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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Women's Hockey 2, Niagara 2

Friars’ hourglass turns half-full
Last ditch rally abolishes 2-0 deficit

The red light flickered a tad prematurely while the seated Niagara goaltender Jenni Bauer failed to clamp down Laura Veharanta’s initial face-to-face shot on her porch.

But the way the dramatist Friars were already getting away with cramming, having just sawed a 2-0 deficit via Erin Normore’s power play conversion less than three minutes prior, the goal judge’s slippery fingers merely made for a minor spillage of the refreshing comeback potion.

As Bauer was hastily pulling herself back upright, Alyse Ruff seized the fugitive puck along the near post and wasted no time burying it home and drawing a 2-2 knot with 1:43 to spare in regulation time.

Ruff, the decider in three of PC’s first six victories this season and both of their last two, can now pad on an equalizer to her rapidly budding application for the College Hockey Clutch Capstones Club.

As an intangible bonus, when nobody clicked in the resultant five-minute bonus round, Normore proceeded to insert the only goal out of six aggregate shootout stabs, granting the Friars their first triumph in the one-on-one derby this season.

“(I’m) very happy with the last seven minutes of the game,” acknowledged head coach Bob Deraney in reference to the regulation climax that saw PC cultivate three power plays, two conversions, and a 5-1 edge in the way of shots. “I think the lesson that we take out of this game is that at the beginning of the game we got a few 5-on-3 power plays and we just didn’t go after them with as much determination as we did in the end, (initially) thinking that ‘We’ve got more time, if I don’t get this one, I’ll get another opportunity, there’s so much time left.’

“With seven minutes to go, all of a sudden we knew time was clicking down and we went after those pucks with more of an urgency and a vengeance than we did earlier. If we went after rebounds like we did late earlier in the game it wouldn’t have been as close. So that’s a lesson we’ll be able to feed off of later on.”

As Deraney noted, PC initially wrung out a commanding edge in the shooting gallery -12-4 as of the first intermission- and enacted a few reckonable rubber flurries, bolstered in part by four consecutive Niagara penalties spanning between the 2:21 and 8:50 mark. The Purple Eagles’ dysfunctional façade reached an emblematic pinnacle when a whistle halted the Friars’ breakout setup to slap Alison Malty with a game misconduct for verbal abuse at 8:19.

But the visitors’ very last column standing, that being Bauer (39 saves), withstood all five Providence power play stabs and collected immediate compensation from her skating colleagues shortly before the period expired.

Churning along through their third power play on the evening, the Eagles tuned the net first at 19:21. Christina Jablonski thrust a wrister out of the far circle into a blinding collage before goaltender Danielle Ciarletta (17 saves) and strikers Autumn Stuntz and Melanie Mills promptly forked for a rebound. Mills ultimately bumped the conversion home within the near post.

From there, Niagara snuck in an additional goal at 4:27 –ccourtesy Mary McKinnon’s one-timer off a feed from center point patroller Jocey Kleiber- and mutual sluggishness settled in to take a suffocating toll on the general flow of the game. In one protracted stretch between the 8:08 and 13:41 mark, the action wrenched choppily from end to end without a single stoppage until a scrum before the PC bench warranted a whistle, freezing the already old fogey play dead.

And even as the Friars sprinkled another dozen shots at Bauer, the sustainability that defined the wee minutes of the previous stanza was conspicuously absent.

“What happens is, when you control the play the way we did and get nothing for it, it kind of gets demoralizing for us and gives them a lot of confidence,” Deraney said. “And then, all of a sudden, they get a power play goal and we’re kind of scrambling. All of a sudden, they believe they can and we’re starting to doubt ourselves.”

But in the third, Niagara’s output regressed from eleven second period bids to merely three. And initial disturbances of an epic rally materialized when McKinnon’s obstruction hooking felony at 12:37 invalidated the final 20 seconds of an Eagle power play and rekindled the buzz around Bauer’s porch.

Only six seconds after McKinnon’s jailbreak, teammate Leah Whittaker was flagged for mugging Veharanta after a whistle before her own net.

Forty-nine seconds later, Normore made a trademark venture beyond her point post to the near face-off dot, where she imported Katy Beach’s feed from the high slot and leveled it top shelf to bring the Friars aboard.

Deraney utilized his timeout with 2:42 when McKinnon was flagged yet again, this time for an open-ice cross check to Christie Jensen in the neutral zone. There, the likes of Veharanta and Ruff dutifully butted into Bauer’s personal space and rounded out the rally with Ruff taking a triumphant spill as she raked home the equalizer.

“To our players’ credit, they saw time ticking down and never gave up,” said Deraney. “We got one, and all of a sudden we believed we could and they started to question themselves.

“It’s a game of momentum. Go back to the beginning of the game, when we had opportunities to score but we just didn’t go at them with the same urgency that we should have like we did at the end of the game. If we had done that, we wouldn’t have been in that situation.”

PC’s revived resolve marched on through the overtime –albeit fruitlessly on the scoreboard- as they drew one more power play (10 total on the night) and heaved another five shots on net.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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