fresh scrapings in the creases

No Ben Bishop and no Andrew Sweetland make Maine fans go crazy. Crazy for the fact that their beloved college icers are hereby condemned to the doldrums indefinitely.

Colin Wilson or no, Boston University bears no surefire specimens of well-rounded stability. Better play it safe and count them out.

Merrimack? Wasn’t that where America’s Underdog, Mike Eruzione, thought he was destined when he had virtually given up on pursuing a Division I scholarship?

Yep. These were some of the outspoken, primordial sentiments emitted by everyone from casual laptop loiterers on the chat forums to hungry, hard-charging analysts –this author included.

But in the young weeks of the 2008-09 Hockey East season, all three of the aforementioned programs have, at the very least, exceedingly veiled their initially iffy outlooks through what may be summed up in the memorable style of the late political journalist Tim Russert.

Goaltending. Goaltending. Goaltending.

Or, more to the intriguing point, a triple scoop of punctual, reliable freshman goaltending.

In Maine, as soon as onlookers were finally acclimated to the notion of a beggar-like Black Bear team, Scott Darling has stepped in and, so far, pulled the reverse shock factor. Heading into this weekend, he led all HEA stoppers in the way of overall GAA –authorizing but one goal, no more, no less in six start-to-finish outings- and save percentage –a .961 efficiency rate- and was second only BU’s Kieran Millan in win percentage.

Over four conference games, the latter three of them wins, Darling’s praetorian guards have packaged him a too-close-for-comfort nine goals. Gustav Nyquist (team leading 10 points in nine overall games) aside, the overhauling depth chart refill project is far from the ideal par. But Darling (who, just as this column was going to press, was reportedly suspended for Part I of this weekend’s home series with Merrimack) has authorized a mere five flickers of the light behind his cage over that same intraleague stretch.

Perhaps the puck prophets should have known better. There was, after all, a time when Big Ben was a cagey new crease custodian with the task bigger than his 6-7 stature of filling the pads of Jimmy Howard.

As for Millan, there were grounds for snooty talk that a John Muse doesn’t break out on such a frequent basis, and he had already landed the other Hub Hunks a national title in his first year at Chestnut Hill. But Professor Parker’s Pupils at BU are on pace to refreezing the slushy remnants left by John Curry’s graduation in spring 2007 with the help of Millan and Grant Rollheiser –good enough for two halves of a Muse.

Millan is 5-0-0, just stamped his first collegiate shutout over Northeastern last Sunday, and has left the rest of the load to Rollheiser, a thickset Toronto Maple Leafs’ draftee who stands at a fair-enough 2-2-0 and accompanies Millan amongst the top ten goals-against rates in the league.

On paper, the Terriers’ lone missing link was that supremely vital last line of defense. It posed the program’s only reckonable question mark. So far, so good.

And at Merrimack, junior Andrew Brathwaite had briefly been in a sympathetic dilemma reminiscent of Tim Thomas in the Bruins’ pre-Claude Julien era. Key tense: had been –until Joe Cannata stepped in this season and proceeded to split the workload responsibly. Cannata, 6th on the HEA leaderboard in the way of save percentage, 9th in GAA, and with a 1-1-2 record and a shutout over five games, has collaborated with Brathwaite towards a passable 24 goals against over ten overall games.

From a Warriors’ standpoint, it’d be revolutionarily refreshing if the stoppers’ praetorian guards did something to build on their similarly infinitesimal goal count of 20.

But through Cannata’s handy input, Step 1 towards Merrimack’s first passport to the postseason since 2004 appears assuredly fastened.

Providence rosters becoming more Pacific
In a nod to the current edition of The Hockey News (newsstand date: December 1) wherein “NHL Team Reports looks at the unique cultures and identities of each NHL club dressing room,” the Free Press offers the same report concerning PC:

Beyond the appreciable speaks-for-itself flavor emitted by Finnish Flare Mari Pehkonen, the deepening diversity in the PC women’s locker room is attributable to the booming presence of west coast tenants –specifically, Californians, Oregonians, and one British Columbian in Christie Jensen. As late as two seasons ago, no rinks in those localities shared the common frequent touch of a Friar blade with Schneider Arena.

But now, you have Oregon dually represented by the likes of reserve freshman defender Breanna Schwarz (Portland) and Alyse Ruff, a native to the Portland suburb of Tualatin who has satisfyingly saturated the scoresheets in her year-plus here. Ruff now regularly collaborates with Laura Veharanta, a Finnish-American picked fresh from the California Wave, opposite defender Jennifer Freidman.

And, as it happens, Bob Deraney hasn’t employed a Rhode Islander since Lauren Florio graduated in 2006. Conversely, the Tim Army Corps have seen a yearly recruitment recipe that leaves their roster with no fewer than six Ocean State sons since Army arrived in 2005.

Nonetheless, the co-bearer of Rhode Island’s royal hockey family torch reached noticeably beyond the Eastern Time Zone to compose this year’s freshman class. Already with Californian Kyle MacKinnon and British Columbian Jordan Kremyr coming in last season, Army admitted his first two Minnesotans in now-evident scoring beacon Matt Bergland and Rob Maloney. Additionally, blueliner David Brown, the first Coloradan to come along in recent memory, did some last minute honing in the self-proclaimed State of Hockey at Cloquet High School.

Cheap shot typist hits home
(With apologies to Keith Olbermann) This week’s worst person in the world of Rhode Island sports: Providence Journal columnist Jim Donaldson.

Of the local men’s icers’ plebeian, 0-6-1 start to their Hockey East slate, Donaldson wrote last Monday in his semiannual blurb of puck talk, “If people cared about PC hockey the way they do about PC basketball, coach Tim Army would be feeling some serious heat…Granted, Army did lose his top goalie to injury, but (former men’s basketball coach) Tim Welsh wasn’t cut any slack last year when he was without injured point guard Sharaud Curry and, if Davis were to start his fourth season in the Big East 0-6, what do you think the fan reaction would be?

“Army isn’t in any trouble, though, because AD Bob Driscoll, clearly in an overly generous mood, extended the coach’s contract over the summer. It’s worth noting that Army was originally hired by Driscoll, while Welsh was not.”

Jim, it shall be granted, you have a point in that the fiercer a dual athletic/business entity grinds for green, the more inclined they are to treat coaches like chewing gum. But that doesn’t make it right or rational. Nor is it exactly ethical, practical as it may be, for commentators to try to subsist exclusively on tangy negativity.

Where is Mr. Donaldson when other PC teams, such as the Skating Sorority, or other regional franchises, such as the Bruins, are thriving? Dissecting a possible Red Sox trade for an audience starved for a break from baseball? Reminding Patriots fans for the umpteenth time that Tom Brady’s services are invalid this season?

Not to press insufficiently grounded charges, but considering Donaldson’s evident inclination to flee the rink the moment his head feels numb, if America in general, Southern New England included, cared as much about hockey as they should, what do you think the fan reaction would be?

Quick Feeds: Two-minute minor to the Schneider Arena ice-level maintenance crew for misty glass negligence at last Saturday’s affair with Maine. Unseasonable mugginess had rendered every pane of glass across the rink more of a door than a window, yet in all the time they had to wipe it off, the management only bothered to clear the views of the goal judges, forcing all spectators to wait until their fog subsided satisfactorily –not until about the third period- before they had a reasonable view of the action…Friar freshmen backliners Bryce Aneloski and Danny New –both passed over in last summer’s NHL Draft- have thrown their sticks back in that center circle and are ranked in the B and C range respectively in the latest Central Scouting report. Teammate Dave Brown has plunged in as well, also rated under the C heading…The P-Bruins’ revolving door this week bumped out former BC Eagle Brett Motherwell after a mere four games worth of a month-long ATO and plugged the resultant void with the likes of BU grad Kevin Schaeffer, who appears to have rounded out his rehab from summer shoulder surgery …Is something of Cammi Granato’s rubbing off on fellow Friar and Olympic veteran Stephanie O’Sullivan? The 1995 alumna, who still leads all PC women in career assists with 127, was formally inducted into the Mass Hockey Hall of Fame Wednesday, and now comes news of her forthcoming enshrinement to the PC Athletics Hall of Fame, to be carried out on February 20…One regular season series is finalized in the Hockey East men’s composite schedule: BC surpasses Merrimack, 2-0-1…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: The startling Air Force program, 10-0 coming into this weekend, tests itself with intrastate rivals Colorado College Friday and Denver Saturday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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