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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Men's Hockey 4, Vermont 3 (OT)

Matt Tear-em-ina
Friars pull through in tempestuous marathon with Vermont

With 1:15 left in regulation, a 3-3 deadlock, and a draw looming in Vermont territory, the oft-carnivorous student cheering section of Schneider Arena rose to its feet.

By the time the game was finalized, defenseman Matt Taormina led a rampant cavalry charge straight towards a jubilant Friar Fanatic mass upon inserting the winning strike with 14 ticks to spare in the bonus round.

After Providence had failed on three other whacks during the five-minute overtime, John Cavanagh skipped a face-off win from the near circle back to Hockey East’s master blueline puckslinger. Taormina settled the play and let an oily wrister drip through a screen and home behind goaltender Joe Fallon (season best 39 saves), granting the Friars the 4-3 win and a split of their weekend hosting to the Catamounts.

Capping off an altogether dreary day as far as PC sports go –both basketball squads and women’s hockey all endured chin-knocking losses Saturday afternoon- and trying to rinse away their personal vinegar from Friday’s inept 2-1 falter, the Friars served up a comparatively gourmet dish for the rink-going evening mass of 2,121.

Taormina’s decider averted any spoilage of a milestone night –senior captain Jon Rheault charged up career points #99 and 100and pole-vaulted the Friars back into third place in the Hockey East standings. At 10-6-3, they are cozily squished between Boston College and Northeastern, who were both resting up for their Beanpot affairs on Monday.

The Providence offense, blanketed by Fallon and Co. in Friday’s inept fixture, made haste to get cracking in Saturday’s opening frame. At 10:20, Rheault lit the initial match on a shorthanded rush, picking off the puck and darting end-to-end whilst shadowed by two Vermont attackers-turned-backcheckers, and roofed a snapper for a 1-0 edge.

Less than six minutes later, the Friars power play would also cut off its recent hibernation. For a full fifty-two seconds after Catamount Bradey Irwin went off for cross-checking, Cavanagh snatched linemate Pierce Norton’s whiffed attempt behind the cage and thrust it out in front. An incoming Nick Mazzolini was there to flick it in.

But Vermont was anything but submissive to the fast-thawing Friars, who had just kilned their first multi-goal period in a somewhat long eight opportunities. Furious forking behind the PC cage ultimately set up defenseman Slavomir Tomko for a Mark Johnson-type of booster –a goal coinciding with the clock expiring for intermission.

No protest from PC, though; just a nimble redeemer at 1:02 of the second period. Rheault clamped down defender Trevor Ludwig’s rebound along the near post and handed it off to Greg Collins, who batted it into a gaping left half of the cage.

Compared with what had preceded throughout the weekend, Saturday’s final 40-plus minutes had no boundaries in terms of shot allotment. A heated, back-and-forth second period alone saw the Catamounts sculpt a 16-14 edge in the shooting gallery. And at the 11:19 mark, they made like the Friars in splashing a dehydrated power play force to cut the deficit to 3-2.

Far point patroller Viktor Stalberg forwarded a straight-line feed to Brian Roloff, who let a curving bid travel to Jack Downing, who tapped it home from goaltender Tyler Sims’ (30 saves) porch.

Downing was right back at it in the middle of the third, pouncing on a neutral zone giveaway by Taormina and improvising an odd-man rush. Journeying into attacking territory, Downing lured Sims far to his left and out of his crease and in effect laced in the equalizer with 12:38 remaining.

But Providence, which had made point-docking squanders of leads in its two previous outings, shook it off and tipped the shooting scale at 17-8 for the period. In the more climactic stages of regulation and carrying over to the extra session, they generally confined the play to Vermont territory and set the redemption stage for Taormina.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Vermont 2, Men's Hockey 1

Catamounts cut off Friars’ climb

For all the hors d’oeuvres of potential momentum laid before them in Friday’s contest, the Friars made next to no use to collect enough to last them through the night.

They owned a 1-0 edge for a transitory 80 seconds, fell short on their other 36 registered bids at Vermont keeper Joe Fallon, and blew six power play opportunities –including a 5-on-3 bullion that lasted for 1:53 in the second and a full two-minute carryover into the closing frame.

And finally, the visiting Catamounts pounced to wrest away a 2-1 decision before 2,075 bystanders in Part I of this back-to-back series at Schneider Arena.

Vermont defenseman Josh Burrows’ eventual decider –carried out with 12:20 to spare in regulation- was a visually apt reflection of the off-balance end-to-end action on display the whole evening. Upon winning a draw in the Providence end, center Colin Vock handed the disc off to winger Corey Carlson, who in turn laced it back to the far point boards.

Burrows awkwardly stamped it well enough to spare his team a regrouping session in neutral ice and thrust a low rider in through goaltender Tyler Sims’ gaping, upside-down-drawbridge five-hole. The Friars’ offense hit the peak of its rabidity afterward, eventually sculpting a 15-5 shot differential in the closing stanza. But the Green and Gold graters shriveled all of those attempts into digestible bites for Fallon.

From the start, Friday’s fixture was anarchic and generally air hockey-paced as intolerant defenses on both fronts accepted their share of time in the box –all of which they killed- for the sake of keeping their goalies undisturbed. The Catamounts unleashed the first three shots of the game within the first five minutes, but only one was on a power play afforded at the 0:48 mark when Jordan Kremyr took a hitting from behind ticket.

Providence didn’t register any bids until a while after its first man-advantage had expired at 7:08, though it tossed out three in succession on its first sustained attack and went on to berry-pick enough to lead the shooting gallery 9-7 at intermission.

But both teams needed fresh ice before they could strike the back of the mesh, which they both did within the first two minutes. To start, the Friars took flight as John Cavanagh seized the remnants of Sims’ sprawling save on Vermont top gun Dean Strong and bolted down the right alley. Cavanagh would hand it off to his own hot hand, Jon Rheault, who dinged his 15th tally of the season home off the opposite post at 0:34.

Instant karma? Hardly. Try instant payback –not to mention a long-awaited cleansing of the Friars’ one-sided visit to Burlington back in December- on the part of the Catamounts.

After stoning the reasonable 20-shot bushel he faced at the Gutterson Fieldhouse, Sims had no answer for the stalking backdoor patroller Wahsontiio Stacey. Stacey’s linemate, Viktor Stalberg, forwarded a magnetic behind-the-net feed to Kyle Medvec, whose subsequent slapper brushed Sims’ boot and roosted right in Stacey’s clutch for the nimble rebound insertion.

To their credit, the Friars gradually thawed out their good-and-plenty shooting trend and pulled further ahead in that category. And after withstanding back-to-back penalty kills (including 13 seconds with two men missing) around the halfway mark of the game, Providence effectively flustered the Catamounts into their own moments of shame in the box.

But there would be no shame for Fallon to swallow as he instead engulfed four power play shots late in the middle frame then needed to tilt aside just one from Joe Lavin –his fellow Chicago Blackhawk prospect- while killing a two-minute boarding sentence taken by defenseman Patrick Cullity at the second period buzzer.

PC logged another four stabs before the Catamounts made haste to run off with a near-miss by Friar Matt Germain in the eighth minute. Sims summoned a whistle at 7:32 by handling a Stalberg shot, but within another eight seconds would relinquish the game clincher, Vermont’s penultimate shot of the night.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Hockey Log

Friars strictly fixated on present

If the Hockey East playoff picture were hypothetically fused for this weekend –which it is anything but- the converging agendas at Schneider Arena would be unruffled. Friar Fanatics would still be gearing up to watch the third-place locals lock sticks with Vermont, owners of the sixth seed in the league.

Reality check: both the Friars (9-5-3 in conference play) and Catamounts (6-6-5) have ten solid games still to digest on their regular season slates. And the aggregate four allotted points in this two-game set matches their differential on the leaderboard.

All of the above is irrelevant to Providence head coach Tim Army.

“You can’t focus on the end result,” he stressed firmly. “You’ve got to put together a game plan from the day you start skating. You’ve gotta talk about it, you’ve gotta teach it, you’ve gotta enact it. You can only control what you can control, so for me, I don’t get caught up in winning games because it means more points or because it’s head-to-head. It’s another good team, it’s another team in our league, it doesn’t matter where it is or who you’re playing. We have to play good hockey.”

Right now, the Friars are arguably carrying the ripest, most substantial jug of momentum of the season. And they have the rare opportunity to dispense in a single venue –their home venue at that- against a single adversary on back-to-back evenings.

The prospective kicker, Army cautions, is that Vermont is looking bright and bold enough itself.

“We have to be ready,” he said. “They are disciplined defensively. They play disciplined off the puck. They create a lot of numbers between the puck and their net and they have some talented forwards like (Dean) Strong and (Peter) Lenes –those type of players who can hurt in transition if you’re sloppy with the puck. They certainly can take advantage of that.

“We have to be focused on the things that we need to do to be a good team. But we also need to find a way to penetrate those defensive numbers and create scoring opportunities for ourselves but at the same token still be diligent, still be detailed and not give those Vermont players a lot of looks at our net.”

Both PC and Vermont have wheedled out at least a point out of five of their last six respective games. The Friars are withholding an unbeaten run of 3-0-1, a half-and-half tie at Merrimack being the freshest additive to that, while the Catamounts had a 2-0-2 streak broken off by New Hampshire last Saturday before they took the negative energy of that 5-1 loss out on UMass-Lowell on Sunday.

“They’ll come in ready to play,” Army prophesied. “We’re all jockeying for a position right now, so as we keep stressing to our kids, ‘Let’s just get better every day,’ control what we can control, stay detailed, and be ready to play our best possible game.”

Refreshed picture: In their lone visit to Burlington, an altogether lengthy ten weeks back, the Friars began to find their groove by beating out a 4-0 win, in the process discharging Vermont’s established starter Joe Fallon about the halfway mark of the game.

Since then, though he has shared more of the blue paint with Mike Spillane, Fallon has started all of his games to stay and compressed the recent Wildcat wounds on Sunday, pushing away 31 Riverhawk shots for the 3-2 win and his fifth point in three starts.

“They have played better hockey since we last played them,” Army observed. “We had two weeks to get ready and had two good, hard weeks of practice (in advance), are we were able to get out of there with two big points but Vermont has played good hockey since Christmas.

Three of a kind: Earlier this week, Friars Jon Rheault, Tyler Sims, and Matt Taormina were all declared semi-finalists for the Walter Brown Award, the emblem of individual excellence in New England collegiate hockey.

Rheault and Taormina are currently knotted for PC’s point-getting lead at 23 apiece (Taormina leads all defenders in the conference) while the senior goaltender Sims is on pace for a platter of career-best data.

Another nine Hockey East skaters and three ECAC inhabitants are also in consideration.

The awards’ supervising committee, the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston, noted in a press release that it would trim down its nominee list in another month before it crowns the last skater standing s the award’s 56th annual recipient after the conference championships.

Quick Feeds: In the previous PC-Vermont get-together, Rheault concocted his first of what are now three two-goal performances this season with help credited to then-linemates Matt Germain and Ian O’Connor…In strict Hockey East action, the Friars remain the only team to have relinquished less than ten power play goals (6) while tacking on a league-leading five shorthanded lighters…The Catamounts’ hottest blade of late has been that of sophomore Viktor Stalberg, who has cultivated three goals and four assists in his last six outings…Cox Sports Television will deliver its final regular season broadcast at Saturday’s game. Vermont’s cable follower, Comcast CN8 will be on hand to cover both contests.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Commentary

An answer for everything
Famed BU alumnus Roy grips PC students’ minds, spirits

I made my way down to Slavin Center Wednesday evening in a collegiately conventional muddle. I had an 80-plus page reading assignment to chew up and digest, a weighty essay project lodged in a pothole, and an itch to try and make headway on my next couple of Friar Hockey reports.

Upon leaving, after listening to guest speaker Travis Roy –who for a puckheaded audience especially on this coast needs no introduction- my psyche had been Zambonied, in terms of both weight and sense of refreshment.

The vast bulk, if not the entirety, of Wednesday night’s audience long knew the Travis Roy saga, though it is understandably reiterated as the ex-BU Terrier pens his new diary as a motivational speaker and paralysis research activist.

Watching the introductory video to Roy’s speech, a handful of viewers gasped at the 12-year-old highlight of his headfirst collision as though it were live. By the time the brief reel was winding down and Roy approached the stage, some faces were sniffling and streaming already.

But one of the points that Travis’ father, Lee, made in the video would be verified with no breathers for the next hour: not a snippet of the younger Roy’s character has been altered by what swatted and ousted his playing career on October 20, 1995.

All through his morally incomprehensible trials, Roy has never ceased to present himself as a high-spirited young man. And for the duration of Wednesday’s lecture, he upheld –through a solid rotating unit of explicit and implicit diction- the notion that his values have never changed. Rather, they have just found wings in new venues.

Indeed, Roy’s habit of incessant goal-setting, which he admitted to not picking up on until he had started high school, was first employed in the suspected fields –the rink and the classroom. Later, he said, in therapy, he was raising a bar with everyone from scuba-diving instructors to hunting enthusiasts as he began to restore a normal, interactive life.

The new wave of ambition, Roy noted, served as “a reality check…but the great part about it was I got that little sense of satisfaction,” just as he had when he hacked at his pre-season checklist of hopeful hockey stats.

Whatever he is aiming at, he went on to state that a self-assured sense of pride is his daily paycheck.

“It’s knowing at the end of the day that you gave it your all. And that’s all you can ask,” he said.

Even as Roy rolled out a piece-by-piece account of the week and day that his stint as one of Professor Parker’s Pupils began and ended –another point where tissues became a requirement in the audience- he revived the declaration of achievement he had uttered to his father that evening.

Melancholy would be a trite, not to mention scantily profound, assessment of the buildup to Roy’s first and only shift and the aftermath of his horrid accident. Yet the fragment of the story that still has not attracted any moths is that he summoned his father to ice level to proclaim, more than anything, that he had made it.

Even as he was also stressing the “trouble” he was in, Roy recalled, he was resolute that eleven seconds worth of Division-I hockey accounted for more than zero. And even in the subsequent, unscheduled new chapter, he has run a tireless mill that not only converts negative energy, but unearths other principles that he shared in his talk.

Both his official website and the latter stages of his speech state: "Some challenges we choose, while other challenges choose us. The question is whether or not we conquer the challenges life presents us or do we surrender to them."

For instance, with the challenge that comes with his change in appearance and activity, Roy has adopted a simple, though gripping angle on respect for others. “When you meet someone new,” he suggested to his listeners and adding an array of diverse traits one might display, “you give them your utmost respect from the start.”

If I fused all of what I heard correctly, anyone has the privilege of taking any moment for a clean slate. I have heard driving discourses similar to this more times than I can count, but never from someone who had to gnash and grind through so much just to conceive and deliver such a stimulating sermon.

So now I have a vague, though indubitably existent sense that I can come away from the personal items listed in the lead paragraph satisfied. And hopefully, this time, the too-often-faded lessons that Travis Roy refreshed for us will have a full-time spot on our perspectives’ roster.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hockey Log

PC Men hoping ice keeps solid

The Friars’ crispest highlight reel is saturated by Merrimack goaltender Andrew Brathwaite zapping umpteen –namely 50 out of 51- registered shots into barren half-atoms towards a 1-1 tie last Saturday.

An immediate tingling consequence of that was a speed bump to what was almost PC’s season-best winning streak. Nonetheless, having extracted three-quarters of the allotted points over the weekend, Providence is a touch more rigidly locked into third place in the conference. Additionally, as of Monday’s refresher, they have ascended from 14th to 12th in the nation according to USCHO.

On Friday, hours after NESN analyst Brendan Walsh had termed them the “sneakiest” program in the conference, the Friars tipped over Boston College, 3-2. Kilning that with the half-full finish in The Valley, they closed within one knob of the second-place Eagles in the Hockey East standings, which right now is coach Tim Army’s most prized asset.

“Every point’s important,” he said, “and I think we recognized that a couple of weeks ago when we lost in the last second of overtime at Lowell. We squandered a point that night.

“I think two things come into play. One is ‘how did you play? Did you play a good solid game? Did you play a complete game?’ and then ‘What ends up happening? Where are you in the win column when the game is over?’

“I thought (at Merrimack) we did a lot of good things most importantly, and we were still able to get a point, which was very important because it obviously adds to your totals and it pushed us into sole possession of third place as of the dust settling on Monday.”

Even now, as but one solitary month lies between now and the quarterfinal playoff rounds, Army conceded that, with no exceptions, any given pair of HEA inhabitants can still jumble to create a guessing game. Providence proved that on Friday when, on one hand, they easily afforded their lightest bushel of shots (23) in recent memory, while on another they kneaded an early 2-0 edge out of their first six before eight minutes had dissipated.

And even after the elastic Eagles pulled even through forty minutes, defender Matt Taormina –the eventual player of the week both in the league’s and the PC athletic department’s eyes- inserted a late decider. All that before Nick Mazzolini took a two-minute sentence for tripping, setting up a 6-on-4 skater deficit within the last 38 ticks, though BC would be hushed on its fourth and final man-advantage of the night.

In a more general summary of the weekend, but especially with the staggering Merrimack reversal in mind, Army offered, “It just indicates how tightly contested our conference is. Every night, you have to come and play well, and I think we’ve learned that as a team. When we’re playing well, we’re capable of playing with anybody across the country.

“But as all teams recognize, it’s been a good learning experience for us. If we begin to get mentally sloppy and we don’t show the details that we need to have to our game, then it doesn’t matter where you play or who you play. You’re going to make it very difficult for yourself to come out with a point or two points.”

Explicitly rest assured that the Friars’ minds, blades, and twigs are all in spruce, functional alignment –as seven out of eight standings points does next to squat to contradict- Army simply looks ahead. More elements, starting with the visiting Vermont Catamounts this weekend, are inevitable. His club’s response, he indicated, will be the make-or-break for their continuity.

“The growth for our program is to recognize that we need to do certain things every night shift to shift. You let your guard down, you get a little sloppy, you take some chances, you get a little bit lazy, and teams will expose that. We’re hoping –as a coaching staff- that our maturity as a team is beginning to reflect the way that we’re playing and that way that we’re preparing for each of our opponents.”

Quick Feeds: Pointless in his first four games of 2008, Taormina has now posted at least one for an aggregate six in each of his latest four outings. His clincher on Friday was a team-leading third this season and his helper on Kyle MacKinnon’s vital strike on the Warriors was his team-best 15th assist…Sophomore defenseman David Cavanagh made his ninth appearance of the season and second in four outings on Saturday, once again standing in for rookie Eric Baier opposite Trevor Ludwig…Meanwhile, up front, Chris Eppich took Saturday night off after appearing in three consecutive games to give Jordan Kremyr another round of action.