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Monday, November 24, 2008

On Hockey

Untimely awakening
PC Men can’t build on Saturday’s finish for some time

“We didn’t lose the game. We just ran out of time,” reads just one flabbergasting passage in the colorful tome of Vince Lombardi.

Perhaps Friar Puck cited that passage as part of this week’s Sunday sermon in a nod to Saturday night’s unfinished rally at New Hampshire. Upon authorizing three unanswered goals in the middle frame to dig themselves a 4-1 hole, Providence perked up in the third to run up an uncharacteristic 18-3 edge in the shooting gallery, draw themselves four unanswered power plays, and wrinkle the Wildcat lead to 4-3 courtesy radiant rookie Matt Bergland at 1:27 and, of all unlikely heat guns, bouncer Mark Fayne at 12:23.

That’s as far as it went, though. So whether you’re uncompromisingly swearing by the stats or circumventing the end result a la the late Vehement Vince, perhaps there’s this ground for compromise: the Friars plainly didn’t win.

And, with a full third of their 2008-09 Hockey East slate in the books, they haven’t won once. With the ice chips having settled from the past weekend, they bear a plebeian 0-8-1 transcript together with the league’s only GF-GA differential to read worse than a negative-10. Specifically, the collective rating is a -26.

All things considered –their continual, outward flow of blood dating back to opening night versus Northeastern October 17, and the fact that they were combating the treacherous depths of Lake Whittemore- the Friars concocted a comfortably unruffled closing frame Saturday. Their newfangled self-possession, which had been lacking in such ventures as Friday’s 6-1 lashing at Lowell or the sweep they granted UMass-Amherst three weekends back, came out of hiding and brushed the roof with the tip of its pointer.

But the other skate dropped when the final buzzer solidified a 4-3 triumph for the Wildcats, and brought a partner with it in the form of a little reminder. Morally quenching as Saturday’s final sprint may have been, PC will not have a chance to build on it for another 47 days.

The Riverhawks, who have already eradicated the once invincible parity between these programs in the form of 4-1 and 6-1 victories at Tsongas Arena this season, will pay their lone scheduled visit to Schneider Arena on January 10, thus commencing the heat of the Hockey East pennant race. Until then, the Friars have four interleague engagements and a holiday break to look forward to.

And in that protracted interim, all nine of PC’s conference cohabitants will have at least one more league game. Translation: one or more chances to augment their lead from the cellar dwellers currently subsisting on but a single point.

Ninth-place Merrimack, for one, will lock twigs with Lowell tomorrow night at Lawler Arena, visit UNH this Saturday, then welcome Maine on Sunday, December 7. By the time everybody takes a second to straighten out and focuses solely on the derby to TD Banknorth Garden, the Warriors could lead the Friars by anything between three and nine points.

At the bottom of the black, the Riverhawks, Wildcats, and BU Terriers currently boast eight points apiece, but are one assertive lash away from pole-vaulting over the likes of Maine, UMass, and Vermont.

Granted, come the New Year, the Friars will have one game in hand on the Minutemen and Catamounts and two in hand on the rest of their leading adversaries. But as head coach Tim Army noted a year ago during a midseason teleconference, “Games in hand are only effective if you win them.”

Naturally, the Friars have no reason not to relinquish the fruitful fervor that’s bound to carry over from Saturday into this practice week leading up to Friday’s visit from Dartmouth. But their foremost pressing cause at this time is lassoing a comfortable degree of relevance in the Hockey East pennant race.

On that front, where they stand at this particular moment, they are sheer victims of circumstance. Not only will they have the seven-week hiatus from intraleague action to surmount, but between the Mayor’s Cup on Tuesday, December 9, and the aforementioned home date with Lowell, they are bound to absorb a full month’s worth of rust.

In shallow supply of options, Army’s best bet is to implement a steady, slow-consumption diet of psychological subsistence until this vexing delay of games runs its course. Or perhaps a cathartic Holiday off Ice followed by a clean slate for Games 10 through 27 can be made an incidental remedy.

Otherwise, the matter-of-fact rationale may end up being, “We didn’t lose momentum. We were just forced to take time off.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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