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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Women's Hockey 7, Mercyhurst 3

Mercy-less effort
Friar strike force outduels favored Lakers
Scribe's note: This report is based on CSTV's gametracker service

As if Saturday’s contest wasn’t already unfolding as a lump-sum reversal tale, Providence College grinder Pamela McDevitt squeezed in a personal dollop at 3:15 of the third period.

The sophomore center, who had moistened a season-long scoring drought last weekend at Niagara, inserted her first goal in 45 career games to give the Friars a startling 5-2 lead that ultimately morphed into a 7-3 triumph of almighty Mercyhurst.

If that side dish weren’t enough, PC had the additional hostile odds of playing without any in-person tutelage from head coach Bob Deraney. But energetic associate coach Meredith Roth watched as her resurgent skaters eclipsed the 4th-ranked Lakers incendiary strike force, charged up their third seven-goal outing of the season, and improve to 3-0 since ringing in 2008.

Goaltender Danielle Ciarletta –who in her previous clash with the Lakers just supple enough to authorize a 4-3 Mercyhurst win despite a 45-save dolphin show- put forth a similar 35-save performance, including all 11 stabs by the hottest-scoring Laker, Megan Agosta (2 assists).

Four Laker skaters –Agosta, Valerie Chouinard, Stephanie Jones, and Jesse Scanzano- were in the afterglow of Team Canada’s goal medal at the European Air Canada Cup, which they earned at the direct expense of Finnish Friar Mari Pehkonen. All four charged up at least one point and attacked with all the more rabidity after the score was out of hand, but crumpled under the likes of Kathleen Smith (2 goals, 2 assists), Jenna Keilch and Cherie Hendrickson (3 points apiece) and Rachel Crissy (2 assists).

A grand total of nine Friars inked themselves on Saturday’s scoresheet.

The expectable Mercyhurst salvo took no time to commence, slapping and stabbing the game’s first five registered shots at Ciarletta, though the home skaters would push down their borders well enough to slow the Lakers into series of whistles and authorize no more than two shots per play.

Shortly after the Friars had begun to thaw out opposing stopper Courtney Drennan at a similar, the replenished Mercyhurst attack hopped back into the picture for a nimble first strike. Ciarletta was a perfect 10 in terms of shots-saves –six of those shots split amongst the accomplished Canadian contingent- until 4:47 remained in the opening frame, when Chouinard and Scanzano set up Vicki Bendus to stamp an end-to-end trek.

But Providence –desperate to prove its national credibility in a fast-dwindling slate of formidable interleague competition- perked up on that and earned a 2-1 edge before intermission. Only 121 ticks after Bendus’ conversion, Smith blasted her club’s icebreaker by converting a depth-to-point shipment from the centerpeice Crissy.

Ciarletta clamped down another bid from Scanzano to set up PC’s own productive rush off the subsequent draw. Crissy and Hendrickson offered their linemate Keilch, who had surrendered the draw to Chouinard, immediate redemption in the form of a go-ahead tally with 1:02 to spare.

The game’s buzzing air hockey pace took full stride in the second. And when it was first provoked, so did the Lakers’ Cyclopean power play corps.

With Colleen Martin serving a two-minute interference sentence, Mercyhurst tossed out four man-advantage shots whilst also reversing two separate one-shot shorthanded rushes before Jones swatted the 2-2 equalizer at 5:05.

As was the case in the previous period, the Lakers subsisted on that swing for a stretch before the Friars renewed the late bang-bang outburst and sculpted a 4-2 edge in a matter of 1:46.

Precisely one minute after PC killed its second penalty –a delay of game minor to Pehkonen- Smith potted her second strike to replenish the lead at the 14:12 mark.

One shift later, the Friars’ runaway point-getter switched roles, collaborating with Hendrickson to help Keilch to her own double-tally game and a breath-pumping two-goal command at 15:58. In another eight seconds, Laker coach Michael Sisti swapped out Drennen (18 saves) for Laura Hosier –yet another recent Canadian gold medalist- making for the fourth time in three games that the Friars have effectively overcooked an opposing keeper.

Hosier was eight minutes and four shots faced into her day’s work when McDevitt struck and authorized a power play conversion –the Friars’ first since early December- via Danielle Tangredi at 5:40, also Smith’s fourth point of the game.

At 13:34, Agosta ended her busy yet routine puckslinging with a rebound shot that turned into Ashley Cockell’s much-too-late goal that cut the deficit to 6-3. But the Friars nimbly retorted once more at 15:16 when Hendrickson similarly buried the remnants of a Keilch shot.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Men's Hockey 4, UMass-Lowell 3 (OT)

Good times Rheault for Friars
Senior captain doubles up again to top Riverhawks
Scribe's note: this account is based on CSTV's Gametracker service

Doing this again, are they?

Two nights shy of the anniversary of their last trip to Tsongas Arena –a venue they will revisit in a Saturday matinee- the Friars left it up to their senior captain to vanquish the feisty UMass-Lowell Riverhawks.

What Colin MacDonald cooked up last year in one of many recent overtime affairs between these teams, Jon Rheault conjured up at Schneider Arena at 0:46 of the bonus round.

Already having opened the scoring altogether ages previous within the fourth minute of the opening frame, Rheault completed his seventh multi-point and third two-goal performance of the season by converting a feed from Greg Collins and finalizing an exhilarating 4-3 triumph.

Even with a two-point-each trifecta of their own in defender and lone senior Kelly Sullivan, Mark Roebothan, and Scott Campbell, the resurgent Riverhawks could not withhold 2-1 and 3-2 leads long enough. Defender John Cavanagh joined Rheault in PC’s multi-point club when his second assist of the game turned into partner Cody Wild’s equalizer with 10:52 left in regulation, piloting the game into a fourth period.

And as an ultimate result, Lowell (9-5-4 overall) saw an end to its five-game winning streak that pulled it way out of earshot of the .500 borderline and the Friars –who with the win are now one knob above the median percentage- pull even in the Hockey East standings at 12 points each, for at least a few more hours.

The swinging and swaying pace of the Friars’ first game in 2008 was virtually an unchanged carry-over from their 5-3 overhaul of Michigan State two weeks ago –yet another come-from-behind epic wherein Rheault supplied a pair of lamplighters. He now boasts a runaway team-leading dozen of them.

Without this year’s reincarnation of Captain Clutch Colin, Friday’s contest could have just been a carry-over from the last PC-Lowell get-together, a 2-2 knot on November 16.

Early on, in the inadvertent spirit of Gillette Stadium Snowglobe (almost) Season –which is the whole reason Part II of this series will run earlier than initially slated- the contesting parties exchanged football-length tours of puck and momentum possession.

Providence was only three shots into its test of Lowell netminder Carter Hutton –who had come in with two ties in as many career bouts with the Friars- when Rheault extended his hot streak, inserting a shipment from pointman Mark Fayne for the 1-0 edge at 3:21.

But after the Friars whittled a little more, eventually holding a 7-4 upper hand in the shooting gallery, the Riverhawks’ sprinkle of first-line leadership perked up. The fourth of five unanswered Lowell stabs at Tyler Sims went through as juniors Roebothan and Mike Potacco –the club’s top two guns- helped their contemporary linemate Campbell to an equalizer at 10:51.

Within another precise 3:30 –an interim passed by through a vain, three shot sugar rush by the Friars- Campbell and Roebothan altered roles and struck for a 2-1 lead, already giving Campbell his second career and consecutive multi-point performance (two goals in a 6-0 drubbing of Maine December 29).

A little more molecular up-and-down activity in the second period did nothing to shift the scoreboard, but did nibble off each team’s originally perfect disciplinary record. After no whistle activity on his part throughout the opening frame, referee John Gravellese flagged freshman Friar Kyle MacKinnon for holding at 1:20 and Pierce Norton for charging at 7:16, a mere twenty seconds before Lowell’s Maury Edwards earned his team’s first citation for boarding.

Roughly ten minutes later, though, Norton was available for PC’s second (and, incidentally, final) man advantage and. with the aid of Nick Mazzolini and Cavanagh, potted his third goal against Hutton and fifth power play conversion this season to send things into intermission at 2-apiece.

Sullivan –already with a helper on the night- joined Campbell and Roebothan in the goal-assist variety pack club at 4:36 of the third, vacuuming the remains of Chris Auger’s bid at his left point post and swatting one home to restore Lowell’s lead.

But Wild, yet another blazing blade with three multi-point games on his December transcript, renewed the anarchy and set the Friars on an effective build-up to Rheault’s overtime clincher. Providence outshot Lowell, 7-3, nearly the same data from the young minutes of the first period, for the remainder of regulation.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hockey Log

Higher hurdle ahead for PC Women
Mighty Mercyhurst a few rungs higher than average

Friars’ goaltender Danielle Ciarletta is in the spotlight on all counts right now, at least around her home barn as three other Hockey East goalies –BC’s Molly Schaus, UConn’s Brittany Wilson, and Northeastern’s Leah Sulyma- vacuumed the league’s weekly honors.

Come what may, around the Providence campus, Ciarletta is clutching the distinction of Athlete of the Week after an ever-so-vital pair of shutouts at her anti-nemesis, Niagara, last weekend.

Hold that thought. Yet another personally noteworthy rival is approaching the now proven starter in the form of Mercyhurst, whom Ciarletta bowed to on the road during her first month as a Friar, 4-3, despite pushing away a career best 45 stabs back on October 28, 2006.

Leading up to the two matinees at Schneider Arena this weekend, all stats have shown PC easing itself into the full-swing chunk of the season at an impeccable pace, spacing out seven goals and confining Niagara to a rather slim 40 shots over two games. But Mercyhurst, which will be reopening its game schedule for the first time in four weeks, will naturally offer a longer fused, mutated test compared to their CHA-rival Purple Eagles.

Despite being one of the last teams to finally snap out of its holiday layoff, the Lakers (14-4-2) are 4th in the nation this week according to US College Hockey Online, their best rating since they stood at #3 in early November.

All but established regulars in the NCAA tournament (three consecutive appearances) and an intriguing standout on their western Pennsylvania campus sports scene in recent years, the Lakers should offer Ciarletta another oxen-sized workload. Forwards Meghan Agosta (25 goals and 40 points through 20 games played) and Valerie Chouinard (26 points) have already exceeded 100 shots on net apiece. A whopping ten Lakers boast at least a .100 connection percentage, three are .200 or better.

More vitally, Mercyhurst also offers the Friars their last whirl around with a non-conference adversary –let alone one who is ranked. Should they bear out their all-around progress to the max and pull off a sweep, the revamping Friars would solidify an even interleague transcript of 6-6-1. Not to mention, they have vanquished a nationally staged foe but once in five openings so far this season and still have a full season series with #1 New Hampshire to try and rev up for.

Fresh Familiarity
In the upcoming series, PC’s Finnish springboard, Mari Pehkonen, will promptly rematch with four Team Canada Lakers a mere six days after the Mighty Maple Leaf tipped over her countrywomen at the European Air Canada Cup in Germany. In Sunday’s gold medal tilt, the well-traveled Pehkonen pitched in an assist on the Finns’ second strike for a 2-0 edge at intermission, but Canada pulled even at 4-4 through two frames before finalizing a 7-5 triumph.

The Canadians’ forty-minute onslaught –which saw eighteen points split amongst a dozen skaters- included 1-2-3 showcases by Mercyhurst’s own Agosta and Chouinard, a goal-assist package for Jesse Scanzano, and a key helper from Stephanie Jones that forged the 4-4 knot.

Pehkonen’s second helper of the game, her fifth point in all four tournament games, had one-time Ohio State Buckeye Emma Laaksonen re-knot everything, 5-5, at 1:36 the third before Agosta and Chouinard assisted on the clinching and insurance tallies.

Also note that the Lakers’ probable starting goaltender, senior Laura Hosier, served as Canada’s back-up to Shannon Szabados.

Time out for a future look
With Friar coach Bob Deraney part of the bench trinity, the inaugural U.S. Women’s World U18 team has made a juggernaut impression in round robin action, with two NLI recruits to PC’s skating sorority well in the booming mix.

Kate Bacon was one of eight Amerks to strike the mesh in Tuesday’s tournament opener, a facile 11-0 romp of Russia. Her prospective Friar associate, Ashley Cottrell, potted two goals in that route and followed up with a 2-2-4 performance –enough for claim to the team’s competitive Player of the Game honors- in a duplicate 11-0 steamrolling of Switzerland Wednesday.

To add to the taxes back on campus, all eight countries in the Calgary-based tournament are guaranteed action through Saturday, meaning Deraney will be unavailable to serve his full time position for at least Part II of the Mercyhurst series. Nonetheless, assistant Meredith Roth has taken assertive charge in practice this week and will assume the head position behind the bench come Saturday’s 2:00 face-off.

Quick Feeds: PC’s steadiest scorer –senior Kathleen Smith- has four assists in as many career tangles with the Lakers, including a playmaker hat trick in the aforementioned 4-3 road falter last season…Agosta charged up two assists per game in last year’s two-game series at Erie, which the Lakers capped with a 3-0 triumph…This weekend will be Mercyhurst’s last regular season get-together with a Hockey East resident, having already hosted and swept Maine and Boston University and split a series with UNH.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hockey Log

Friars hustling after Hawks
Home-and-home this weekend commences feverish stretch drive

As would be expected, the media contingent partaking in Tuesday morning’s Hockey East mid-season teleconference had the word “parity” –or any given synonym- eagerly primed for use like a shiny new Synergy twig. And most every coach answered with a cooperative assessment, a general shrug of league-wide esteem, and a predictable reminder that they are in the heat of the season and engrossed with nothing more than fortifying their own club’s viability.

From here on out, there will be no fewer than four simultaneous conference-on-conference battles on a given weekend. And on the Friars’ part, there is precisely two-thirds of a conference platter left to chew –and nothing more.

With eight points separating first place (Northeastern and New Hampshire) and tenth (Merrimack), Providence is almost in the deadest of the dead-center, as is this weekend’s adversary, UMass-Lowell.

The sixth-place Friars are now two points behind the Riverhawks, who are engaged in a three-way, 12-points-apiece lock for third place with UMass-Amherst and Boston College. For what it’s worth, PC does have three conference games in hand on the Hawks, and by the looks of the current spread, that should offer some sort of booster.

Chances are, even if it’s just a few medium cracks in the ice, the Hockey East stretch drive will naturally break up the Pangaea-like blob that defined the appetizer half of the season. But, as coach Tim Army said in the closing portion of his teleconference time slot, the Friars can only make themselves stand out.

“Most importantly, we’ve gotta win games in order to get there,” he said, referring to the four prized slots in the standings that equal home ice in the best-of-three quarterfinals. “Games in hand are only effective if you win them, so for us, it’s continuing to do what we do to succeed as a program, and each team poses a different challenge.

“What’s most important is that we continue to get better and improve daily.”

While the Friars and Riverhawks whet their blades with a poised passion leading up to Friday’s face-off at Schneider, they are both glancing at the other half of the scouting report and seeing a holiday tournament-fortified opponent.

UMass-Lowell, ranked 13th in the nation as of Monday’s USCHO poll, is an iffy 4-4-4 in regular Hockey East games, but has swept its non-conference slate at 5-0 (with a two-night visit from Minnesota-Duluth still to come in two weeks). They made their latest impression at the Florida College Classic, flicking away Cornell, 3-2, and thumping Maine, 6-0 to take the tourney title and curtain December at a spotless 5-0.

So far, so good, and with a generous helping of gravy if you’re a Lowell fan. Last season, the fatally inexperienced Riverhawks’ were a post-season no-show for the first time since 2000. During that interlude, they made back-to-back appearances at the then FleetCenter in 2001 and 2002 followed by an arid four-year stretch without so much as a single game victory in a conference quarter-final series.

More to the immediate point, the forthcoming Friar series will mean taking the Riverhawks’ conference slate out of the cooler after they had gone on a 4-1 run –in effect compressing a 0-3-4 start- prior to term finals.

Looking right back at them, though, Providence spent its holiday tussling with two CCHA giants at the Great Lakes Invitational, charging up its two highest shot counts of the season and getting a material reward with a 5-3 overhaul of Michigan State. When their calendar Zamboni ran by a few days later, the Friars had finished their December with a 4-1 transcript.

When asked for a word on the weekend match-up during his turn on the line Tuesday, Lowell skipper Blaise MacDonald did not hesitate to cite the Friars’ rapid fire upgrade, as well as the intriguing fact that they have seen rich contribution from blueliners as well as forwards.

MacDonald’s two most obvious pieces of evidence –Cody Wild and Matt Taormina- both notched an assist from their point perch in the last Providence-Lowell battle and have since logged seven and six respective points in six games.

Quick Feeds: Carter Hutton, one of the Riverhawks’ three sophomore goaltenders, has only appeared twice since playing the Friars to a 2-2 tie November 16, but could get the nod Friday after resisting 31 Maine shots for a shutout in the Florida Classic championship…Lowell is tops in the league among penalty killing units with 90% success rate in overall play, which the Friars are the best killers in exclusively conference action at 89.2%. PC also has the best power play conversion rate in Hockey East action at 26.5%. Although, as Army recalled Tuesday, both teams demonstrated exceptional discipline in their last meeting, taking an aggregate three two-minute minors...Two of the Riverhawks only three juniors –Mark Roebothan and Mike Potacco- lead their scoring charts with 15 and 13 respective points through 17 games…Part II of this weekend’s home-and-home at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena has been rescheduled to 4:00 from its initial 7:00 list to allow fans to catch the Patriots prime time kickoff against Jacksonville. The AFC semifinal tilt is set for 8:00 Saturday in Foxboro, televised on CBS.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Hockey Log: PC Women sweep Niagara

Goose-egging on
PC Women redressed once more via road sweep

Puckbag-loads of winter break rust; a weekend on the road, where they hadn’t ventured in seven weeks altogether and boasted a cringing 1-4-2 record anyway; an opponent that had already thawed out its holiday freeze and looked to be nosing back in the right direction.

The Friars tapped aside all of those onerous elements –and maybe a few others- to at least make a straight first impression upon cracking out of their 2008 chrysalis. Giving retooled netminder Danielle Ciarletta one of her less sweaty weekends, and not shirking their duties at the other net, they clamped down back-to-back shutouts of the Niagara Purple Eagles, 3-0 and 4-0, and replenished a .500 (8-8-2) overall transcript –which they still have yet to surpass this season.

In any case, for their immediate benefit, the Friars dissolved a few of their standout paper-based glitches. They augmented their bushel of non-conference victories from two to four and swept a series in a foreign barn –where all this season, they had grabbed nothing better than a +1-goal differential- for the first time since they wiped Vermont in February 2006.

Ciarletta’s even had a little personal trivia on her side. Her first of what are now four collegiate goose-eggs came in last year’s only Friar-Purple Eagle get-together, a 27-save log on November 26, 2006 for the then back-up’s second PC win.

This time around, Ciarletta’s workload withered as the series progressed while her praetorian skaters renewed their substantial sprinkling of points that they had offered hints of during their pre-respite homestand. She resisted a trim offering of 10 shots in each of Friday’s first two periods (the middle frame saw a 10-5 Purple Eagle shooting edge as the Friars subsisted on a 1-0 lead) before tilting five in the third.

Conversely, Niagara starter Nikki Rudy caught a surprise early exit at 5:59 of the third when Katy Beach doubled PC’s lead, giving way to Jill Zelonis.

On Saturday, for the fourth time this season, Ciarletta answered a Martin Brodeur-sized workload of 15 shots, but made the personal revolutionary difference of not breaking from the cold –as she had in a few previous outings, some more costly than others.

The offense also followed through with a little more efficiency, fluffing their keeper’s pads with a more quickly commanding lead, so much so that Eagle coach Margot Page distributed playing time amongst all three of her dressed goalies. Rudy was thrown the towel after an exact 22:30, more than enough for PC to sculpt a 2-0 lead at intermission, as was Zelonis at the 4:50 mark of the third. Niagara’s last-in-line, Amanda Rowe’s, debut was but 2:10 young when Alyse Ruff solidified the 4-0 final.

Opportunities taken
With first-line fixture Mari Pehkonen sporting her Finnish colors overseas for the second time this season –this time at the Germany-hosted European Air Canada Cup- senior Danielle Tangredi was assigned to the starting left wing opposite Sarah Feldman and Katy Beach. Tangredi, with a mere three points (all goals) to her credit up to that point, pitched in a helper on Beach’s goal in Friday’s third period.

Further down the depth chart, two-way specialist Stephanie Morris assumed full duty as the fourth line center, allotting room for freshman backliner Leigh Riley to have her first taste of game action since Pehkonen’s previous sabbatical in November. Riley, charging up career games #9 and #10 on the weekend and remarkably still with a clean slate in terms of penalty minutes, honed her craft with Erin Normore by her side Friday and Brittany Simpson on Saturday.

Forward Jackie Duncan, meantime, took a seat after appearing in eight straight games while Pamela McDevitt took her usual spot as the second-line centerpiece between Ruff and Jean O’Neill. McDevitt fed off the fiery freshmen enough to crack her season-long scoring spell in Saturday’s affair when she and O’Neill collaborated deep in the zone to set up Rachel Crissy’s late first period blast.

Quick Feeds: Kathleen Smith, still the hottest scoring Friar with 7-9-16 totals, prolonged a five-game point streak through her seventh goal Friday and a two-pack of assists Saturday, her fifth multi-point show this season. Crissy and O’Neill snagged the same two-helper pack on Friday and Saturday respectively…Niagara’s runaway scoring leader –Ashley Riggs- was swapped with second line center Marie Linander-Henriksen for Saturday’s game after the latter Eagle rang up a team-best six shots on net Friday…Niagara is now scoreless in a grand total of 190:49 against PC…Senior Jenna Keilch and Normore became the sixth and seventh different Friar to pitch in the game-clinching goal this season. Only Cherie Hendrickson has been the decider twice...On Saturday, both Normore and Ruff were the first to break 10 in their respective specialties –assists and goals- this season…One of PC’s still noticeably arid columns is its power play. The Friars blew 11 advantages on 14 aggregate shots, including 11 over six chances Friday.

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Gopher the gusto
Minnesota's Okposo set to plunge right into pros
By Al Daniel

The curious celestial pucks that have peered over the New York Islanders and Minnesota Golden Gophers for eighteen-odd months have officially frozen –albeit at an eccentric time (then again, this entire saga has featured eccentric elements).

Kyle Okposo –whom the Friar Scribe met and covered during his latter days at Shattuck St. Mary’s School- is finally bent on fastening his blades to Long Island once he returns from the World Junior Championships in the coming week. This means relinquishing the remaining two-and-a-half allotted years of playing for the St. Paul product’s childhood dream college, the University of Minnesota.

And all shortly after the New York front office had at least presented itself as giving him the nod of approval to one more year in the collegiate ranks –none of the roundabout, itching adamancy one often gives to a sizzling prospect.

Odd timing? Maybe so. New England college buffs may be inclined to highlight the recent Brett Motherwell saga at Boston College and declare this a stunning second lightning bolt. Mind you, though, that Motherwell succumbed to a blurry off-and-on water heater that had been nagging him since training camp and took his more anonymous two-way gifts to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

Okposo, meanwhile, had felt the Isles’ management –which canned the man who drafted him, Neil Smith, after six weeks on the job and later concocted a head-scratching 15-year deal with former BU goaltender Rick DiPietro- whispering from the moment he was chosen 7th overall in 2006, a good four months before he first donned the precious Gopher garb. All that trouble to commit to the State of Hockey’s Red Sox/Yankee-level program, and he was reportedly entertaining thoughts of going right for his NHL jersey the second it came out of the oven.

Then, as projected, he applied his distinctive brawn-and-blaze well enough to turn up the Nassau pressure cooker through his freshman campaign (19 goals, 40 points in as many games, and his first of two invitations to the WJC).

Perhaps, given the state of affairs right here and now, the dynamics of today’s game should merely be taken with suspension of disbelief. But moving on, the collective media sphere remains mixed and altogether inconclusive as to whether the Islanders have a glistening stall waiting for Okposo or if –after all the buildup and all the stickers he has tagged on his suitcase- he will charge up a little more whetting time in the minors. Although, the TSN broadcast crew at the World Juniors most recently proclaimed that Okposo is bound for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after a brief drop-in on his Twin Cities family.

Be it now or later, when he is in The Show, Okposo, who is of partial Nigerian heritage, will be meshing with the tutelage of another revered rink-going minority –Islander coach and Ontarian Ojibwa Ted Nolan. That could make for a fitting little present to mark the forthcoming Golden Anniversary of Willie O’Ree’s debut with the Bruins, which will fall a week from Friday.

And in his last stop overseas before he tries to crack the Islander chart, Okposo (1-4-5 totals for Team USA through four preliminary games) has broadened his viewing window a little more to exhibit his healthy habits of practically craving bruises in the corners, storming to the net with simple ambition, and bringing down the hammer when necessary: a package of vague Gordie Howe inclinations that arouses more modern comparisons to Jarome Iginla.

So maybe the Ice Spirits had this strange timeline forethought for a reason. And maybe Okposo’s path will carry on well enough to help enlighten the image of the black hockey player as more of the gracefully gritty Iginla type rather than the Toughman, stage-hungry Georges Laracque stereotype.

Small Group, Big Impact
Okposo’s temporary –and last- amateur team, captained by none other than Boston University bouncer Brian Strait, steamrolled through much of its drop-in to the Czech Republic before submitting to the ever-energetic Canadian program in Friday’s semi-final, 4-1, and offering a 4-2 bronze medal decision to Russia.

Minus the medal round meltdown –by the halfway mark of the Russia game, coach John Hynes was altering the lines with no bounds- the narrow pool of Hockey East representatives proved to be the Americans’ most productive assets as they fueled 17 goals in four round robin victories. UNH freshman phenom James vanRiemsdyk was assigned to wing BU forward Colin Wilson on the second line for the bulk of the tournament.

vanRiemsdyk, appearing in his second WJC with a much more deciphered mug this time around, topped the final American charts with 11 points and the entire pool through the preliminary round with 10. Point #11 happened to be the lone material highlight against Canada, a late wrap-around goal.

Wilson, thirsting for scouts’ eyes before he will likely enter the 2008 NHL Draft, charged up a team-leading six goals and tied his other winger –2009 Minnesota recruit Jordan Schroeder- for seven total points.

Wilson and vanRiemsdyk collaborated on six goals during the brief US hot streak, climaxing in a 5-3 win over Finland on New Year’s Eve, wherein vanRiemsdyk aided Wilson towards a hat trick before they reversed the roles on a second period insurance goal.

(More) Extra Ice
The Boston College and UNH women’s teams sprinkled their stars around international ponds over break. The BC web site noted that sizzling sophomores Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack and junior Meghan Fardelman spent the last week of 2007 in Lake Placid with their eyes on a World Championship roster spot this spring. The Eagle trio was joined by rival New Hampshire’s Maggie Joyce and Kacey Bellamy there.

The Wildcats also had rookies Courtney Birchard and Jenn Wakefield –who sandwich PC’s Alyse Ruff among the league’s best freshmen scorers- sporting the Maple Leaf at the European Air Canada Cup this week, opposite Swiss UNH ambassadors Julia and Stephanie Marty.

Additionally, the inaugural Women’s World Junior tournament –designed to showcase a vibrant pool of collegiate prospects aged 18 or younger- is set to commence in Calgary Monday, running through Saturday. Friars coach Bob Deraney –along with UNH assistant Erin Whitten Hamlen- will serve up sidekick expertise for American head skipper Katey Stone. In doing so, he will get early interaction with recent two recent NLI signees –forwards Kate Bacon and Ashley Cottrell.

Holiday Hardware Haven
Before everyone along the coast got down to prying one another apart, Hockey East could have used a sound team-of-teams effort to rehydrate its viability on the collective NCAA sphere. And last weekend, the national ranking landscape morphed accordingly as a couple of member schools raided a western bigwig or two in the annual holiday tournament bonanza.

In Tampa, UMass-Amherst gnashed its way to 4-3 and 5-4 (OT) overhauls of the season-long-reckoned Notre Dame and Colorado College, earning them the Lightning College Classic title and dibs on the fifth slot in the country. With that, the question-clad Minutemen –who were nonetheless lodged in USCHO’s ninth row over exam break- improved to 9-3-5 and are now sandwiched between the two powers that they just dealt with.

Scroll down those charts a few notches, say hi to New Hampshire and Northeastern –improved to 7th and 9th overall respectively, the Wildcats inching ahead of North Dakota the most forthright way by splitting a road series with the Sioux- and then look at what may be the league’s most decisively redressed team, Boston College.

The Eagles built on a much-needed, compressing pre-holiday three-game winning streak by usurping Minnesota’s precious home tournament, the Dodge Holiday Classic. Intriguingly, the two Maroon and Gold giants did not even need to cross paths in the process. Instead, BC charged up a set of speaks-for-itself blowouts of Air Force (8-2 final) and RIT (6-0), penning ten skaters on the scoresheet both nights and skating off in volcanic fashion through a five-goal third period in the title game.

Not enough? Well, UMass Lowell –the Friars fast-approaching adversary this coming week- also arrested rival Maine by a 6-0 count to nab the Florida College Classic and upgrade to 14th overall. Meanwhile, the PC Men –dormant all through the past week- made enough of a GLI impression on the USCHO polling panel to attain a season-high 18 honorable mention votes, joining them with nine other near-miss schools just outside the weekly Top 20 vote.

Over in an otherwise idle women’s conference, Connecticut –still knotted for 2nd in the league with the Friars- impressed at the Quinnipiac-based Nutmeg Classic, dumping two intra-state rivals in the host Bobcats and Yale, 3-2, en route to beefing up its overall transcript to 13-4-2.