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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Women's Hockey 5, Connecticut 1

Power to PC

Friars overthrow UConn, advance to HEA championship

Report based on CSTV’s Gametracker service

Storrs, Conn.- The Friars’ third visit to Connecticut in 2007-08 was less of a charm and more of a seaport-bred pearl. Given the difference in dynamics and lining up the three scoreboards, it was a few shavings shy of a 360-degree reversal.

After submitting to the longer-gelled Huskies in two regular season drop-ins by an 8-0 aggregate, Providence returned for Saturday’s Hockey East semi-final game with only a week-old passport to the tournament. They proceeded to charge up a startling 5-1 victory, holding UConn off the board until a late 6-on-4 empty net/power play sequence with 2:28 to spare in the third period.

With that, and roundly braced New Hampshire’s 8-0 throttling of Boston University a few hours previous, the league’s old time Habs-Leafs style rivalry will revive in Sunday afternoon’s championship. The Friars will be drooling after a chance to avenge last year’s falter in the same game when the Wildcats hoisted their second consecutive conference banner on their home pond.

Hot-bladed Mari Pehkonen dismantled her teams scoring woes on this surface, spotting two goals on as many shots within the first fourteen minutes of play. Freshman blueliner Amber Yung pitched in a natural playmaker hat trick to have the Friars up 3-0 just before the halfway mark. And by the time all the ink dried on the scoresheet, half of the 18 Providence skaters were on it –including three holdovers from their last conference title team in Kathleen Smith, Cherie Hendrickson, and Kelli Doolin.

Referee Bill Doiron made his own ripples in the game, issuing a total of seven penalties to each bench, eleven of those calls coming in the decisive first two periods. But PC somehow reaped all of the power play rewards, converting thrice with 12 registered stabs at UConn goalie Brittany Wilson while only letting three come within Danielle Ciarletta’s reach when on the kill.

The Friars sculpted a light 7-5 edge in the shooting gallery over the first twenty minutes, though they saw another seven attempts blocked and another four go wide. But with that statistically blanketed imbalance, PC spun the Huskies into a mad dog state, drawing three scarring penalties on the host club.

After they were issued a bench minor for too many players at 4:04, UConn did spark a quick shorthanded break. But when Ciarletta stifled that, an attacking Jennifer Chaisson took a contact to the head citation and granted Providence 54 seconds of 5-on-3.

By the 5:56 mark, eight seconds before the Huskies’ first sentence was through, point patrollers Amber Yung and Erin Normore kneaded a setup for the Finn Friar’s first strike.

Within another eight minutes, Brianna Uliasz was flagged for hooking and watched from her cell as Pehkonen planted a 2-0 Providence edge, converting a feed from linemate Jean O’Neill at 13:12.

Opportunity did make haste to swerve UConn’s way near the end of the period and onto the fresh sheet. But by the sixth minute of the middle frame, they had spilled their own threesome of power plays, mustering zilch in the way of whacks at Ciarletta.

Only ten seconds after Friar Katy Beach made her second jailbreak of the game, an interference call on Bridget King put the PC strike force back on duty. Though the Huskies withstood one registered shot by Normore on that kill, they were right back at it at 7:55 –ten ticks after King’s release- due to a checking infraction by Cristin Allen.

Yung fanned on two attempts from her point post before handing things over to Alyse Ruff. Ruff in turn found Smith, who drilled home the Friars’ third conversion of the day at 9:40.

PC got a brief kicker minutes later when back-to-back penalties granted UConn 29 seconds of 5-on-3. But Ciarletta pushed away all three shots faced over that stretch and getting the rest of the period off.

Hendrickson augmented the lead to 4-0 right at the horn, nailing home a Doolin rebound.

The Friars flustered the Huskies’ rally efforts for the better part of the third period, deploying another laser-beamed PK square around the halfway mark that forced three attempts to go wide and another off the post.

Michelle Binning finally put her club on the board at 17:32 only to have Normore solidify the four-goal difference with an empty netter at 19:34.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Boston University 2, Men's Hockey 0

Egg-annis Arena

Friars go down swinging in another BU blanking

Report based on NESN broadcast

BOSTON- Prior to this season curtaining series against Boston University, Friars’ coach Tim Army had only once felt compelled to call upon a fireman in relief of senior goaltender Tyler Sims. That was back on December 28 against regal Michigan when Chris Mannix took the final twenty minutes of a 6-0 slide.

Before even two minutes of Friday’s second period were through, he had swapped his crease custodians on consecutive nights, calling upon Ryan Simpson. Sims had just relinquished two goals on a mere 10 Terrier shots while his skating praetorians had been arid on the scoresheet all weekend.

To their credit, the Friars promptly revived their lopsided shot clock trend –something they didn’t do nearly as explicitly in Thursday’s glacial meltdown at home- to eventually outshoot Boston, 33-17.

But the Terriers were a few hops ahead in the shuffling game, as goaltender Karson Gillespie confirmed by bolstering a 2-0 final before 5,532 at Agganis Arena.

For all the spotless play by established starter Brett Bennett, who pitched Thursday’s shutout with a fairly digestible 26 shots faced, BU professor Jack Parker implicitly started Gillespie for sentimental Senior Night purposes.

By the looks of the end result, Gillespie earned the envy of Sims, whose chances of putting on formal game attire at Schneider Arena have officially dispelled.

With Boston College’s OT collapse to Northeastern, the Friars remain deadlocked for the fourth and final home ice seed in the Hockey East playoff bracket. But the Eagles have one more chance to hurdle ahead and stamp their final claim.

What’s more, the Huskies (12-12-2) are only one point behind both PC (11-11-5) and BC (10-9-7).

That data points to a near-certain return trip to the Hub for next week’s best-of-three. Come what may, the best the Friars can do is ensure they are out of the fetters that plagued them for the better part of this series.

Much like the Thursday fixture, a generally air-hockey paced contest unfolded for the bulk of the first period, both strike forces at best affording a single slurp of java per visit to the nets. But when there were prolonged, substantial buzzes, Boston did all the quality berry-picking, at one point testing Sims with four succeeding shots in the thirteenth minute.

And at 6:28, in one of their quicker, more unruly swirls, the Terriers planted the early edge. Winger Jason Lawrence assumed control of a fugitive puck around the far hash marks and flicked it through a black forest to Joe Pereira. Pereira just as nimbly settled it with his left boot and thrust a backhander over Sims’ trapper.

The Friars, meantime, amassed their shallowest bushel in a stanza this season with five registered stabs at Gillespie.

Army made his call to the bench door at 1:33 of the second when BU promptly rekindled its power play productivity (they had converted both of their limited opportunities Thursday, but went dry on their first two Friday) for the 2-0 edge. Colin Wilson set off a magnetic feed out of the far corner to pointman Matt Gilroy. Nick Bonino emerged to accept Gilroy’s return feed along the post and thrust it home.

Once Simpson was on duty, however, the Providence strike force perked up. For the remainder of the period, they dictated the shooting gallery, 13-6, for a cumulative lead of 18-16 by intermission.

The Friars sustained that long-needed molecular trend well into the closing frame, charging up six unanswered shots within the first 8:30 of play. And they continued to stoke around Gillespie’s porch –ultimately mounting a 15-1 advantage on the period- well enough to hound the Terriers into a cringe-worthy rash of penalties. Between 13:46 and 17:39, BU’s Bonino, Bryan Ewing, and Eric Gryba all took two-minute sentences, setting up two 14-second 5-on-3 stretches in the process.

But even that tide turned as Gillespie swallowed and tilted everything and in effect deflected some frustration on the Friars. Gilroy drew late minors on both Nick Mazzolini and Jon Rheault within the last three minors to help neutralize PC’s last ditch sugar rush.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Boston University 6, Men's Hockey 0

Hot Dogs

MacArthur, Terriers singe Friars

Apparent remnants of the nose-dive virus that throttled the Bruins in Washington on Monday resurfaced Thursday at Schneider Arena to plague the Friars.

The final shooting gallery favored PC, 26-20 –an uncharacteristic count for both clubs, who came in with the two most active stick racks in the conference. Yet on its first seven allotted stabs, Boston University sculpted a 4-0 lead –the first three of those goals all coming from heat gun Pete MacArthur- by the 7:03 mark of the second period, at which point PC coach Tim Army summoned a time out.

By the start of the closing frame, BU had inched ahead 5-0, the muffled home portion of the audience had condensed considerably, and PC’s backup goaltender Ryan Simpson had succeeded Tyler Sims –who has perhaps taken the last bow of his distinguished collegiate career on home ice.

By night’s end, the Terriers had stamped a 6-0 triumph. For them, it was snappy supplementary redemption from last Saturday’s 5-1 drawback against UMass –where they authorized five goals on a slim 15 shots against and cut off their seven-game winning streak. They also guaranteed that the Friars cannot catch them in their bid for second place in the playoff bracket.

Instead, when these teams reconvene at Agganis Arena on Friday, Providence will merely be lashing out everything in their hands to preserve a home slot for next week’s quarter-finals. But there are eight other Hockey East teams, three within striking range of the fourth-place Friars, who will have a game in hand until late Saturday.

“We haven’t spent a lot of time (studying) our opponent. We’re a good hockey team when we come out ready to play to our strengths, so nothing changes for us,” said Army. “Obviously, home ice is at stake, but home ice will mean nothing if we don’t come prepared to play the best possible game we can play.”

In the wee minutes of Thursday’s contest, the Friars looked to be scraping out rewards of preparedness, charging up all of the first eight registered shots within 9:05 of play. The Friars’ close shave tempest climaxed with senior captain Jon Rheault dangling the BU defense and coming face-to-face with goaltender Brett Bennett, only to fumble the puck before he could muster a shot.

Afterwards, the Terriers took five unanswered, albeit sparsely distributed, stabs at Sims and converted on two. In the eleventh minute, their top forward unit ran a prolonged grinding session behind the cage that had Bryan Ewing lacing a feed up front to Chris Higgins. Higgins handed it off to his captain MacArthur, who batted it into the gaping right half of the net.

Later, with less than two minutes till intermission, Higgins forwarded the puck across neutral ice to an unguarded MacArthur, who bolted in alone from the blueline and ultimately jammed home his own rebound.

At 4:22 of the middle frame, Ewing again thrust out a feed for Higgins from behind the net. MacArthur again snuck in to the right of Sims and buried Higgins’ feed, polishing his natural hat trick and his linemate’s playmaker trick.

Eighty-five seconds later, Friar Chris Eppich was flagged for holding, inviting the Terriers to another extra-man strike. In another head-spinning tour around the PC zone, Brandon Yip unleashed a low slapper from the straightaway point and watched Nick Bonino catch it on the spot and lasso it around a flopping Sims.

At 15:05 BU’s Jason Lawrence clamped down a fluttering fugitive puck and nimbly raced it down the far alley. He shipped it across to linemate Joe Pereira, who skipped it through Sims’ legs.

Simpson stepped in for the third, getting his first lick of game action all season, and helped to generally compress the bleeding. But Bennett, who had his sweatiest period of the night with 10 shots faced and two penalty kills, pushed everything away while John McCarthy finalized the 6-0 blowout with 10:58 to spare.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hockey Log

PC men look to sustain momentum

Blistering BU the final regular season opponent

As the specialized 2007-08 laws of Hockey East physics ruled, the Friars served to tilt everything their way in the process of wresting three out of four points from Boston College last weekend. They rinsed out the previous weeks’ perplexing double-dose of Merrimack vinegar, inched two spots ahead in the USCHO poll (#19 to #17), earned first-time membership in the pairwise rankings, and –for the moment- regained a home ice slot for the playoffs.

Ironically, if the regular season were cut off a week short, Providence would be retooling to face the same Eagles –who they beat in the season series 2-0-1- in a best-of-three at Schneider Arena.

“I certainly like the way that we’re playing,” granted head coach Tim Army. “We played good hockey at BC, scored some timely goals, were able to get another big win at Boston College and set the mood for the weekend.

“I think it was a residual of our good play against Merrimack. You don’t always get rewarded, but if you stay with it, you keep playing good hockey, you will get rewarded in the long run.”

Not much length remains in the run to post-season play, however. In fact, PC gets a head start on the rink-based version of Judgment Week Thursday night as they host the other traditional Hub Hunks from Boston University. The teams will follow up with a twig-lock at Agganis Arena on Friday and then watch –most likely with a full set of crossed fingers and toes- the as the other ten lottery balls in the conference skip around one more time Saturday.

In a league-wide campaign that would have any puckheaded Lewis Black impressionist demand that everyone “Try and go through this logically” on at least one event per week, BU has only replenished its contenders’ image in the second half. Since Christmas, they are 11-3-2 in conference games after an abysmal 2-6-1 start.

Over the month of February, they vacuumed all seven of their regular league games –a streak that just ended last Saturday through a 5-1 lashing by UMass- and converted negative energy from a 4-3 falter to BC in the first round of the Beanpot by claiming third place the subsequent week.

Army’s logic: “BU always plays their best hockey this time of year. Usually, they really get themselves going around the Beanpot –usually they win the Beanpot. I think the loss to Boston College seemed to put a charge into them. They had a seven game (winning) run in Hockey East games, which is not easy to do as this time of the year.”

And now, the Terriers (13-9-3) are in a knot with Vermont for second place –which is as far as anybody may go what with New Hampshire already having made its claim to the peak. But the fourth-place Friars are only two points behind at 11-9-5 and themselves in a technical tie with BC.

Maybe toss in the fact that BU, deep under the national radar for the duration of their prolonged construction project, is only one slot ahead of PC in the eyes of USCHO at #16. Or, maybe not, if you’re perpetually tunneled on the 60-minute here-and-now like Army.

“You can only control one thing, and that’s how you play,” he said. “Sometimes when you try to control variables that are not controllable, the one thing that you do is let slip the areas you need to stay focused on. So we’re not focused on standings, we’re not focused on national rankings, we’re not focused on how the weekend is gonna play out. We simply are ready to play our game.”

Boston cannons: As part of their forceful resurgence, handfuls of the Terrier roster have hopped on to the forefront of the Hockey East scoring charts. Seniors Bryan Ewing and Pete MacArthur are Nos. 1 and 3 with 32 and 31 respective points.

Their top four blueliners –Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Gilroy, Colby Cohen, and Brian Strait- have combined for a reckonable 46 points. Although, the Friars boast their own pair of hot-bladed defenders in Matt Taormina (league-best 25 points) and Cody Wild (22), who is on a three-game scoring streak.

Additionally, the Friars and Terriers hold the two heaviest cumulative shot on net bushels among Hockey East tenants this season. PC leads that derby by a count of 928-841 in conference play and 1224-1148 overall.

“They’ve got some very skilled defensemen, some very skilled forwards, and some good physical players who create space for those skilled guys,” said Army. “They’re a team that will be aggressive, they’ll be physical, they’ll put a lot of pucks to the net, and they’ll be looking to try and create some traffic and secondary opportunities.”

Quick Feeds: These teams have not met since November 1, when the Terriers snagged their first win of the season through a 5-2 decision at Schneider. With that, BU remains the only team that the Friars have yet to take any points from…Many typical game night accessories –pep band, mascot, and many student spectators- will likely be missing Thursday due to a concomitant men’s basketball game. However, those who are going to Schneider have been asked to participate in a white-out event...Friday’s game at BU will be televised on NESN, beginning with 7:00 pre-game coverage before a 7:30 draw.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Hockey Log

Hot line won’t stop dealing

For junior Mari Pehkonen and freshmen Jean O’Neill and Alyse Ruff, Saturday’s regular season finale was a rare triple-goose egg on the scoresheet. And even the day before was somewhat uncharacteristic as their only points came in the form of a Pehkonen goal and two helpers by O’Neill.

Then again, all three members of the Friars’ top line have another year of affiliation ahead of them –not to mention a first-time playoff test to close out 2007-08 this weekend. Of course, there is no guarantee that coach Bob Deraney will not find an even better arrangement for his strike force over that span, but the past month bares no noteworthy hiccups in this trinity.

Even as Boston College bastion Molly Schaus held them off in the 2-2 tie that nonetheless vaulted PC into the playoffs, they tried her well enough with a routine 11 shots. On three separate shifts, one of the three was apt to make use of her linemates’ rebound. It was a fair enough follow-through on Friday’s 13 stabs, one of which Pehkonen poked home on a first period power play.

After they were linked up in mid-January, the three went wholly arid for their first four games and only dampened that drought over a visit to Vermont when Pehkonen inserted a goal the first night, O’Neill on the second.

But ever since, they have combined at least ten shots on net on seven occasions. In four of those games, they accounted for 13 registered stabs, the lone record holder being 14 against Boston University February 2. Pehkonen alone has accelerated her effort to a season total of 97 SOG –behind only top twig Kathleen Smith’s 159- despite having skipped five PC games to represent Finland in two different tournaments.

And as the habitual stirring has persisted, the molecular scoring touch has spiked. Before Pehkonen returned from her second leave over the holidays, Ruff and O’Neill –who have spent the whole season together with such partners as Cherie Hendrickson and Katy Beach-, had nine and seven respective points over 18 games. They each have nine over their latest 11.

Even the well-voyaged veteran Pehkonen, who at times hinted symptoms of badgering jet lag earlier in the year, is producing at a career rate with twelve points in as many games after only six in her first 17.

Starting with five shared points against the Terriers January 31, they have charged up another 22 over the eight-game stretch drive.

Terriers get their turn: Within hours of Saturday’s tie at Schneider, BU knocked the rival Eagles loose from postseason contention with a 2-0 blanking of Northeastern.

When BU followed that up with a 3-2 win on Sunday, they were technically tied for third with the Friars with 23 points apiece. But PC, by virtue of season series supremacy (2-1-0) and a better GF-GA discrepancy (59-51 vs. the Terriers’ 47-44) get dibs on the higher slot.

Journal Jinx?: BC women’s fans may file the latest kiss-of-death grievance against the New England Hockey Journal right in line behind Northeastern men’s buffs.

The February newsstand issue of the Journal depicted Husky coach Greg Cronin and four key members of his clubs early season resurgence, pondering a “NU Era?” Since February 16, Northeastern is on a five-game slide, stripped of national poll membership, and fast losing hope of home ice in the playoffs.

Similarly, on February 14, online columnist Kayvon Pourmand insisted that the Eagles had the best chance between themselves, the Friars, and BU of grabbing passports to Storrs this weekend. But now look who’s in and who’s not?

Quick Feeds: The reported duration for both games over the weekend was 2 hours, 25 minutes. For the Friars, that made for their lengthiest toil of the season since they took 2 hours and 27 minutes to draw a 5-5 knot at Colgate back on October 19…Fourteen PC skaters suited up for all 34 regular season games this season…Erin Normore has one assist in her last three games for a team-leading 18 on the year…The Friars are in line to face tournament host Connecticut in Saturday’s semi-final at 3 PM. They will follow a UNH-BU bout slated for 12:30.