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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hockey Log

In the latest edition of The Hockey News (press date: February 5) “Team Reports highlight the best rookies on all 30 teams.” Here now is PC’s answer to that feature:

Joe Lavin came to campus this past fall on the heels of an aura-dampening 126th overall (fifth round) selection by Chicago in the NHL Draft. Figuring even prior to the draft that he could go as early as the second round, most outspoken scouting reports were nonetheless questioning the so-labeled project defenseman’s defining traits.

Since then, on a baby-step basis, the slick-skating Lavin has kneaded that rocky energy clod well enough to have a prominent impact on the resurgent Tim Army Corps. To start the season, he verified the popular stay-at-home ideal when he failed to crack a point on his transcript through ten games despite a tendency to venture a few inches into the circle-tops and at least nail a quality rebound bid.

Lavin, the only Friar younger than 19 years of age, finally moistened his scoring drought on November 17 with two assists in a 5-4 overtime falter to the forceful New Hampshire Wildcats. He has since upgraded to a total of 7 points –all of them helpers, and four of them in the month of January alone- through 22 games played. Among PC’s freshmen scorers, he is only one knob behind leader Kyle MacKinnon.

As his initiative attacking ambition has come to flash more colors, Lavin has been rewarded with a fixed position on the first power play unit. As added bonuses, he is unfurling an impressive disciplinary standard –matching Matt Taormina as the regular Friar defender with the fewest penalties (4 two-minute minors)- and leads the team with a +6 rating.

Meanwhile, women’s rookie Amber Yung is penning a keenly similar saga in her first year here. Like Lavin, Yung –along with junior Brittany Simpson- holds the cleanest slate among PC backliners with a mere 10 penalty minutes, with none of those being logged in her last nine games.

Then there’s the implicit aim at an Erin Normore apprenticeship as a distinctive two-way connoisseur. Yung, particularly back in the preseason, has been sighted after practice lugging the puck bucket back onto the ice to hone her shooting and self-passing with the aid of the dasherboards. In game action, she has no reservations about chasing a fugitive puck behind an opposing cage anymore than she does retrieving it back in the depths of her own end.

Discounting a recent ten-game stretch where her stick fell asleep before she helped classmate Jean O’Neill break her own spell last weekend, Yung’s approach has been good enough for 8 assists and 9 points through 24 games this season.

She might as well keep stoking the offensive habits as they are merely abiding by an intriguing PC tradition. After all, her elders Normore and Kathleen Smith are currently the top two scoring defenders in Hockey East.

Women's Hockey 4, Boston University 3

Beach party

Friars prevail in seesaw epic

A couple of trivial database elements suggested ill karma for the Friars as they went into the final frame in a 2-2 knot with Boston University. Those elements, namely, were a 0-4-1 transcript when knotted after 40 minutes and a curious aversion to after dark action at home (they were 0-3 in home night games going into Thursday).

But already with a morsel of momentum tilted their way after Heimliching a 2-0 Terrier lead in the middle frame, Providence got the final say towards a 4-3 triumph.

Less than eight minutes after the Terriers had forged their own elevating knot, abolishing a 3-2 Friar lead with 13:18 to spare in regulation, PC’s starting line of Katy Beach, Sarah Feldman, and Danielle Tangredi stamped a swift end-to-end rush.

Beach, turned loose by Feldman’s breakout pass from behind her own cage, toured the puck down the right alley into the depths of the attacking zone. She released it up front for her linemates to take their own whack only to reassume possession and bat home what is now her team-leading third game-winner this season.

With that, for the moment, the Friars (7-3-2) are technically even with Connecticut for second place in Hockey East and have guaranteed that the fourth-place Terriers (5-6-1) will stay completely out of their hair even after they have finished their follow-up meeting in the Hub on Saturday.

To start Thursday night, though, BU was a mere three notches behind the Friars and opportunistically strengthened the Vermont vinegar that their entangled hosts were trying to rinse away.

In a span of 52 seconds about the halfway point of the first period –by which point neither team had registered a sustained attack- the Terriers sculpted a 2-0 lead on a pair of unmistakable rebound conversions.

At 9:56, defender Amanda Shaw ventured down the far boards and tossed out a slippery snapper that a sprawled Danielle Ciarletta (22 saves) left free for backdoor patroller Holly Lorms to roof home on a backhander.

On the subsequent play, Kelly Karnan’s attempt in the midst of a maniacal crease crowd skipped out to the far circle top, where Sarah Appleton stamped it and nimbly drilled it through.

But for an ensuing 15-minute stretch of action, the Friars outshot the Terriers, 8-1, and began to thaw out a 3:58 of the middle frame. Mari Pehkonen thwarted a clearing attempt at the BU blueline, strolled counterclockwise through the far circle, and shipped a centering feed to linemate Jean O’Neill, who one-timed it to the left of goaltender Melissa Haber (28 saves).

Five minutes thereafter, Providence hot hand Kathleen Smith pulled her club even when she scooped up defensive partner Colleen Martin’s handoff, shuffled to the far outer hash marks, and zipped a low rider into the opposite post.

The Friars picked it right back up to commence the third period, piling on four shots within the first 89 ticks, at which point the fast-progressing unit of Pehkonen, O’Neill, and Alyse Ruff converted for the 3-2 edge. Ruff scooped up Pehkonen’s failed bid, wrapped it around the near post, and dropped it on Haber’s porch for O’Neill to morph into her third tally in the last two games –a nimble wrister past Haber’s trapper.

But the reawakened Terriers, who had mustered next to nothing on their first of two power plays early in the second period, retorted on their other advantage at 6:42. Pehkonen let Appleton’s center point shot bank off her boot only to see it land in the clutch of forward Lauren Cherewyk. Cherewyk thrust a cross-ice feed to Jillian Kirchner for the equalizer.

Moments later, Providence issued three vain stabs on its penultimate power play (game aggregate: 0/6, 10 shots), but only needed to wait fifty seconds after Shaw’s jailbreak before Beach’s decisive connection.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hockey Log

PC Men: Recognition great, now bring on BC

Is there anything at the moment on the Friars’ floppy disk that requires at least a dewdrop of Windex?

Through last weekend’s startlingly lopsided sweep of Northeastern, wherein they charged up an aggregate goal differential of 10-3, PC made haste to halt the Bruins-like rollercoaster that had plagued them since New Year’s and reap some league and nationwide rewards.

Exhibit A: Senior goaltender Tyler Sims nabbed the Hockey East Player of the Week distinction, his first such honor since he was a sophomore, even with a handful of his praetorian guards arguably blanketing his performance (two-game total 55 saves). Juniors Pierce Norton and Matt Taormina each posted 2-2-4 totals over two games, sophomore John Cavanagh 3 points, and Cody Wild two helpers per night.

In total, thirteen Friars brushed the scoresheet over the series. Additionally, they fixed their short-circuited power play well enough to space half of the weekend’s ten goals over 14 man advantages.

“Good teams always get a lot of people involved,” noted head coach Tim Army. “You just can’t rely on a couple of guys offensively. Good teams always start with their goaltending and then everybody contributes from the net out, so I think it’s a nice reflection of how we’ve progressed as a program.”

Exhibit B: PC’s progress was also reflected the latest polls. The never-before-ranked Friars darted all the way up to the #14 slot in USCHO’s Monday revision of the Top 20 leaderboard. Quirkily enough, they also lassoed the opposing Huskies from #11 to #13 and have the two UMass squads –Amherst and Lowell- looking right up at them at 15th and 16th respectively.

But wouldn’t you know it? Army offered the classic not-done-yet assessment.

“I’m really proud of it, really excited about it,” he said. “The kids are excited. I think all of the coaches are excited. It’s nice recognition for your program. That’s where you want to be. All the best programs are always nationally ranked, so in order to become a good program you gotta be able to deal with all the residuals of being nationally ranked.

“But if you look at it as a ladder, we’ve got a lot more rungs to climb and the only way we’re gonna get (to the top rung) is by focusing on what we can control and what we can control is how we progress every day and how we bring that into a game environment.”

The next of those environments will be the oft-treacherous Conte Forum at Boston College, where Army is currently winless as head coach with a 0-3 transcript in his first two seasons behind the Providence bench.

The 9th-ranked Eagles saw an off-an-on first half to their season not unlike that of the Friars, but have also been saddled by a bewildering two mid-season pro signings and the recent season-ending injury of key two-way forward Brock Bradford.

Even so, the way Army sees it and the way their of late performance has signified, the Eagles have plenty where the likes of Bradford and now-AHL walk-on Brett Motherwell came from. BC is perched second in the league, four points ahead of the newly third-place Friars, by means of a 4-0-2 hot streak. Its last conference loss was a 4-3 overtime falter to the Huskies the night after Thanksgiving.

“They’ve been playing their best hockey for about two months now,” Army offered, though Friday’s face-off will be his pupils’ first in the flesh look at the Eagles. “Not too many teams have had much success with them. We’ll see, we’ll know on Friday how we match with them.

“One thing you can expect is that BC always has great skill and great speed and they close hard on the puck because they skate so well. And they transition the puck so well because they have good offensive instincts both on their forwards and their D.

“And they’ve got real good goaltending, real steady goaltending (from freshman John Muse). A lot of people thought that would be a hole for them this year, but we recognized that they were gonna have good goaltending and that’s come to fruition.”

Eppich comeback?: Sophomore Chris Eppich, unseen in game time attire since the second weekend of the Friars’ schedule, reappeared for the Northeastern series, filling in the third-line right side opposite Kyle Laughlin and Nick Mazzolini.

Though with no points to his credit in five appearances this season, Eppich –who missed a mere two outings as a freshman- pitched in three shots on net in Saturday’s home triumph and saw both his linemates tack on a point apiece both nights.

“He played fairly well,” Army assessed simply, adding that he sensed steady improvement in Eppich in the latter half of the weekend, “so right now he’s found his way into the lineup. I expect that he’ll play (again) on Friday night, but it’s always a game-by-game situation.

“But he’s incrementally finding his way back into the lineup, so if it’s official, he’s one of the top twelve and we’ll see how it goes on Friday night.”

Quick Feeds: Boston College leads all Hockey East tenants in every team category with the exceptions of penalty kill and special teams net -the latter of which is the Friars’ forte. PC is also second to the Eagles’ power play by 2.2 percentage points…From Chestnut Hill, the Friars will open their season series against Merrimack with a Saturday night hornlock at Lawler Arena. The listed face-off time for both games is 7:00.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hockey Log

Dented Friars seek swift redemption

To close out their weekend venture to Vermont, which had started with a painstaking 3-2 Friday triumph, the PC women sopped up a statistical hitch not unlike that which nipped their male counterparts two weeks previous in Lowell.

Within four minutes of at least extracting three of four allotted points from the plebeian, though noticeably go-getting Catamounts, the Friars relinquished a 2-1 decision with 3:09 remaining in Saturday night’s third period, forcing them to settle for the split and only their second loss out of eight games this January.

Even with a pair of much more sparkling slates discipline-wise (PC only took three penalties per game). Even with the newfangled line of Mari Pehkonen with freshmen phenoms Jean O’Neill and Alyse Ruff cracking out of its chrysalis. Even with freshman goaltender Jennifer Smith getting a near-spa treatment of a fourth career start Saturday with only 12 shots faced versus the 31 that the Friars whisked at Vermont’s Kristen Olychuk -11 of those split amongst the aforementioned forward unit.

All that, and in the end, while the Catamounts finally hatched the goose-egg in their Hockey East win column, not to mention smashed a losing rut (0-18-1) that had plagued them since the Red Sox trailed 3-games-to-2 in the ALCS, Providence lost an edge on its blades.

Through the Saturday shortcoming, the Friars missed an opportunity to pull even with the still-searing Connecticut Huskies for second place in the conference. And, as of Monday, they were docked all of their votes in the USCHO poll.

There is little time for head-scratching and self-kicking back at Schneider, though. The Friars resume play on Thursday night by hosting Part I of a home-and-home with Boston University, only eleven days after they kicked a few ice chips on the resurgent Terriers, 3-1, on January 20.

In that interim, BU (5-5-1) has charged up a 1-0-1 log in a home pair against Maine, inching itself into fourth place and an earshot three points behind Providence (6-3-2). In a patent pre facto stakes summary, another four enticing points will be up for grabs when the two clash on campus Thursday and again at Walter Brown Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Neutral Buoyancies: The immediate pasts between the Friars and Terriers –both against one another and in general- are hyping another arm-wrestling, defensive matchup.

In five games this month, BU has amassed a 2-2-1 transcript and a reflective goal count of 11 for, 11 against. Sunday’s 4-3 tip-over of the Black Bears was the only one of those games where they mustered more than three tallies. The Friars have similarly gone 2-1-1 since resuming their Hockey East slate, outscoring the opposition by an unfussy 8-6 aggregate in those four contests.

In their only get-together so far, PC’s 36 registered shots were the most that Terrier stopper Allyse Wilcox has dealt with in this recent stretch. Boston, meanwhile, took 27 stabs at Danielle Ciarletta, only one less than she saw out of New Hampshire the previous day though a good ten more than she got out of the Catamounts last Friday.

Plus signs: On the ice for all four PC goals (two of which she assisted on) and only one UVM strike over the weekend, Erin Normore leads all Friar skaters with a plus-15 rating. Ciarletta continues to lead the whole team in that category, boasting an imposing plus-17, a figure matched by Boston College hot hand Deborah Spillane and exceeded only by three UConn Huskies and six UNH Wildcats.

Meanwhile, Normore’s fellow defender Colleen Martin augmented her rating to a plus-11, a count that BU’s rookie sensation Jillian Kirchner leads her team with.

Quick Feeds: With a helper on her classmate O’Neill’s conversion, freshman defender Amber Yung splashed her own dry spell that had spaced over ten games and improved her scoring log to 1-8-9…Yet another rookie, Leigh Riley, nabbed her first point through an assist on Sarah Feldman on Friday…First-line partners Feldman and Danielle Tangredi each saw three-game point streaks halted on Saturday. Nonetheless Tangredi now has a revolutionary 3-2-5 transcript over eight games with her new unit, easily bettering her 3 point aggregate before term exams…Senior Kathleen Smith uncharacteristically posted one shot during Friday’s win in Burlington, and it didn’t arrive until there were 17 seconds to spare in the third period.