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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hockey Log

Minor credits

PC alumnus Schaefer among six HEA products-turned-AHL All-Stars

Since collecting his degree at the Dunk in 2003, former Friars’ goaltender Nolan Schaefer, like the forgotten majority of elite professionals, has had his licks, sips, and free samples of The Show in his young career. But for players of this upper-middle class caliber, an NHL roster spot is generally tougher to get a permanent grip on than a Zdeno Chara slapper.

Save for a dozen-game appetizer in the ECHL to start, seven credited regular season appearances with the San Jose Sharks in 2005-06, and a near-miss with the Minnesota Wild at training camp this season, Schaefer’s conventionally itinerant saga has spotted him in five AHL cities in as many years. Playing under the watchful front offices of four different NHL organizations, he has shaved the bulk of his blue paint everywhere from Cleveland to Worcester to Hershey to Scranton to Houston.

To his credit, though, Schaefer slithered to the restrictive Wild bench –more than affluent with rotating the young firm of Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding- for two games in October. And while he waits for the door to reopen, he will scoop up another reckonable dish of ice creds this weekend at the AHL All-Star Classic –an event that is, for all intents and purposes, one or two stripes away from being the more formal cousin to the NHL Youngstars’ Game.

With a 2.12 GAA as of Friday, behind only soon-to-be Team Canada associate Michael Leighton and recent BU grad John Curry, Schaefer will be one of six Hockey East products to partake in the Binghamton, N.Y.-hosted showcase.

Just by being there alone, for whatever historical data is worth, Schaefer has an A-minus chance of attaining eventual NHL job security. The AHL proudly, though legitimately, boasts that 93% of its All-Star alumni –dating back to when the event snapped out of a 35-year coma and made a 1995 stop to the then-Providence Civic Center- have also penned regular NHL entries in their bios.

The likes of Schaefer’s fellow Canadian Jason Krog –a more distant New Hampshire alumnus, 1999 Hobey Baker recipient, and a brief P-Bruin in his first pro campaign- already has 198 games with four NHL franchises to his credit, but himself has yet to stamp a full-time mortgage on that front. His most favorable stretch was when he joined in on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks’ vain venture to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003 and followed up the next year with a solid 80 games in Orange County.

After a lockout detour to Austria and Switzerland that extended into the 2005-06 season, though, Krog is now a mainstay with the Chicago Wolves’, Atlanta’s development team. On the other hand, he just so happens to come into the break with an AHL-best 64 points over 44 games played.

Only two slots below is Manchester Monarch Teddy Purcell, fresh off an equally glittering rookie year at Maine and more immediately fresh off a fulfilling recall to the parent LA Kings. Purcell has kindled 54 points in 40 Manchester games.

In Sunday’s skills showcase and Monday’s formal fixture, the aforementioned three will confront another Hockey East-seasoned trinity on the PlanetUSA roster, which will be directed by P-Bruins’ skipper and one-time Boston College goaltender Scott Gordon. Fellow Eagle alumnus Peter Harrold, a Manchester associate of Purcell’s who has likewise sniffed authentic bits of action with the Kings, and former Maine teammates Greg Moore and Jimmy Howard sum up that sphere.

Stud spuds

If by “most anticipated giveaway” they meant enticing double-digit numbers to the Schneider Arena gates before the doors even opened, then PC’s PR personnel had a valid foresight.

More than an hour prior to Saturday night’s face-off with Northeastern, a rough head count of sixty fans –at least eight of them students- lingered outside the main entrance, peering in at the Skating Friar Potato Heads that were to be distributed to the first 1,500 patrons by members of the Providence College Dance Team.

And another round of shipment from Virtual Idaho –or, rather, Pawtucket- is primed to arrive in another three weeks. The PC women will offer 500 Potato Heads of their own when they host the same Northeastern franchise on Sunday, February 17.

Fresh four confirmed for PC men

Midway through last week, friars.com confirmed the NLI signings of four PC prospects for the 2008-09 season: goaltender Justin Gates of Cranston, forwards Chad Johnson and Robert Maloney, and defenseman Danny New.

According to insidecollegehockey.com, Providence still has its eye on forward Chris Rooney –currently of the EJHL’s Bridgewater Bandits- to also hop on next autumn. Meanwhile, Warwick resident Connor Moore –a New Hampshire Junior Monarch teammate of Gates’- and defenseman Alex Velischek are slated to join the Friars in 2009.

Quick Feed: A conspicuous, energetic sampling of Northeastern’s Dog House Dwellers filled Section J for Saturday’s contest and, regardless of the momentum scale, endlessly volleyed verbal grenades with the Friar Fanatics seated 85 feet right across from them. Even in the final minute of the third period, when the PC students suggested that their guests “Warm up the bus!” the quick-witted Husky fans flaunted their car keys

Men's Hockey 5, Northeastern 2

Friars play role of teaser

Initial U-turn morphs into sweep of Northeastern

Condensed to his first start on the bench all season Saturday by virtue of Friday’s 5-1 shellacking, Northeastern’s precision stopper Brad Thiessen watched as his back-up, Mike Binnington, and skating peers started to spoon out some eye-for-eye justice on the Friars, sculpting a 2-0 lead within the first 10:07.

Fast-forward to 6:50 of the middle frame, and Thiessen was summoned to play the infrequent role of firefighter as the Friars had now pulled ahead 3-2. From there, Providence paced itself to a 5-2 triumph before 2,229 at Schneider Arena, stamping a brassy home-and-home sweep on the Huskies.

“He is a big staple of their program, and goaltending always will be,” said Friars’ coach Tim Army before the series regarding the established Northeastern nucleus. “But in order to penetrate against a good goalie, you gotta get a high volume of shots, get in his sightline, and work for secondary opportunities.

“The more shots you get to the net, the more you get in front of him, you’ll create more secondary opportunities around the slot area and then you’ve gotta be in a position to capitalize on those.”

Husky skipper Greg Cronin caught on to PC’s productive strategy well enough up in the Hub on Friday when they overcooked Thiessen with another batch of their profuse ammo. But to start the rematch, even as they stared down a cold rookie Binnington, with no more than 30 minutes played on his collegiate resume, the trick was at first turned on the Friars.

At 9:19, Northeastern etched its first hint of plans to vengefully penetrate Tyler Sims (25 saves) by striking on its first power play. Forward Chad Costello, floating over the left circle-top, handed the disc over to David Strathman at the center point. Strathman’s responsive ice-kisser slithered through a rather disorganized collection of bodies in front but was guided home by Husky Wade MacLeod.

Only 48 seconds later did Tyler McKneely prevail in a frantic scrum in the near corner and hand things off to Jimmy Russo, who looped it in from a complicated angle for the 2-0 edge.

But the Huskies mustered just one more whack at Sims over the next seven minutes, during which the awakened Friars peppered Binnington with nine and pulled even before intermission.

Junior captain Kyle Laughlin bustled with the puck out of his own end and fended off pressuring back-checkers all the way to behind the Northeastern cage. There, in a swift manner reminiscent of the DHL-endorsing football stars, he left it for linemate Nick Mazzolini to loop right back around the far post. Mazzolini’s up-for-grabs bid found an incoming Pierce Norton, who stuffed it home behind Binnington’s back with exactly 5:00 to spare.

In another 2:03, the Friars kindled a power play conversion when Norton’s near-circle wrist shot briefly stayed in Binnington’s clutch but then dripped behind him in the crease. Net-crashing center John Cavanagh buried it for the equalizer.

Providence carried on with thawing out their shooting gallery in the second period, by the end of which they commanded a 31-16 shot difference and 4-2 connection difference. In the seventh minute, Cavanagh absorbed a breakout feed from defender Mark Fayne and in turn shipped it across the neutral zone to left winger Ben Farrer.

Farrer’s blistering, low flying rocket spelled the eventual game-clincher and good-night to Binnington (18 saves), who would receive his first career decision in the form of an L-shaped albatross.

Meantime, Thiessen’s (17 saves) stretch was but 3:35 of play and three shots old when the Friars conjured their fifth power play conversion of the weekend. Moments after he had been released from the bin himself –which had made for 63 seconds of 4-on-4 action- defender Cody Wild carried partner Matt Taormina’s feed deep into the zone and whooshed it to Thiessen’s porch, where Norton batted it in for his third point of the night.

The Huskies compressed the PC cannons well enough to outshoot the Friars, 11-9, in the third, and to withhold the puck in offensive territory for more time than that shot count may suggest. But Sims had every answer, including a three-shot penalty kill tempest shortly after the halfway mark.

Within forty seconds of completing that kill, John Mori solidified the 5-2 upshot for the Friars at 12:57. He nabbed a fugitive puck in the high PC slot, outraced shadowing defender Mike Hewkin, a roofed a snapper over Thiessen’s blocker.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hockey Log

In the latest edition of The Hockey News (press date: January 29) “Team Reports tell you who the ‘glue guy’ is on each of the 30 NHL teams.” Here now is PC’s answer to that feature:

They’re both seniors and they have both consistently topped their team’s respective scoring charts throughout this season.

Sounds like a one-dimensional assessment. But the essence of Jon Rheault and Kathleen Smith to PC Hockey has an even greater depth than the fundamental stats convey. Rheault, co-captain opposite junior Kyle Laughlin, has already seen his name etched on the Lou Lamoriello Award as team MVP two years running. And that was only after he had earned the Friars’ distinction of top rookie in 2005.

His smooth, generous productivity avenue over all four years in Providence is a right-place-at-the-right-time reward for durability and tireless puckslinging. As of this week, his 126 cumulative games played are most closely matched by goaltender Tyler Sims (101). This year alone, he has registered 94 stabs at the opposing net –followed by Laughlin’s 60.

And if head coach Tim Army didn’t take direct paper-based notice of Rheault’s runaway career totals of 51 goals (again, Laughlin is the runner-up with 18) and 95 points (twice everybody else’s save for junior defenseman Cody Wild), he at least caught a subtle hint of it on the ice.

Lately, Rheault has been made a team scoring missionary, elevating between lines and spreading his influence. Most recently, he has been manning the right wing with rookies Ian O’Connor and Matt Germain, though prior to that he had been helping another frosh –Kyle MacKinnon- to his first smattering of collegiate points.

On the women’s side, Smith likewise leads the Friars in shots on goal, having just broken 100 against Mercyhurst, and then teeming an additional nine on Boston University. Fellow defender Brittany Simpson is a not-so-close second with 65 bids through 22 games.

Smith is in better company than Rheault in terms of iron bodies as four other seniors (Rachel Crissy, Kelli Doolin, Cherie Hendrickson, and Jenna Keilch) are all well past their 100th career game. Nonetheless, Smith, who will play game #125 when the Friars visit Vermont Friday night, is the runaway active scoring leader in PC’s skating sorority with 77 points. Two more goals on her senior transcript, and she will have equated her freshman/sophomore/junior aggregate of 13.

And perhaps Smith’s implicit who-says-defenders-don’t-score philosophy is contagious. Always adventurous junior Erin Normore is right behind her with a cumulative 55 points and Simpson has imploded her productivity this season with 4-6-10 totals.

At the moment, Rheault and Smith each have a salient seven multi-point games to their credit this season and are waiting for their associates to join in on their team’s 20-point club for the year.

Husky equality: Since Army assumed the helm here in 2005, all but one of his seven bouts (3-3-1 record) with Northeastern have been decided by one goal, four of those games going into overtime.

“It was a tight game the last time, obviously,” the skipper observed, hearkening back to the Hockey East opener in October when the Huskies pulled off a come-from-behind 3-2 bonus round triumph in the Hub. “I think we’re fairly evenly matched. The series over the years has always been tightly contested, and I would expect more of the same.”

In the three months since, the resurgent Huskies –rated #11 in the nation this week- have rigidly fixated themselves around the top segment of the league standings at 8-5-2. The 6-5-2 Friars will come into this home-and-home set with two games and two wins in hand.

“It’s been a while since we’ve played (each other),” Army acknowledged. “We’ve played a lot of teams in the interim, but I think it’s two programs moving in a positive direction, so it should be a pretty competitive weekend.”

Quick Feeds: Friday's game up at Matthews Arena will be senior defenseman Trevor Ludwig's career 100th, which would make him the third current Friar to break that plateau. Should they continue their expectable regularity in the lineup, juniors Laughlin, Matt Taormina, and Nick Mazzolini could nimbly double that group’s membership before season’s end...The Friars have yet to lose when ahead after two periods (6-0-0) or to rally when trailing through the second intermission (0-5-0)...PC's overall .500 limbo is meticulously paralleled in every recorded goal margin. The Friars are 3-3 in games with 1-goal differentials, 2-2 in 2-goal games, and 4-4 when the difference is at least three notches…Both of the PC Women’s face-offs at Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse this weekend are slated for 7:00, marking their first instance of back-to-back night games this season…Brittany Nelson, a sophomore transfer from PC, is tied for third amongst Catamount scorers with 4-4-8 totals over 22 games played.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hockey Log

PC Men on fence, but chances still abound

The old brief-but-fatal menace struck the Friars midway through last Saturday’s bout with Maine, and as an immediate result, they endured a hemorrhaged third period and yet another half-and-half weekend. And, compared to previous weeks, some of the hot off the press data is somewhat wince-inducing for those who live by the Skating Friar emblem.

“The biggest thing that maybe plagued us on the weekend was our power play, which has been very good over the first half of the year,” mused head coach Tim Army, recalling missed opportunities to put an earlier stamp on the UMass-Amherst victory Friday and to seize the upper hand over Maine. “In the six games since we came back from Christmas break, we haven’t been as efficient on the power play.

“It wasn’t the springboard to our offense that it needed to be and I think that was critical in both games.”

A byproduct of the aggregate zilch conversions over nine consecutive man advantages is a current goal drought of 90:03, carrying over from the halfway mark of Friday’s 3-2 compression of UMass. It is PC’s second longest such plague of the season behind a 114:50 empty window that ranged over part of October.

And coming away with only half of the four allotted points for the standings, the Friars now hold sole possession of sixth place at 6-5-2 in conference action. Fourteen cumulative points have them five knobs below co-leaders New Hampshire and Boston College, though they are the exact same distance above the cellar-dwelling Merrimack.

But stats are stats, and when they all go into the pot, Army stressed, there is enough to work with from a chins-up standpoint. For instance, having consumed only thirteen of their twenty-seven Hockey East contests, Providence has at least one game in hand on all of its current superiors, including two on Northeastern, which is lined up for a home-and-home series this weekend.

“It’s certainly tightly contested,” Army observed. “There isn’t a lot of space that separates 1 through 10. We’re right in the middle of the pack, and we’ve got a couple of games in hand on some teams. There isn’t a great differential in the points from ourselves and looking at the leader of Hockey East and not a great deal of difference from us to the last place team in the league.

“We are in a pretty good position over the stretch. We’ve gotta take care of our own destiny, in a sense. We’ve gotta play well, put some wins together, and we’ll have an opportunity to compete for a home ice berth (in the Hockey East quarter-final round mid-March).

“I recognize where we stand, and the most important thing for us is that we play the best possible hockey we can play, be ready for Northeastern on Friday night, take it one game at a time, and see where that takes us the rest of the season.”

Scoring Wealth Spreads: The last time the Friars were lighting the lamp, they left off on a few fun size milestones for the younger half of the depth chart.

Freshman forward Matt Germain –already with five helpers to his credit- inserted his first collegiate goal last Friday, in the process granting defenseman Joe Lavin his third helper in as many games. Meantime Jordan Kremyr, who last season stood opposite his faster-acclimated classmate Kyle MacKinnon as one of the top twenty beacons in the British Columbia League, finally kindled his first point in 19 collegiate games.

And with three points in four January outings, sophomore John Cavanagh is suddenly a notch shy of equating his rookie total of 11.

“It’s good,” said Army. “It’s our first two recruiting classes as a staff. We’ve had great production from our sophomores in their two years here and our freshmen have begun to really find their range a little bit.

“They were brought here for a reason, so it’s nice to see them get rewarded and make an impact because I think it illustrates their capabilities and the direction that they can move this program.”

Quick Feeds: The Friars held a commanding 48-22 edge over Maine in terms of face-off wins, led by Nick Mazzolini’s sound 13-3 ratio and MacKinnon’s 12-5 transcript…Hailed as the program’s “most anticipated giveaway” this season, Saturday’s home date with the Huskies will feature the Skating Friar Mister Potato Head toy for the first 1,500 spectators. As advertised on the friars.com introductory page, the time-honored spud is decked in the full PC hockey uniform and bearing a conventional gap-toothed grin…Cox Sports will carry Saturday’s tilt, slated to commence at 7:00.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Women's Hockey 3, Boston University 1

Friars tip the scale with BU

Much like the visitors from Boston University, Providence College had lost little more than a square inch of footing in its steady attempts to upgrade its middleweight status in the Hockey East pool heading into Sunday’s get-together.

And as a stable follow-up to Saturday afternoon’s bell-ringing 1-1 draw at the regal New Hampshire Wildcats and the Terriers’ hot-streak halting 3-2 falter to Connecticut, the third place Friars strode further ahead with a 3-1 triumph at Schneider Arena, giving them a three-point standings edge over the Terriers (12-9 differential, with each team having played 9 of its 21 conference games).

Providence in effect compressed a brief, though mildly substantial, two-game winless streak and improved to 4-1-1 since the New Year. It also made a firm statement in Part I of what will be a hasty, but perhaps implication-crammed, three-game season series that is slated to be over with a week from Saturday when these teams complete a home-and-home set.

In the process of completing their quick return pivot, the Friars saw tireless top gun Kathleen Smith rekindle her Ray Bourque-like productivity through two visually identical goals –both assisted by Katy Beach and classmate Sarah Feldman- and a helper on Danielle Tangredi’s eventual game-winner.

Smith’s first strike was on one of many draws forced by the poised, meticulous goaltending of BU’s Allyse Wilcox (33 saves). Feldman tipped her face-off win in the far circle to Beach on the left wing. Beach promptly forwarded the puck to Smith, who settled it at the center point and leveled a straightaway slapper into the top right shelf at 8:02 of the opening frame.

The Terriers retorted at 17:15 after all of their previous attacking zone buzzes had been flustered by the Friars’ concrete stick and body work. But on one more prolonged, and otherwise shotless, swarm, forward Caroline Bourdeau stamped a fugitive puck on the left branch behind the net and left it for linemate Jillian Kirchner, who simply thrust it into the cage off Danielle Ciarletta’s (26 saves) skate to send things into intermission at a 1-all count.

All but unyielding discipline from the first period (only one penalty per side) made haste to die on the new sheet, though it proved to give rise to feisty penalty killing units for the bulk of the middle frame. Providence thwarted the Terrier attack, confining it to four shots over three 5-on-4 sequences. BU did likewise on its own kill within the first five minutes, authorizing zero stabs at Wilcox.

On their next opportunity, though, the Friars’ lately arid power play revved up the sizzler, registering a whopping eight shots and inserting the eventual game-clincher at 15:53. Backliner Brittany Simpson, withholding the puck on the near circle-top, shipped it to Smith at the center point. Smith’s laser landed in a multi-body crease scramble before finding its way to Tangredi’s tape.

Tangredi whiffed on her first bid, but held on to spoon home her second conversion in as many days, restoring PC’s lead.

The Friars encored that in the middle of the third period on BU’s next kill. As was the case in the opening frame, Feldman nudged a face-off win back to Beach, who found an open Smith at the center point. Smith this time nailed a low-flying snapper to the left of Wilcox.

Not even a minute later were the Terriers granted a radiant opportunity to nibble back. In a span of eleven seconds Jean O’Neill was flagged for interference and Colleen Martin for body-checking to set up a 5-on-3 match for a grand playing time total of 1:49.

Boston, which completely flip-flopped the shooting imbalance in the third period, 13-6, charged up six of those shots over the two-player advantage and mustered one more just before Martin’s jailbreak. But Ciarletta answered impeccably to her most laborious period of the weekend to inch herself and her team above .500 once more.