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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 In Review: Men's Hockey

Thinning ice
Men’s puck on downward spiral, seeks resurgence in New Year

Jon Rheault and the 2007-08 Friars hit a symbolic peak over the second weekend of February. The senior captain and two-time defending team MVP piloted a team perched in the #11 slot of the national leaderboard into a two-game home series with the stealthy Vermont Catamounts.

Rheault proceeded to scrape out four points in the weekend, the third of those a helper to linemate Greg Collins for his 100th collegiate point. Two periods later, Point #101 came in the form of a porch-based tip-in, granting Providence a 4-3 overtime victory before an invigorated throng of 2,121.

Inconceivably, that was indeed on the former bookend of this calendar year. Since that instant classic, the Friars have been fruitless on home ice when tangling with a conference cohabitant, having gone 0-6-3 in that scenario. They’re only home victory overall was a 4-3 squeaker past Bowling Green on opening weekend of the active season.

Apart from two home knots (1-1 vs. New Hampshire Feb. 15; 2-2 vs. Boston College March 1) in the climactic stage of the last stretch drive and a 2-2 draw with the Catamounts here Nov. 7, PC’s most freshly cultivated Hockey East points came February 29 at BC’s Conte Forum no less.

A mere 15 nights later, Friar Puck returned to Chestnut Hill to curtain the most tumultuous Ides of March in PC history (men’s hoops made national ripples by canning ten-year coach Tim Welsh that day) through a 5-1 submission to the eventual national champion Eagles. Such cut short yet another formerly hopeful-bone-tingling bid for a passport to TD Banknorth Garden.

Change Friar Fanatics cannot nor care to believe in percolated rapidly over that pivotal month. It has since leached in a tormenting manner, and only after athletic director Bob Driscoll penned in head coach Tim Army for at least another five years over the summer. To date, the ominous implications from the March meltdown have made a Zamboni broom out of the hints of promise declared in July.

PC fizzled unceremoniously by a cumulative score of 18-2, a sum of two shutouts at the hands of Boston University that zapped their bid for home ice, and the aforementioned quarterfinal sweep by BC. Consequently, they passed on good wishes to the glue guys Rheault and goaltender Tyler Sims –recipient of the Mal Brown Award for student-athlete excellence. Then fan favorite bruiser Cody Wild, a would-be senior this season, hastily made his tracks to start fostering in the Edmonton Oilers’ system.

Wild’s defection, coupled with the graduation of Marc Bastarache and Trevor Ludwig, was readily supplemented with the advent of three freshmen defenders this autumn (Bryce Aneloski, Dave Brown, and Danny New). Meanwhile, Rheault was the lone striker to watch his time run out –voluntarily or involuntarily- and an overwhelming influx of new forwards left the 2008-09 Friars with 20 offensive specialists and the league’s most populous overall dressing room with 31 bodies.

But the adage favoring quality over quantity has acerbically stuck out before the Schneider Arena masses in the first half of the season. The Friars were decisively slit in their belated opener, 4-0 by Northeastern, and have since scrambled to compress the wound, let alone inflict a little damage themselves.

In all 16 games to date (3-12-1 record), they have tuned the opposing mesh 35 times while authorizing 67 strikes in their own territory. With precisely one-third of their Hockey East itinerary done with, they stand at 0-8-1 with an aggregate scoring deficit of 40-14.

The numerical stuffiness and negative databased energy in the locker room has already smothered the resolve of three Friars. Blueliners Joe Lavin and Aneloski and rookie forward Chad Johnson withdrew their membership and returned to the junior life at the conclusion of the most recent semester.

Still with plenty of time to let the calendar Zamboni raze 2008 and let the 2009 surface freeze into place, Providence has little on its fundamental checklist beyond restoring order and scrapping resolutely for a legit run at the Hockey East playoffs, a privilege this program has never missed out on in the league’s 25-year history.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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