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

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Maine 4, Men's Hockey 0

Friars caught in a bear trap

With 9:28 remaining, after one of the tedious third period’s umpteen icing whistles, the season-high Schneider Arena mass of 2,612 –particularly the student section- commenced a steady, single file adjournment.

By that point, the visiting Maine Black Bears had decelerated the feisty Friars to a 3-0 deficit and were efficiently warding off the still persistent Providence attack. And they continued to do so en route to a decisive 4-0 final.

The entire transpiration of Saturday’s showdown was an exemplary reversal of roles compared to PC’s Orono excursion back in mid-November, when they swept a then-ranked Maine team by a 7-2 aggregate. Since then, the last place Black Bears -no typo- had only snagged one conference victory out of seven attempts and were defining their season as a process of cleaning up after a summer spill of talent.

Conversely, the Friars just might have been one lustrous W away from earning first-time membership in the Top 20 polls and a so-craved-they-can-taste-it great leap forward in the Hockey East standings.

Instead, monument Maine goaltender Ben Bishop –perhaps the lone remaining cornerstone for a team with two Frozen Four appearances in its immediate, yet so distant, past- revived his classic persona through a 41-save shutout, strikingly his first goose-egg of the season and heftiest workload since opening weekend in October. It was also the first blanking the Friars have swallowed at home since Big Ben’s previous visit to this campus exactly one year to this date.

A fraternal variation of the near-fatal numbness the Friars experienced late in their 3-2 Friday tip-over of UMass plagued them all through the Maine tangle. To their credit, the driven strike force wasted no time unleashing yet another brimful bushel of shots -21 of them in the opening frame. But they experienced the same obnoxious launching trouble that has amounted to recent near misses in the standings.

The Black Bears, who afforded only eight stabs at Tyler Sims (21 saves) through the first twenty minutes, made haste to slim down the shot differential and followed up on their goalies’ noble efforts at 6:59 of the second period. Senior Wes Clark felled Cody Wild’s clearing attempt with his chest at the far point, strode in a few feet, and shipped a saucer pass to defender Matt Duffy, who went out of his way to make a quick back-door burial.

While Maine was on its way to exponentially accumulating all of the night’s auspices, little omens specific to the Friars nicked the host club. Right at the buzzer of the second period, at which point Providence led the shooting gallery by a 32-15 count, Wild was flagged for slashing in the midst of a Black Bear breakout rush.

Maine slowed down the Friars’ equalizer efforts via three subsequent power play shots and then augmented its lead to 2-0 at the 4:52 mark. Defender Jeff Dimmen picked up a rebound off Bishop’s porch, toured it down the left alley into the depths of the PC zone, and dropped it back for Clark to whoosh through.

In the time that remained, the serene Bears accepted a total of seven more icing calls while the Friars stretched their offensive effort to the literally bitter end, when blueliner Trevor Ludwig leveled home a bar-down blast only to have it waved off due to clock expiration –yet another last-second kick in the canines.

Regardless, that play was far from momentous as Maine would have sculpted a 4-0 command by then. Right off one of the post-icing draws in his own end, defenseman Brett Carriere sparked yet another fleet end-to-end venture, which ended with Jeffrey Marshall letting a sinker from the far circle top drip home over Sims’ trapper glove.

Later, within the final minute of action, a genuflecting Vince Laise stamped the puck on his own face-off dot to freeze another rabid onslaught and flicked it from there into an empty Providence net.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Men's Hockey 3, UMass-Amherst 2

Friars take the last breath
Minutemen’s epic rally falls short

The Massachusetts Minutemen, who had been subtly snowballing their shots on net total all night, were almost all set to fetch a magic top hat –and melt down PC’s fortunes- in the final three minutes of Friday’s game.

With 2:55 remaining, Friars’ goaltender Tyler Sims lost what would have been his fourth shutout of the season to Brett Watson’s painstaking conversion. In another 75 seconds of action, PC had sweatier issues when Chris Davis put UMass within one, 3-2, a mere five seconds after the Minutemen had convened on a timeout and pulled netminder Paul Dainton in favor of the old six-pack attack.

But for the remainder 100 ticks, Providence reassembled –paradoxically by habitual falling to block any further attempts- and solidified that 3-2 tally, salvaging a precious victory before 2,213 at Schneider Arena.

The Minutemen had already taken their turn hibernating in the first ten minutes of the middle frame, wherein the Friars sculpted a 3-0 advantage, despite affording a mere six sparsely distributed whacks at Dainton during that period.

An array of unlikely defining facets was on display throughout Friday’s contest. Two teams with ordinarily boundless supplies of graphite ammo instead engaged in a defensive arm wrestling bout with next to no prolonged quality scoring chances and a final shot count of 30-26, Providence favor.

In addition, the Friars eclipsed UMass’ pack of season-long radiant rookies –particularly Dainton (27 saves) and prolific scorer James Marcou (4 shots, 0 points)- while a handful of their own youth crowd concocted the vital 3-goal spurt all on their own. Of the seven PC skaters who appeared on Friday’s scoresheet, five were freshman, the other two sophomores.

At first, though, the clenched borders around both blue lines made for a scoreless opening stanza, though with a commanding cumulative 11-4 shooting edge tilting in PC’s favor. At the same time, when they suffered two uncharacteristic disciplinary hiccups, the Friars’ laser-beamed penalty killing square kept the Minutemen shotless on the power play.

But on the second sheet, several still-blossoming Friars began to cultivate by means of their forte: grinding. At 3:03, a long arid pair of frosh –Ben Farrer and Jordan Kremyr- jumped a harmless looking shot attempt that had fluttered over Dainton’s stick and behind the cage and thrust it right back in front for sophomore John Cavanagh, who batted it home for the icebreaker, and Farrer and Kremyr’s second and first career points, respectively.

Three minutes later, Matt Germain directed a face-off win in the near alley back to Joe Lavin at the right point. Lavin shuffled a few side-steps to his left, made a quick back-and-forth exchange with associate defenseman Cody Wild, and unleashed a snapper into the screening forest. Forward Ian O’Connor absorbed it in the slot and handed it off to Germain, who translated it to his first collegiate goal and a 2-0 lead.

Providence further aggravated the Mass Attack’s power play angst during their third kill around the halfway mark. Greg Collins let a close-range slapper by far point patroller Alex Berry bank off his shin and inch out of the zone. Collins made haste to push it along down the lane for a face-to-face encounter with Dainton and nimbly roofed the third Friar goal at 9:57.

Afterwards, UMass sprinkled six unanswered attempts, with two of those starting a much more molecular third period that saw 13 shots per side. And when the Minutemen started piling on penalties of their own, the Friars’ extra-man attack was taking nothing more than their PK had authorized earlier. PC afforded no shots over a 5-on-3 stretch late in the second and spread a mere three over as many more opportunities.

The Minutemen had dibs on the games last seven registered shots and finally hit the board when Berry –patrolling the near post- whiffed on his attempt to deflect pointman Kevin Kessler’s straightaway bid, but left a rebound for Watson –stationed right along the other pole- to rake under a belly-sprawling Sims.

Davis similarly tipped defenseman Mike Kostka’s low-flying snapper from the far boards into the lower right corner of the cage, breathing all sense of life back into the Minutemen.

But Sims and Co. readily pumped CPR into the home faithful, handling three more UMass shots.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hockey Log

Little man Marcou big help to Amherst

Blessed are the poor in size, for they shalt inherit the rink.

Well, maybe not entirely, but when the NHL awoke from its lock-out induced coma back in the summer of 2005, it profusely promised that its refurbished on-ice product would be more accommodating to the game’s Mighty Mite strikers. There was at least a dollop more conviction that there would be room for more where Maine alumnus Paul Kariya and ex-Vermont Catamount Martin St. Louis came from.

And here and there, encouraging examples have propped up both in The Show and its collegiate feeder system.

Before last week, the 5-8 Sergei Samsonov appeared next in line to be handed a scarring “has-been” pink slip, having been the object of one-time passes between three other franchises since his 2006 deadline trade from the Bruins and reduced to an AHL demotion by injury and waiver issues. Now, all of a sudden, he appears to have found his place in the eye of the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he has four points in as many games.

Scroll down to the collegiate game and wave to North Dakota’s Ryan Duncan, the 5-6, 142-pounder who nonetheless hauled away last year’s Hobey Baker Award and currently tops the competitive Fighting Sioux scoring charts at 9-13-22.

And the UMass-Amherst Minutemen, Friday’s visitor to the PC campus, have yet another radiant figure in their efficient youth movement to go with invaluable goaltender Paul Dainton; freshman forward James Marcau.

The undrafted Marcau comes into this weekend’s action leading the Minutemen with 19 points in as many games played –15 of those coming in the form of assists- even though he boasts a humble frame of 5-7, 155 lbs. Only Boston College’s surprise smash, Joe Whitney (5-22-27 totals), and New Hampshire’s ultra-heralded James vanRiemsdyk (8-11-19) have been more productive amongst Hockey East rookies.

All through this season, Marcou has been a mainstay winger for classmate Michael Lecomte and appears to have yet another rookie –Chase Lingeraap- affixed to his unit now. Lecomte’s decent data of six goals and nine points includes six scoresheet collaborations with Marcou, be it one assisting the other or both nabbing credit for a helper.

Meanwhile, the comparatively more hulking Lingeraap’s (6-2, 215 lbs.) breakthrough performance –a November 9, 5-3 road overhaul of Boston University- consisted of a goal-assist package with Marcou pitching in on both plays himself.

Apart from his sphere of scoring influence, Marcou is exponentially stoking a clutch trait that has enriched Amherst’s painstaking maintenance of a contenders’ label. Eight of his helpers and nine of his points have been kindled on the power play.

In the earlier hunk of the season, during the league’s telling sister-smooching epidemic, Marcou scored one game-tying goal and assisted on another against UMass-Lowell.

Since then, he has been in on the deciding conversion in each of the Minutemen’s last three wins, the latest being an assist on Matt Burto’s OT clincher over Colorado College for the Lightning College Classic championship. In addition, he neatly spread seven points over those three games, doubling his bushel of multi-point outings to six in his young collegiate career.

Springboard Search: The pleasantly thriving Minutemen (9-5-5 overall) saw a six-game unbeaten streak snapped last weekend when they relinquished all four possible points in a home-and-home with New Hampshire, their first instance of back-to-back losses this season. UMass squandered a 2-0 lead towards an eventual 3-2 falter at home and then saw two power play conversions go for naught when the Wildcats snagged a 5-3 final in Durham.

Providence, meantime, is seething for a chance to rinse out the last-second vinegar it took last Saturday in Lowell, which at best barred them from taking three-fourths of the points from that back-to-back series.

Quick Feeds: Out of four appearances this season, Friars’ goaltender Chris Mannix has seen every dewdrop of action against UMass this season –dating back to a home-and-home set in October that saw a 3-1 win and 3-3 tie. But given that he has since rediscovered his game and made 11 consecutive starts, Tyler Sims is more likely to take this one on. Sims is 3-1-1 with one “no decision” in his career against the Minutemen…Friday’s game will be PC iron man Jon Rheault’s 125th of his career. And provided he gets the nod, it will be Sims’ 100th game…First line winger Kyle Laughlin is on a three-game scoring streak against Amherst, including a pair of two-point transcripts in the October series…Cox Communications will resume its Friar hockey coverage with Saturday’s tangle with Maine, one of three more games that it plans to carry this season.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hockey Log

They all ready for this?
Roundly braced New Hampshire next in line for PC Women

So far this month, the Friars’ steady progress has scaled in all-in-all favorable accordance with the taxing tasks on their schedule.

Though the final dozen minutes of their two-game home series with 4th-ranked Mercyhurst made for a limburger-flavored icing on the cake, they kilned a performance good enough for about 24 hours of a supra-.500 record and a dollop of formal ranking recognition, neither of which they have had since the opening week of the season.

Before the Lakers popped open their carbonated bottles to wrest away a 3-0 decision on Sunday, Providence had already handed them their worst-looking loss of the season on Saturday, 7-3, and was one period short of being just the third team to deny Mercyhurst two wins in as many attempts –along with Clarkson and Minnesota-Duluth. In the eyes of US College Hockey Online pollsters, that was good enough for an honorable mention, which as of Monday puts the Friars in the same vicinity as the underachieving Boston College and the aforementioned Clarkson.

What could possibly pose a sweatier dare as the Friars get down to strictly Hockey East action this weekend? Yet another Big Blue Machine: top-ranked New Hampshire. The first installment of the rivals’ three-part season series is slated for Saturday afternoon at Whittemore Center, where ten months ago the Wildcats hoisted the Friars’ once jealously guarded conference championship trophy right in front of them.

In the lengthy interim between meetings, UNH has proven its continuous worth through an embarrassingly seasoned strike force that has delivered as promised and a freshman goaltender –Kayley Herman- who on the one hand wasted no time earning the #1 job, but on the other has not had to deal with any more than 28 shots (5-2 win over Mercyhurst December 8) over 20 games played.

Up front, between seniors Leah Craig, Jennifer Hitchcock, and Sadie Wright-Ward, and junior Sam Faber, the Cats have four triple-digit career point scorers and another two –freshman Jenn Wakefield and sophomore Kelly Paton- have already cracked at least 20 points this season.

With all that, and then some, New Hampshire has passed test after test this season. With only one disruption, it has clung to the top slot in the national rankings since before Thanksgiving, when it yanked the crown in a Napoleonic manner, sweeping two-time national champion Wisconsin. The Wildcats have since only had to settle for second for one week in mid-December, which it ended by winning another titanic tilt with Harvard.

As of this weekend, like the Friars, the Wildcats (19-3-0 overall) have only conference competition to deal with. But they are sporting nothing short of a Patriotic persona with a 10-0 transcript and a 46-8 goal differential against Hockey East rivals.

All that in consideration, a sound performance in New Hampshire may be more momentous for the Friars –or anybody- than it is for Hilary Clinton and John McCain.

Well-padded past: PC goaltender Danielle Ciarletta, who is only just coming off another exceptional response to Mercyhurst’s smoking guns, has also proven herself in Durham before. Aside from two of her three career bouts with the Lakers, her only other 40-plus save performance to date was January 28, 2007, a day in which she aided the Friars to a 2-2 knot with the Wildcats.

Ironically, Ciarletta’s more forgettable square-off with UNH last year was at home, a 7-0 meltdown on February 11.

Not done shuffling: When Mari Pehkonen resumed her full-time duty with the Friars last weekend, her once-constant position to the left of Sarah Feldman and Katy Beach –which had seemed to be making for an effective starting unit- was not handed back to her.

For the first four games of 2008, senior Danielle Tangredi has slipped into that role and has so far been rewarded with a near-doubled productivity level. With an assist at Niagara and a goal against Mercyhurst, Tangredi has beefed up her totals to 4-1-5 through 20 games.

Pehkonen, meantime, assumed the right wing assignment with fiery freshmen Jean O’Neill and Alyse Ruff, who had previously been sandwiching Jackie Duncan and Pamela McDevitt. Ruff started experimenting as the center of her new line and remains the Friars’ top goal-getter (10), though her new line was held pointless in the Mercyhurst series.

PC’s only line that has remained unruffled since before Christmas break –and the most productive of late- is that of Jenna Keilch, Rachel Crissy, and Cherie Hendrickson.

Quick Feeds: Team USA, featuring two Friar recruits and the coaching contributions of Bob Deraney, struck gold at the inaugural U18 World Championships, bumping Canada in the title game, 5-2, Saturday. Ashley Cottrell finished the tournament with 5 goals and assists in as many games while Kate Bacon charged up three goals and a +3 rating… Ciarletta, with a grand total of 79 saves over the two Mercyhurst games, earned her second Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week distinction of the season, previously holding it during the week of November 19…PC will begin its only other unopened season series on Sunday when it hosts Boston University. The Terriers and Friars each have the most conference action left on their table, having played 7 of 21 games apiece. BU’s 4-3-0 HEA record has it one point behind the Friars and cross-town rival Boston College as of this week.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mercyhurst 3, Women's Hockey 0

Rude awakening slams Friars
Scribe's Note: This report is based on CSTV's Gametracker service

A wake-up call well taken on one bench, despite taking its time to translate materially, cut off the stirring surge on the other.

One day after slapping the revered Mercyhurst Lakers with a 7-3 upshot –the visitors’ most egregious defensive drawback this season- the Friars were blanked for the first time on home ice this season, 3-0, in Part II of their last non-conference series in 2007-08. With two-thirds of their Hockey East slate still to come, they will settle for a 5-7-1 transcript in interleague action.

Laker goaltender Laura Hosier neutralized 32 shots from a Friar strike force whose skates were hardly touching the ice to start the New Year (14 goals in 3 prior games) while Danielle Ciarletta warded off her first 40 shots faced before Natalie Payne struck at 8:19 of the third period, effectively sparking a glacial meltdown for Providence.

Uncannily, Ciarletta would finish with 44 saves, one knob shy of a personal record set against these same Lakers in another bittersweet falter last season. Meanwhile, power play paralysis -14 empty shots over 9 opportunities, including two 5-on-3 stretches- stalled the Friars before Mercyhurst finally found Ciarletta’s passage code.

To start Sunday’s affair, the caged, malnourished beast that was Mercyhurst’s stratospheric scoring force reeled right out in an effort to rinse out the vinegar they tasted on Saturday. Partially bolstered by two early PC penalties, the Lakers ran up a 6-0 shot advantage within the first 2:28 of play and unleashed another two stabs before the 5-minute mark, only to see Ciarletta swallow it all.

When the Providence skaters finally pulled together and clamped down some action of their own, Mercyhurst’s discipline detonated. Within seconds of Cherie Hendrickson’s opening test of Hosier, Kristen Erickson was flagged for body-checking at 8:01, the first of four consecutive Laker infractions before the first intermission. Mercyhurst was whistled thrice more between the 14:27 and 17:12 marks.

The Friars kindled power play firestorms of three shots on their first whirl, another four on their second, and an additional two during a late ninety-four second five-on-three sequence, eventually forging a more even shooting gallery of 14-12, Mercyhurst favor, at the first buzzer. But Hosier and Ciarletta, both more than verified in their previous experience against one another’s clubs, stuck to their roots to keep things scoreless.

The middle frame took on an identical pattern to its immediate predecessor with Mercyhurst thrusting five power play shots within the first eight minutes. Later, around the halfway mark of the game, the incendiary unit of Meghan Agosta, Valerie Chouinard (game total 10 shots apiece), and Stephanie Jones, took four registered whacks at Ciarletta in one uninterrupted sequence.

But the Lakers’ restraint ran wild once more in the latter portion of the period, committing another four successive fouls in a span of 5:09. With 4:07 on the clock, only three seconds after she was released from a holding minor, Danielle Ayearst went right back off for tripping and was joined by teammate Cassea Schols (hooking) 31 seconds later.

Providence mustered three cyclonic stabs on their second two-player advantage of the game, but adjourned to the dressing still 0-0.

In the closing frame, Mercyhurst began to break away more in the shooting gallery (18-9 advantage) and hit the board when Sherilyn Fraser retrieved Erickson’s face-off win and handed it off to Payne up front, who buried the eventual winner with a suddenly slim 11:41 to spare.

Adding to the Friars’ extra-man futility, the Lakers padded on their first dollop of insurance 12 seconds into their ninth penalty kill. Swiping the disc from Sarah Feldman off the draw, the first-line centerpiece Chouinard left a rebound for Jones to tuck through.

Schols whooshed home an empty netter with 1:07 remaining to finalize the 3-0 knockout.