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Friday, March 21, 2008

Hockey Log

The PC women's hockey team is expected to distribute its team awards in the near future. Only the players and coaches get an official say in the voting process, but the Free Press decided to offer its own writer's choice selection ahead of time.

Most Valuable Player: Kathleen Smith
When you have a team-leading 16 goals (7 on the power play) and 30 points with the majority of those coming while perched on the point, well, you've made your point.

Smith's senior stats obliterated any bar she had established in her previous years on the Divine Campus. Coming in, she had a career total 13 strikes to speak of and her best year (2005-06) saw her cultivate 24 points. But there was little reason to ponder the spark behind her with-a-bang closure.

With Smith and four others gone, the legacy of PC's only team to ever dip into the NCAA tournament is essentially a hologram. But if she did her job right, Smith helped to leave behind a gang raring to replenish the Friars' banner-hoisting tendencies.

Most Improved Player: Jean O'Neill
O'Neill had but two points to speak of when the calendar morphed into December. But that's okay, she was only a freshman.

Oh no, it isn't, she said through action in the subsequent series against Maine. Beginning with a decisive hustle after a loose puck -on what was already too long of a shift- and an eventual snipe from the far circle, O'Neill charged up two goals and an assist against the Black Bears.

By season's end, she had totalled 7-10-17 on the scoring charts, gobbling most of those as part of the new hot line with classmate Alyse Ruff and Mari Pehkonen.

Unsung Hero: Colleen Martin and Brittany Simpson
Martin -one of the few established project defenders in PC's stable- defined her essence with a rigid +16 rating, third-best on the team behind only two-way connoisseur Erin Normore (+19) and goaltender Danielle Ciarletta (+22).

But Normore has been camera-ready with her trademark singlehanded breakouts as has Ciarletta with her cornerstone netminding. What does Martin get? Well, she should at least get this hunk of hardware to go with her MIP plaque from last season.

Martin's fellow point patroller Simpson charged up a blowaway career year with 15 points (versus a total of 7 in her previous two). Yet the likes of Normore, Smith, and a vast array of offensive specialists tend to shine brighter in the red light. This despite the fact that two of Simpson's four goals were on the power play and that she was the third-busiest puckslinger on the team with 89 shots on net.

7th Player Award (for the player who surpassed expectations): Danielle Tangredi
Simply put, Tangredi is the prime feel-good side dish for this year's Friar diaries (though classmate and captain Rachel Crissy's gutsy return from an ACL injury was a worthy last-minute candidate). The Maine transfer came to PC in 2006 with a petite dish of 16 career points to her credit. In a shriveled junior year with the Friars, Tangredi sprinkled a mere three assists over 24 games.

But this season, Tangredi played all possible games (36) for the first time as a collegian and saved her best stretch for last with six goals and 11 points over the final two months for a senior transcript of 9-5-14.

Additionally, Tangredi inserted three game winners, assisted on another, and potted a particularly vital goal in a January 19 1-1 draw at New Hampshire, the Wildcats' only non-win against a conference rival this season.
West Still Best: The WCHA's Frozen Four hegemony is safe and sound in the aftermath of Thursday's semi-final action. Top-ranked Harvard submitted to two-time defending champion Wisconsin, 4-1, before Hockey East's lone representative from UNH succumbed to the biased dynamics and dropped a 3-2 count to the host Minnesota-Duluth.

With that, the Badgers and Bulldogs will rerun their get-together in Lake Placid last year -a 4-1 Wisconsin triumph- and either way will grant the Midwest its eighth consecutive national crown.

Taormina tabbed: Men's defenseman Matt Taormina was the lone Friar bestowed at Thursday's Hockey East awards banquet, landing a spot on the second All-Star team. Point partner Cody Wild and senior captain Jon Rheault were two of six honorable mentions.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bruins Commentary

Let’s see if they build on this one

It certainly can’t be sold short that the Bruins prevailed in their matinee bout with Philadelphia Saturday; except for the fact that the opposing Flyers didn’t come up short enough.

The most ideal scenario would have been for the Bruins to have scraped out the win in the standard sixty minute window rather than allow Philly to scoop up the automatic point that comes with a bonus round. Instead, they needed to do things the climactic way.

They ended up zapping a persistent 2-1 deficit with 27 seconds to spare in regulation courtesy of Andrew Ference before Aaron Ward inserted the decider at 2:17 of overtime.

Now, how about that? Two lamplighters in a stretch of less than three minutes of play. That was even more efficient than the 2:45 window that pried apart the equalizer and clincher a week previous in a similar 2-1 thriller against Washington.

In dynamics like this, a win is a win, and if terse outbursts such as that get it done for the day, then great.

But this also emboldens the question as to what has been happening to the Bs every other day of the week since the calendar morphed to March. Through nine games over the last 15 days, they have cultivated a 3-4-2 transcript, two of those wins requiring extra action.

In between the most recent outing and a 3-2 shootout shootdown of Atlanta back on March 1, they have failed to hit the net more than twice while authorizing 29 goals by the opposition.

Bruins buffs ought to hope that coach Claude Julien’s public insistence –even if it’s true- that the of late pothole doesn’t reflect the true Black and Gold is not nearly as veiled behind closed doors. Things are near a point where a fundamental Bull Durham pep talk is in order.

This is a simple game, boys. You skate the puck, you pass the puck, and you shoot the puck.

Granted, the Bruins have done all that, but they are hardly lathering their shots with the same effective salsa that they were at other points in the season. The quintessence of the better times just might be the six-game, six-win tear that immediately preceded this muddle. In that stretch, the aggregate goal count read 20-10, Boston favor.

Is there any conceivable explanation behind the post-sugar rush crash we have witnessed more recently? Maybe the fact that they are paying for what they inevitably charged earlier by making up the games in hand they have had for the majority of the season. As noted above, their last nine contests have been spread over a 15-day crunch. The ten that remain on their regular season slate are to be chewed up within the next three weeks.

But that’s where the balancing act really shows. Theoretically, when you have games in hand, the spare time you have early on is best used for storing up the tanks and being ready to take on the sprinter’s mindset when that bill comes to your locker room door.

So far, not so good. After all, in addition to the stalled scoring, captain Zdeno Chara has missed the last three games with an undisclosed injury. And everywhere you look at the NHL scoreboard on a nightly basis, it seems three standings points are being distributed in the games that need it the least –from a Boston perspective at least.

The credit that the 8th-place Flyers got in Saturday’s game nudged them to within two points of the 7th-place Bruins (82 points). Buffalo, 2-1-2 in its last five, is only three knobs behind.

Right behind the Sabres are today’s adversary, the Capitals, knotted with Florida for tenth in the conference with 76 points. The simple conclusion: anything can still happen.

But that goes for the prospect of ascension as well. And when they return from D.C., the Bruins should be advised to make savory, productive use of a rare three days off from game action. The ol’ Montreal menace, perched atop the Northeast Division but only seven points ahead of the Bruins, will be next in line for a home-and-home on Thursday and Saturday.

And, um, when the NHL decided to pit divisional rivals against one another eight times a year, a full-scale sweep was not likely in mind. And over six anguish-saturated drawbacks to the Canadiens already, the Bruins have had nearly triple their season’s share of “Vertigo.”

Just saying.