• Check out the Free Press founder's new Rhode Island/New England sports blog
  • http://providencesportsscribe.blogspot.com/

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Poll Cats till when?
Shorthanded UNH women symptomatic of slow waning

The numerical distribution on their bench is about the same as what you would find in any hockey movie of a less-than-All-Star budget –i.e. any flick that isn’t Miracle. By the Cyclopean standards she set as a rookie, goaltender Kayley Herman is in a bit of a sophomore slide, having authorized the exact same number of goals (36) in the team’s first 15 outings than she did in all of 34 appearances last year.

Likewise, as a whole, the New Hampshire Wildcats have already scratched four grudging tally marks under the “L” heading. They contrarily had four losses to speak of at the closure of last season, and the year before. In 2005-06, the year they wrested the sign of Hockey East supremacy that they still technically own rights to, the Cats dropped merely three games, none by more than one solitary goal.

The way their regally rich roster eroded over the summer to the point where they had but a maximum of 15 skaters and two stoppers to work with this season, the Wildcats all but emitted grounds for speculation that biblical justice was catching up to the excessively wealthy. (Fatalistic theories of that sort, though, ought to be debunked by the continuous WCHA hegemony that has oppressed UNH in all of their stabs at national glory.)

So far, their persona of invincibility within the WHEA landscape is indubitably invalid. But New Hampshire’s overt trustworthiness has yet to be drained. Even after an egregious 0-2 showing versus still-unbeaten Wisconsin in a getaway to Fort Myers, Fla. two weeks back and a 5-4 nipping at the hands of mediocre Colgate a week ago, they have retained their membership in USCHO’s Top 10 national leaderboard.

For how long, though? For what it’s worth, the Wildcats’ most recent positional shifts equal a hint of steady slippage.

In light of the Wisconsin series –which was lost by a cumulative 10-2 goal differential- they descended from #3 –extraordinary in itself if you measured up their record and stats with other bigwigs- to #5. Upon returning to the Durham campus from the Colgate clipping, they were docked another two slots to #7.

Remarkably, their assignment to the seventh slot is a season low. But an understandable rationale swaying the pollsters is that UNH has dug up and dispensed the resolve to stuff up what should have been some surefire catastrophes.

Take, for instance, the weekend when October morphed to November and top gun Jenn Wakefield was off assuming a Team Canada obligation at the Four Nations Cup. That Thursday, October 30, the Cats iced a grand total of eight strikers and four defenders for a home bout with Boston University. Ditto the subsequent Saturday when a surely salivating, upset-minded Vermont team dropped in.

But UNH kept respectable pace with the Terriers, only snuffing out in a shootout and in turn claiming a single point, and lassoed the Catamounts, 4-1, with special thanks to heat gun Sam Faber’s 1-2-3 scoring output. The defensive quartet, meanwhile, was stiff enough to limit BU to 18 shots at Herman, Vermont to 12, and Maine to eight in a 7-1 thrashing the following weekend.

Then again, BU aside, those were the perennial peasants the Wildcats had dealt with. Their shallow bench had merely invited the opposition to make the game a genuine contest, for once.

It’s a different story with the likes of the Badgers, who have only filed a passport to the national championship game in each of the last three seasons. And as of this write-up, the Cats were sharpening up for a confrontation with tenth-ranked Harvard, which around this time last season was a bid to be the last undefeated program standing. This season, it’s a matter of who avoids their fifth loss –and perhaps, in effect, spares themselves removal from the poll.

Much like the Patriots, bottomless resolve aside, the Wildcats have no feasible way of circumventing reality. They can –and, for lack of a better option, will- make continue to make the best fervent use of what they have.

But with their sharply shallow allotment of bodies and depth, self-explanatory essentials in today’s game, their chances of another routine deep-season quest to tasting distance of a title are accordingly brittle.

Buds appreciate Burkeian philosophy
Friar Fanatics who were privileged and attentive enough to tune in to the NHL Network circa 2:00 last Saturday afternoon caught a full puck bucket of assent-worthy statements out of proud 1977 graduate Brian Burke in his introductory press conference with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Delivering an inaugural address a few seconds shy of 10 minutes, the new GM smoothly passed a series of talking points with a diction and tone fit for the alumni magazine. Among them:

1. Consideration for his own family: “This’ll be the first time in eleven years that all of our kids have been in the same time zone and we’re excited about that,” said Burke, who split the last decade on the Left Coast between the Canucks and Ducks. “The decision to leave Anaheim was based on family. Just the notion that we were gonna get our family in the same time zone no matter what it took.”

2. Just to ensure Point #1 was genuine, consideration for his pad-clad employees and their families: Burke noted that he has always instituted the customary holiday roster freeze ten days before the NHL mandates. For the Leafs, this means no threats of Christmas mortgage paperwork from this Tuesday until the aftermath of Boxing Day.

3. Consideration for the fans in a distant relationship with their heroes: “We play an entertaining style,” he asserted We want to justify the price of the ticket every night whether the team is successful that night or not…At the end of the day, it’s the fans’ money and the sponsors money. We try to spend it intelligently. It’s not my money.”

4. Consideration for the fans in an up-close relationship with their heroes: Under his watch, “Community service is not optional. If you want to play in a great city like Toronto, you’re gonna give back to this community or we’ll find you somewhere else to play. Players are going to be more active (in the community) than they’ve ever been before.”

5. Every word he spoke was delivered in a smooth, serene, business-like tone. Even the barely publishable remarks on formulating a team of “pugnacity, truculence, testosterone, and belligerence.”

Light load in the early spree
With the early NLI street-sweeper ready to turn the corner of Huxley Avenue and Admiral Street, the men’s and women’s sects of the Friar Puck program can be expected to confirm the commitments of four and two newbies respectively in the coming days/weeks:

Jessica Cohen, forward, Shattuck-St. Mary’s U19: Primarily a grinder, an a decent playmaking one at that, in her initial high school years, Cohen has since evolved to top the nationally revered Sabres’ scoring chart with a 21-42-63 transcript (second only to Wisconsin pick-up Brianna Decker) through 26 games.

Jessica Vella, forward, Durham West Lightning: A Team Ontario U18 veteran who also saturates her student-athlete credentials with “Honour Roll status.”

Jamie Ferullo, forward, New Hampshire Junior Monarchs (EJHL): Tim Army & Staff reportedly offered the pint-sized Ferullo a scholarship early last May, though there is a chance he might not come aboard until 2010. Regardless, he has demonstrated hints of playmaking proficiency in his first EJHL season, letting 11 of his first dozen points come in the form of assists –two of those helpers on the power play.

Tyler Landman, forward, Rouseau High School (Minn.): Drafted by USHL’s Chicago Steel last spring, Landman nonetheless opted to play his senior season with the Rams and charged up the game winner in the high school season opener last Tuesday.

Chris Rooney, forward, Bridgewater Bandits (EJHL): The offspring of mid-1980s PC scoring flare Steve Rooney, Chris keeps this recruit list’s playmaker motif rolling with a 6-17-23 log through his first 18 games this season.

Alex Velischek, forward, New Jersey Colonials (AYHL): Like Landman, Velischek spurned an offer to ascend the college prep hockey hierarchy when he elected to stay home with the Colonials versus signing on with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers. Regardless, the hefty (6-0, 200 lb.) frontliner has racked up a couple of 3-point nights and a grand total of 13 points in 14 games.

Quick Feeds: Learning of Maine alumnus Paul Kariya’s distinction as Hockey East’s top all-time playmaker, then tuning in to see the Bruins combat a Tampa Bay Lightning team featuring Martin St. Louis –another pint-sized flare formerly of the ECAC Vermont Catamounts- revived quite the “What if?” whirlwind in this author’s head… Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Armstrong made the case for Boston College puck professor Jerry York in the debate for the illustrious “Sportsman of the Year” honor, highlighting the skipper’s “purity in winning and teaching.” The stub’s two bulkiest paragraphs addressed York’s overt evidence of clutch consistency –i.e. eight Frozen Fours, six title games, two banners in the last 11 seasons- and his lesser known triumph over prostate cancer in the summer of 2005. “Cancer has left his system as well as his vocabulary,” assesses Armstrong…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: still remarkably successful and still remarkably obscure, Minnesota State-Mankato entertains a two-night visit from certified powerhouse Denver.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

No comments: