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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Boston College 5, Men's Hockey 1

Friars marooned again; season over

Chestnut Hill, Mass.- In the early, heavily decisive portion of Saturday’s game, one item after another surfaced at the top of the bubble-laden Friars’ Top 10 “Very Last Thing We Need” list. And in equal time, the Boston College Eagles swooped in and took the liberty of checking each item off. It was an updating development so rapid even David Letterman might not have been able to keep pace with it.

A four-goal blizzard within the first fifteen minutes of play climaxed when BC’s mighty mite net-stuffer Nathan Gerbe gathered the puck in his own end, bolted loose to the Friar cage, and then earned a penalty shot when he was tugged by backchecker Pierce Norton. In the one-on-one bid, Gerbe froze with his back to PC goaltender Ryan Simpson before slipping the puck under a kneeling Simpson’s arm, granting the Eagles a 4-0 edge at 14:35.

The Friars compressed the abysmal bleeding afterward, but the score eventually morphed into a 5-1 final, giving BC a 2-0 sweep of the Hockey East quarter-final set and curtaining the 2007-08 installment of the Tim Army Corps.

Between the two butcheries –PC dropped Friday’s series opener by the same score and for many of the same reasons- Army had kept his solution to the goaltending muddle undeclared right up to Saturday’s face-off. In the pre-game warmup, usual starter Tyler Sims led the team onto the ice, hinting that Army was banking on his recovery from an athletic breed of senioritis.

When the Friars reemerged for player introductions, Simpson was the first man on, and the sophomore would perform his first start-to-finish game of the season. But it would pan out in parallel fashion to what proved to be Sims’ last collegiate bow.

By the 2:18 mark of the opening frame, the Eagles were 2-for-4 in terms of shots against Simpson. They first struck at 1:26 when right pointman Mike Brennan absorbed a forward shipment by Brian Gibbons and drilled an ice-kisser for a screening Ben Smith to guide home.

Within another minute, freshman phenom Joe Whitney scooped the remnants of PC’s first shot by Eric Baier, raced it down the far boards and thrust it over to Tim Kunes in the central alley. Kunes left a rebound for an incoming Benn Ferriero to bury.

Six minutes later, with 8:36 expired, Boston made it 3-0 when Dan Bertram ricocheted a face-off win off the near boards and right into the clutch of Carl Sneep at the right circle-top. Sneep’s magnetic slapper turned Simpson to stone as it eluded his mitt.

By the time Gerbe struck, the Eagles were running away with a 12-3 shooting edge, 15-6 at intermission. Afterwards, though, the Friar offense evoked a distinctive rabidity that had not been seen all weekend. In the middle frame, they drenched BC stopper John Muse with 17 registered whacks versus only one Eagle stab at Simpson.

At 2:48, Providence hit the board on their fifth of what would be eleven spaced-out, unanswered bids. Defender Matt Taormina, who had already whiffed twice on one play, discharged a third bid from the center point into a dense forest in front of Muse. Ian O’Connor got a piece of it to guide it home.

Other than that, Muse withstood everything that was thrown at him, including a post-whistle hack by a flustered Jon Rheault at 10:23. That move and resultant fisticuffs landed two Friars and two Eagles in the bin with a cumulative 43 penalty minutes –including a major to Rheault an 10-minute misconducts to the likes of Norton, Ferriero, and Nick Petrecki.

The Friars confined the puck to the BC for much of the third period as well, mustering another 14 shots, but cultivated nothing. Around the halfway mark, meanwhile, the Eagles drilled the dagger courtesy of Gibbons. Linemate Gerbe lassoed a feed from Smith out of the far corner and nimbly handed it off to Gibbons, who zapped his second point of the night in low.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Boston College 5, Men's Hockey 1

Mazzolini, Friars feeling headaches

Chestnut Hill, Mass.- As one of their warm-up songs from back home –“No Leaf Clover” by Metallica, specifically- may put it, “the soothing light at the end of your tunnel is just a freight train coming your way.”

The Friars had a most generous six days to complete the healing process that seemed to arise in the latter portions of last weekend’s slipshod series against Boston University. And all words from head coach Tim Army in the pre-playoff teleconference pointed to poise for a second season clean slate.

As it happened in the quarter-final opener with Boston College, however, the uglier part of PC’s regular season finale at BU was merely an ambiguous trailer to “Nightmare on Commonwealth Avenue.” Before a bipartisan crowd of 2,788 at Conte Forum –site of two of their last three far-between wins- the Friars submitted a brutishly executed 5-1 decision to the Eagles. Instead of rekindling their unexplained regular season magic here, they reran the trendier vanishing act and never recovered.

Among other things, Army would end up forking away starting goaltender Tyler Sims in favor of Ryan Simpson for the third consecutive outing. Additionally, Providence lost starting centerman Nick Mazzolini to an apparent head injury and spilled their chance to recompense a then 3-0 deficit on the resultant 5-minute power play.

Only 78 seconds into Friday’s contest, Army made haste to use his only timeout as the radiant Eagles were making like the Hawks on District Five. Right at the sixty-second mark, Boston broke the ice as forward Dan Bertram was allowed to cradle the puck the length of the rink and deposit a rebound on Sims’ porch. Joe Whitney took a whack before Pat Gannon finished it off.

The PA announcer was hardly through disclosing the details to that goal before Benn Ferriero accepted a feed from Anthony Aiello at the blue line, strolled into the slot, and leveled home his first of two strikes on the night –three if you count the open-ice blow he would eventually deal to Mazzolini.

After their breather, the Friars weathered that tempest, despite an antsy trio of penalties around the halfway mark of the period that left them shorthanded for an incessant stretch of 4:23. But Army shifted crease custodians at 2:03 of the middle frame when fresh ice lethargy bit his team once more.

Eagles forward Matt Greene hustled after backchecker Eric Baier, stapled him in the near corner, and in effect looped the puck around the Providence cage. It would find its way to Ferriero, who blasted a low rider to the right of Sims.

Ferriero drew the ire of visiting Friar Fanatics at 10:12 when he elbowed Mazzolini at his own blue line, jerking the Friar forward to the ice helmetless and wiped. Even worse, PC’s all-you-can-score man advantage was but 27 seconds young when Ian O’Connor got a two-minute flag for hitting from behind. By the time Ferriero’s sentence was up, three minor penalties had been issued and the Eagles had used a 4-on-3 sequence to make things 4-0.

In the thirteenth minute, after Greg Collins had joined O’Connor for kneeing, BC’s quartet scraped out a head-spinning cyclone in the PC end. The far point patroller Whitney would offer a diagonal feed to Bertram, who laced the puck around the net to Nathan Gerbe, who, unguarded along the right post, slammed his first of two past a helpless Simpson.

The Friars did thaw out in terms of attempts at BC goaltender John Muse (32 saves), giving him his biggest sweat with 13 shots in the second period and eventually stamping a dead-even 33-33 final shot count. But their only red- lamper came with 1:43 to spare in the second on an offensive that was hardly settled and lengthy.

Forwards Jon Rheault and Matt Germain, filling in Mazzolini’s void, left a slippery biscuit at the brim of the Boston zone and defenseman Matt Taormina stepped up to buzz a straightaway slapper past a disassembled Muse.

Unmistakable chippiness snuck into the final period –one late incident resulted in two roughing minors to each side- as the Eagles sped up the killing process and finalized the 5-1 tally with 6:13 remaining. Gerbe picked up the remnants of a failed PC rush, sizzled past all challengers, and completed a face-to-face burial between Simpson’s legs.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hockey Log

An honorable exit

PC Women compile handful of runner-up highlights

Second place’s inseparable tag-along, namely a puck-sized lump in the throat, was not in total hiding in the aftermath of the Friars’ 1-0 Hockey East championship falter on Sunday.

When the likes of Rachel Crissy, Kelli Doolin, and Sarah Feldman doffed their lids to claim the runner-up trophy, they unveiled standard regretful faces. They had just curtained their distinguished collegiate careers and left a thorough void in this franchise’s championship legacy as PC has yet to revive its banner-hoisting power since they were rookies.

On the other hand, the gushing pride that spawned the knee-jerk sorrow was also a particularly evident firelog in at least keeping Providence around its familiar ring of contention. That may explain why, during the handshake line with the victorious New Hampshire Wildcats, the likes of freshman Jean O’Neill had a clear-cut grin of solace and wait-till-next-year ambition gleaming through her cage.

At the start of the 2007-08 campaign, the Friars were coming off a similar title falter to these same Wildcats and a final overall transcript of 16-16-4. What they underwent afterwards –just as much of it, if not more, being grazed by ink-and-paper rather than skates-and-ice- might have made this run more reckonable.

The better part of the collegiate puck prophets either suggested that the Friars enjoy their heavyweight status in its final days or ditch it pronto, and they presented a CCM bagful of evidence. UNH making an indisputable claim to the distinction of new coastal queens, Boston College’s promising youth movement, the rise of Connecticut and Boston University, not to mention the fact that there weren’t any Kelli Halcisaks, Karen Thatchers, or even Kristin Gigliottis coming to the Divine Campus for training camp.

But as of Sunday’s buzzer, Providence again boasted the exact same 16-16-4 log and had only relinquished their shot at another title –and admission to the NCAA tournament, a side dish that was not automatically offered the last time they were conference champs- on the last possible day. And in some arguable respects, this near-anonymous edition of the Friars saved their best for last over championship weekend on the host UConn campus.

On league-wide awards night, Cherie Hendrickson, another one of the outgoing ring-bearers, accepted the inaugural Turfer Athletic Award for “tenacity, commitment, and innovation.” Hendrickson had just rebounded from an injury-shriveled junior campaign to charge up 14 points over the regular season, matching her aggregate output over her first three seasons.

Hendrickson was one of six Friars to match or surpass personal career years this season, another being classmate Kathleen Smith, who nabbed a spot on the Hockey East First All-Star team upon getting a team-best 30 points out of her precision puckslinging. Power forward Alyse Ruff, meanwhile, was named to the All-Rookie team.

PC, a last-minute confirmation for this year’s playoff upon abolishing the hopes of underachieving BC a week earlier, proceeded to put forth two tournament games with the shot counts of a New Jersey Devils intraquad contest. Yet in the semi-final, they utterly numbed the host Huskies, 5-1, nailing five of 23 stabs and going 3-for-6 on the power play to match a season-best 50% single-game conversion rate.

They also annihilated UConn’s boa constrictor handle on them in Freitas Ice Forum (they were shut out in their two regular season visits there), the Huskies’ hopes for an NCAA berth, and the notion that campus site tournaments are a free ride to cloud nine for the host.

Rivalry still thriving: In the post-game quote spreads published on the Hockey East website, both PC skipper Bob Deraney and UNH counterpart Brian McCloskey expressed self-assurance that their programs’ rivalry is in unruffled health, as though the data didn’t make that point already.

Leading up to their fourth title tilt matchup in six years, the Cats had only relinquished one point in regular season play. That point went to the Friars in a 1-1 knot at Whittemore Center January 19. The 1-0 tally in the championship was the closest differential since PC won the inaugural WHEA banner in 2002-03 by the same score against the same adversary.

And with Smith and Mari Pehkonen’s selection, opposite four Wildcats, the All-Tournament team was all PC and UNH for the fifth time in league history. Pehkonen’s selection was her second in as many years. The tournament MVP roll still consists only of Friars or New Hampshire’s Sam Faber –a two time winner this year and in 2006.

Quick Feeds: In Monday’s final USCHO Top 10 poll of the season, Providence was one of three honorable mentions, receiving five votes…Of the eight schools sharpening up for this weekend’s national quarter-finals, five of them –UNH, Dartmouth, Harvard, Mercyhurst, and St. Lawrence- all encountered the Friars this season.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

New Hampshire 1, Women's Hockey 0

Cats stand on guard

Unable to crack Herman, PC drops title game

Report based on NESN broadcast

Storrs, Conn.- In considerable parallel to the season-long enterprise of keeping their reckonable fa├žade from becoming a mere relic, the Friars took a few precious moments to thaw out in Sunday’s Hockey East championship tilt.

When they fused, they forged another model arm wrestling bout with perennial rival New Hampshire, refusing to bend beyond an early 1-0 deficit and carping freshman phenom Kayley Herman around her net in the stretch drive.

But the roundly braced Wildcats –flaunting a 20-0-1 regular season transcript and fresh off a speaks-for-itself 8-0 drubbing of Boston University of the semi-final- held up and stoned the 1-0 final, denying Providence the league banner for the second straight season.

UNH has now three-peated immediately after the PC franchise had done the same upon the advent of this league. And as was the case at this time last year, the Cats will now be fostering for a national quarter-final clash with St. Lawrence while the Friars have settled on a .500 overall finish to their campaign.

Sam Faber, the very peak of the Wildcats’ Cyclopean scoring chart, planted the clinching goal on a crucial break late in Sunday’s first period –wherein UNH rang up an 11-4 edge in the shooting gallery. Friar Mari Pehkonen was swinging into a routine breakout whoosh before she was entangled by adamant backchecker Maggie Joyce.

Joyce proceeded to boot the biscuit ahead to forward Courtney Birchard along the near boards. Birchard in turn thrust a lateral feed to the Broadway alley, where a loose-flying Faber caught up with it and slipped it between the pads of goaltender Danielle Ciarletta (21 saves).

Providence perked up afterward and virtually pulled even everywhere save for the final frontier of the stats sheet. Effective grating on the part of both defensive units confined the countering strike forces to mostly flurries of shots, particularly over the five penalty kills that each team endured on the day. Both the Friars, whose power play was the clear-cut launching pad in Saturday’s 5-1 shellshocker of the host Huskies, and the Cats –tops in the nation when numerically superior- came up empty on every opportunity Sunday.

As needed, though, Ciarletta and Herman (17 saves) put forth the kind of goalkeeping that only seems to come out of hibernation when hardware and NCAA selection is on the line.

The Friars wrinkled the shooting discrepancy to 7-6, New Hampshire, through the middle frame and then led that category 6-4 in the third. In the sixth minute of the second, they afforded themselves two shorthanded near-misses –tthe first by Sarah Feldman and the latter by defender Brittany Simpson- to supplement a spilled power play the previous period when Ciarletta had to compress two Wildcat breakaways.

Within the final five minutes till the second intermission, the Cats endured three minor calls to grant PC a nearly unbroken 4:26 string of man-up time. Only four seconds after a savory 5-on-3 sequence expired for Providence, Joyce biffed Simpson before the New Hampshire bench, thereby earning a contact to the head citation.

UNH sewed its discipline back up for the better part of the third, though the Friars were creating many more quality swirls around Herman’s porch. In the eleventh minute, on the final PC penalty kill of the game, captain Rachel Crissy stripped defender Kacey Bellamy deep in the near circle and proceeded to take a face-to-face stab at Herman.

Only seconds after that fell through, Jenna Keilch similarly Heimliched Martine Garland and lured Herman out of her crease. Herman would recover to stamp the play before Keilch could muster any solid rebounds.

The Friars drew their last advantage –a slashing infraction on the part of Jenn Wakefield- in the final minute with Ciarletta already pulled and the six-pack attack gnashing about the New Hampshire end. But nothing they discharged on that last-ditch buzz even came within reach of Herman.