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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Hockey

PC women master the art of drawing
Putting adversaries in the box not hurting their cause

Last Saturday, the less-than-potent Niagara Purple Eagles could have, by all means, laid claim to a most shakily executed 2-0 blow to the Friars and gotten away with it.

If only they have taken a productive pointer from the Connecticut Huskies, who six days prior had spilled their own shot at a wholesome visit to Schneider Arena with hefty thanks to climactic penalty trouble.

As UConn had done while it was still holding its ground in a daylong zilch-nada draw with the Friars ten days ago, Niagara let its discipline detonate in the evening minutes of regulation on Saturday, in effect wrinkling its lead to 2-1 with 4:28 to spare.

Then, upon Mary MacKinnon’s cross-checking sentence with 2:46 remaining, Providence coach Bob Deraney, as he had done when the Huskies went down 5-on-3 with precisely 7:00 on the clock, summoned a timely timeout.

And on the other end of that timeout, just as they had done the preceding Sunday, proficient puckslingers Laura Veharanta and Alyse Ruff collaborated towards potting the eventual deciding goal, this one an equalizer in a tie that indubitably slanted to the winning half of the sentiment scale.

With that, one calendar week had been bookended with two cases of Veharanta feeding Ruff for a clutch power play conversion. And the weekend curtained on a digestible note after the Friars had gone numb on 17 consecutive player-up segments through the length of a 3-0 Friday falter to Mercyhurst and the majority of an eventual 2-2 tie with the Eagles.

Naturally, PC is still yearning for consistent connectivity on the front lines. In order to so much as get a hook on their expressly desired ends, they must inflict routine red light blindness on the opposition. And, looking at the latest scoresheets, which are saturated by Ruff, Veharanta, and Erin Normore –who nailed her own power play strike for Saturday’s first goal- the wealth ought to spread, too.

But, to their credit, the Friars are progressing in the way of unbolting their own door to quality scoring chances. In their last five games, they have either tied or surpassed the opposition in the way of discipline.

Final “scores” on the power play front: November 7- PC 10, Robert Morris 8; November 8- PC 7, Robert Morris 5; November 16- PC 5, Connecticut 5; November 21- PC 10, Mercyhurst 6; November 22- PC 10, Niagara 6.

Over that same stretch, Providence has concocted a cumulative six conversions while authorizing merely two when shorthanded themselves.

Tellingly on the defensive front, neither of those opposing power play strikes came off a Mercyhurst twig, even amidst a 54-shot firestorm in Friday’s 3-0 falter.

One of them, though, did hop off a Niagara blade the following night when Melanie Mills shoved home the icebreaker late in the first period, effectively numbing the Friars for the next twenty-plus minutes.

But when the time came for fidgeting turbulence in the third period, the Friars found some way of keeping their hustles smooth and constructive as they assumed uncompromising command in the shooting gallery, 12-3. In the process, they exhaled their instability and let it latch on to the leading Eagles.

One play by one, the polar exchange sunk in. At the 2:24 mark, only eight seconds after Kate Bacon was boxed for tripping, granting Niagara its fifth power play on the night, MacKinnon shepherded penalty killer Christie Jensen behind the net, amounting to 1:52 of 4-on-4 and diminishing the Eagles’ shot at a potential KO goal.

At 8:45, Katy Beach cut loose to the Niagara porch when she herself was suddenly hooked by Christina Jablonski. PC proceeded to put forth a lengthy, one-shot (Ashley Cottrell), cyclone in the Eagles zone.

Finally, with 5:17 to spare and still a 2-0 differential glaring down on them, Veharanta, less than a minute removed from her own jailbreak for slashing, submissively let a mini mob of defenders ambush her after a whistle in the sightline of goaltender Jenni Bauer. Niagara’s Leah Whittaker was accordingly flagged for holding after the whistle and Normore formally sparked the rally 49 seconds later.

Jensen would draw her third Eagle penalty of the period with 2:42 to work with upon absorbing an unmistakable cross-check by MacKinnon in neutral ice. Ruff would knot it where it mattered at two-all in another 59 ticks.

So apparently, these Friars –their reliable starting brigade, especially- are both asserting themselves as behavioral superiors and fostering a passable habit of popping out their best carbonation in the clutch.

Maybe sooner, rather than later, they’d appreciate some fresh enlightenment to the pressure that comes with trying to assert themselves as an NCAA bigwig.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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