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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Future Watch Special

Abby Gauthier’s celebrity has already filled most every media crack in Greater Boston.

Raring to join the PC women’s hockey team this fall, Gauthier was already profiled in the Boston Globe –sixteen months ago. Three months later, she was chatting it up with Tom Cuddy of WBZ radio upon finishing a year as junior captain of the St. Mary’s of Lynn team.

And, most recently, as a reward for cementing a cumulative 174 high school goals and 344 points spaced over six eye-catching seasons at Red Sox legend Tony Conigliaro’s alma mater, she was a recent choice for ABC-Boston’s “High Five” segment, an interview now securely stapled on YouTube. (It’s been up for 17 days as of this column and has garnered a respectable 474 views).

None of this, of course, makes her a surefire barn-blower when she carries her blades into Schneider Arena in September. But, for the moment, the Providence can at least gleam with pride over beating the likes of New Hampshire, which is actually a tad closer to Lynn in the way of mileage, in this derby.

Some other slated rookies to watch for:

Ashley Cottrell, F, Detroit Little Caesars- Not unlike Finnish phenom Mari Pehkonen, Cottrell has a nice collection of suitcase stickers, have represented Team USA at the inaugural World U18s and piloted her club to the U19 national tourney. And not unlike Pehkonen’s established linemate, Alyse Ruff, Cottrell has flaunted a pre-collegiate impression of natural goal-scoring. She potted five strikes (as well as five helpers) in as many games en route to World U18 gold and hit the net another five times at Nationals, where Little Caesars eventually nabbed silver.

Kate Bacon, F, Benilde-St. Margaret’s (Minn.)- Opposite Cottrell, and under the upfront watch of future skipper Bob Deraney, Bacon inserted three goals at the World U18 tournament. With her full-time club, she dispensed 29 goals and 19 helpers en route to All-Metro membership. Her scoring touch doesn’t appear quite as substantial, but will likely be welcomed with open arms.

Jennifer Friedman, D, California Wave- Friedman has been commended as a leader for an elite franchise that only recently flooded its rinks for an all-girls squad. Along with fellow Friar pickup Laura Verahanta, she is a Wave pioneer as far as Division I future goes, and she pitched in two assists at the team’s first national tournament appearance.

Meanwhile, as far as friars.com has reported, the Tim Army Corps has officially inked four NLIs for 2008, those being goaltender Justin Gates, forwards Chad Johnson and Rob Maloney, and blueliner Danny New. Other sources such as insidecollegehockey.com (INCH) have the likes of Bridgewater Bandit grinder Chris Rooney under the Providence heading.

Over two seasons in the EJHL, Rooney has produced in mere sprinkles –upgrading his totals to 9-17-26 versus 2-11-13 the previous. It may be noted, though, that he missed hunks of both seasons, playing only 30 of 45 possible games two seasons back and 38 this year.

An appreciable fragment of Rooney’s points this season came at vital moments. He charged up three power play points, two shorthanded, and two game-clinching strikes. He was also one of only four Bandits to bat the mesh in their two-game stay in the playoffs.

One caveat, though: Rooney made himself out to be a Class A penalty minute scarfer, amassing 108 in his latter junior campaign. On four occasions, he broke double-digits in that area, including two 16-PIM nights in the space of a week back in November.

Other yet-to-be-declared but popularly cited commitments include:

Bryce Aneloski, D, Cedar Rapids (USHL)- Aneloski is just hitting the age of 18 as of this Sunday. Such striking youth would make him comparable to Joe Lavin of this year, as does his inclusion in the NHL Central Scouting leaderboard. As of Saturday, the last revisions before the June 20 draft, he was #157 amongst North American skaters. But more importantly, despite that youth, he has already sculpted himself a 6-2, 205 lb. frame, which is all the more craved given Cody Wild’s early take-off from campus.

Andy Balysky, F, Taft Prep- Balysky captained Taft to the New England Prep championships where, according to the critique of McKeen’s Hockey Prospects “had a quiet game” upon meeting New’s Avon Old Farms team. Other than that, he was also cited as “a solid skater with quick strides” “with a quick release and skates well with the puck.” But with 15 of 16 forwards presumably returning as it is, Balysky in particular will need to make a sharp first impression to get an immediate breakthrough.

Matt Bergland, F, Benilde-St. Margeret’s (Minn.)- Along with the aforementioned Maloney, Bergland would make for another intriguing steal from the State of Hockey. He split his four years amongst three different Minnesota high schools and capped things off in climactic fashion, scraping out 70 points as a Benilde senior and earning all-tournament accolades at the fabled state championships. That more explicit data is one more reason for the likes of Balysky and Rooney to enter training camp heads-up.

Bronze seven

Last Wednesday, under the direction of Warwick resident John Hynes, Team USA snatched bronze at the Russia-based U18 World Championships, besting Sweden 6-3. Seven participants, all full-time members of the National Development Program, were bearing imperial Hockey East flags.

Brandon Maxwell, a 2009 BC recruit, put forth a John Muse-like performance, pushing away 42 Swedish shots en route to a personal tourney record of 4-1-0. Kind of suggests that the eyes of Jerry York and Co. know what they want and know when they see it, doesn’t it? But given Muse’s apparent solidity at The Heights (there is no indication that the tireless tumbler will even make waves in the NHL Draft) Maxwell might as well take his sweet time getting there.

The Amerks’ other two games were handled by Joe Cannatta (1-0-1), who is set to join in on Merrimack this September, though the Warriors themselves have a reliably established starter in Andrew Braithwaite. Just ask the Friars, who saw 139 of their 142 stabs at Braithwaite swallowed in three meetings this past season.

Future BU Terrier Vinny Saponari and Maine Black Bear Ryan Hegarty each pitched in three assists while soon-to-be BU blueliner David Warsofsky etched a team-best seven helpers in as many ventures. Only Robbie Czarnik, a Michigan pick-up, bettered his captain Warsofsky in terms of points with eight.

The future of New Hampshire was represented with a little less vigor through Kevin McCarey, who went pointless, and Ryan Bourque, who while posting a 2-3-5 scoring transcript is not due to come to campus until 2009.

Recruiting name game

The latest INCH lists of up and coming collegians for the next two falls are intriguingly sprinkled by names shared with a variety of famous –or, at best, middling- sports and entertainment figures.

For starters, PC’s own Chad Johnson is liable to catch speculation by crossover sports fans that some visually innovative goal-scoring merriment is in store at Schneider.

Then there’s the name of Chris Connolly –a 2008 BU signee- which might perk up the minds of ESPN yesteryear junkies. Chris Connelly (carefully note the sole spelling difference), you may or may not recall, hosted the midday talk show Unscripted during the wee months of this decade.

As of this coming autumn, Cory Schneider is back in college hockey. That is, the Rochester, N.Y.-raised, Ohio State-bound forward who shares a name with the BC Eagle-turned-Manitoba Moose. The yet-to-be-known Schneider goes into Columbus coming off a British Columbia League championship campaign with Penticton, where he pitched in six playoff goals.

Note to Hockey East backstoppers: consider refining your cages between now and 2009. A mighty mite (listed at 5-11, 155 lbs) is Northeastern-bound and his name is Andy Bathgate, just like the New York Rangers’ sharpshooter whose bloodying torpedo encouraged the late Jacques Plante to shield his face. The younger Bathgate’s Husky debut should fall roughly one month short of the 50-year anniversary of Plante’s enlightening experience (November 1, 1959).

For the same year, the Quinnipiac Bobcats have another BCHL-bred striker under their realm in Brooks Robinson. Robinson, playing for the Cowichan Valley Capitals, sported the same uniform number (91) and selfless tendencies as the Bruins’ Marc Savard, penning a team-leading 43 assists and 62 points. His expertise around third base, meanwhile, is not quite certain.

By the time Bathgate is getting acclimated in the Hub and Robinson in Hamden, Michigan will finally be welcoming a distantly forthcoming forward by the name of Chris Brown. But rather than collaborating with Rihanna and inviting her to be his Cinderella, this Brown will be bent on shattering the glass slippers of Notre Dame-like teams, something this year’s Wolverines didn’t quite pull off.

Speaking of Michigan, Ann Arbor-raised goaltender Drew Palmisano is bound this year for…East Lansing? If that doesn’t define “treason” in the Yost Nasties’ dictionary, what does?

Even more quirky, though, Palmisano shares a few common traits with the Spartans’ established crease custodian, Jeff Lerg, through a considerable size deficit (155 lbs. compared to Lerg’s 150) and the fact that he was last seen with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers.

Going for the big Bucs

Okay, this is more a personal note than anything else, but while we’re in the recruitment spirit, former NHLer J-P Parise announced his resignation Thursday from the one-of-a-kind high school powerhouse, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, to coach the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers.

Parise, whose playing resume includes a 21-game sip with the Bruins and participation in the 1972 Summit Series, was most recently entitled the school’s “Director of Prospect Evaluation” overseeing the development of such NHLers as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and his own son, Zach Parise.

Granted, SSM is far more readable for Midwestern ice investors, but to make this story relevant to the coast, the rural Minnesota-based school produced former BC star Patrick Eaves and a handful of Friars all on Parise’s 11-year watch. The Shattuck-PC pipeline includes David Carpentier on the men’s side and current women’s assistant coach Meredith Roth and goaltender Danielle Ciarletta –just to name a few.

As a former student and puck scribe at Shattuck, I bid happy trails and best wishes to the ever-colorful Parise (or, as he is probably terming himself on a golf course this weekend, Par-Easy).

Quick Feeds: Ten days after the declaration, Michigan’s Red Berenson formally received the Spencer Penrose Award as the nation’s top coach Saturday as part of the AHCA coaches’ convention in Naples, Fla…Soon-to-be-captains in Hockey East, as declared at the schools’ respective awards banquets this week: Matt Gilroy and John McCarthy at BU; Joe Charlebois and Greg Collins at New Hampshire…The crafty Cats went so far as to bestow a “Most Worthy Opponent” at their banquet last week. The recipient was BC’s Nathan Gerbe, which is only surprising if you consider the fact that UNH swept its season series with the Eagles.

Softball splits with Notre Dame

Keeping pace

Ground-breaking split at ND retains Friars’ playoff hopes

Report based on CSTV’s Gametracker service

Notre Dame, Ind.- In a matter of 79 minutes, the potent Notre Dame Fighting Irish docked Providence College back to conventional reality through a hastened 10-1 shellacking in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader at Melissa Cook Stadium. At the interim portion of the day, PC was 0-11 all time on this particular field.

But the refined Friars pounced on the resultant jumpstart to Game 2 (first pitch thrown at 1:44, a good 16 minutes ahead of the listed start time), conjuring a 4-0 lead on a set of doubles by Gina Rossi and Teresa Bertels and kneading that edge to an eventual 5-3 triumph.

With that, only one year and 12 days removed from halting their franchise-old futility against the Irish through a split at Raymond Field, PC extracted its first ever victory on the fabled Indiana campus, where in 2006 they were promptly abolished from their only appearance in the Big East quarterfinals.

Incidentally, Saturday’s resilience also propped up the Friars’ hopes for a return trip to the playoffs as they kept their .500 transcript (8-8) and grip on the eighth seed stable. They will seek to finally step up a few rungs in their Sunday visit to DePaul, who at 10-5 stood fourth in the conference midway through their Saturday series with Connecticut.

Nothing was stable about Saturday’s venture, though. Even as the Friars sculpted their early edge, the Irish nibbled at starter Jennifer Maccio from within, accepting four walks in the first three innings and barely stranding two runners in each of those frames.

After Bertels had guided Rossi and Justin Stratton home on a distant double to left center, Notre Dame hurler Jody Valdivia finally gave way to Brittney Bargar, who came into Saturday #2 in overall Big East pitching and #1 in terms of strikeouts with 188. In a practical fingersnap, the wound was compressed and the Irish finally hatched their run-scoring egg on Maccio in their half of the inning.

A two-out triple courtesy Katie Fleury brought Erin Marrone home before Sarah Smith plopped a soapy bunt that third baseman Katelyn Revens couldn’t handle, allowing Fleury to tap the dish and reduce matters to a 4-2 deficit.

By the time the Irish had again let two runners dissolve in the fifth (right after PC had stranded three in their half) Maccio had thrust the ball 88 times. She lasted merely four more in the sixth, eventually authorizing a single Brianna Jorgensborg before the Friars’ called upon their own ace, Danielle Bertollette.

Bertollette, who took the two-cheek slapper earlier in the day, started her second shift with a draining, seven-pitch walk to Fleury. The Irish proceeded to inch Jorgensborg all the way home on a pair of worthwhile sac grounders.

But Christy Becker drove home an insurance tally in the Friars’ half of the seventh, whacking a two-out, straightaway single far enough to let Revens complete the tour from second base, which she had wisely stolen after her leadoff single. (Revens expanded her league lead in the SB column to 25).

Bertollette needed to squeeze out 20 more tosses en route to her first save of the year, but ended up stamping it on Marronne’s full-count fly to Rossi out in left.

Game 1: Bargar explicitly out-aced Bertollette in the early fixture, wherein PC submitted to a mercy rule after a mere four-and-a-half innings.

Discounting to the Friars’ redressing Game 2 victory, four of the last five get-togethers between these two schools have not through the standard seven inning schema.

Bertollette (3.1 IP, 9 H, 5 ER) was uprooted in favor of Kathryn Sullivan upon Samantha Pittmann’s one-out error at second base which let Katie Laing hustle home from third and stationed Jorgensborg and Sarah Smith on first and second. Sullivan let Christine Lux into the equation through a five-pitch walk before Ashley Ellis leveled a grand slam over left field.

The Irish massacre strung its 10 runs on as many hits whereas the Friars spilled the bulk of their opportunities, affording only one run on seven hits and stranding five runners between the second and fifth innings.

In the second, with Notre Dame already up 3-0, Pittmann nailed a first-pitch, one-out single to push home Christy Becker and Gina Rossi –the lone Friar to muster two hits on winning hurler Brittney Bargar- to second. Both runners snuck into scoring position on Bertels’ sac bunt but saw their chance to knot the game zapped on Julie Fowler’s subsequent strikeout.

In the bottom of the third, the Irish stretched their edge to 5-1 only after Bertollette had singlehandedly retired her first two challengers, putting out both Laing and Lux on grounders. Linda Kohan –who had stolen home for her team’s third run in the opening frame- and later gave way to pinch runner Christin Farrell after Ellis (5 RBIs on the day) walked on four straight pitches. Designated hitter Beth Northway belted a distant double to bring both runners home.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bruins Commentary

Through six, it’s complementary twin peaks

“When darkness turns to light, it ends tonight.”

-The All-American Rejects

Yes, for better or worse, Monday will be the night where the Bruins and Canadiens speak their final words and put the definitive end to yet another mind-jarring, soul-sweating playoff series.

Regardless of who seizes Game 7, a gratifying bushel of bombshells has already accumulated in this series.

Obviously, for one thing, it wasn’t supposed to go this far. Even the staunchest Bruins Buffs needed to predict six-pack of grudge matches in C-cut fashion. Defending a team that spilled all eight regular season meetings against its first round adversary is as deserving of a strange glare as choosing Mystery, Alaska over Slap Shot for puckhead movie night.

Of course, you know the cliché notion: the regular season and the post-season have the power to be different as January and June. But not with this matchup, it seemed.

Just to stress that point, the two rivals –only 12 days removed from their final and most evenly matched regular season showdown- reeled back to old form. The Habs pierced two goals in less than three minutes against a timid-looking Bruins team with their captain looking like the discomforting Fawlty Tower that he was all last year, their flashy young phenom Phil Kessel earning his way to a brief “suspension” if you will, and their goaltender prone to excruciating bounces.

Montreal proceeded to stamp a deceiving 4-1 victory, mostly by salting their half of the ice, and prompted one of my buddies on campus to send me this one-line e-mail: “That, my friend, was an ominous beginning to the playoffs.”

Tough case to oppose, indeed, and you have to think that even the guys in the Bell Center visitors’ dressing room could sense the crows flying in the wrong direction. Those first two minutes must have given them the same here-we-go-again feeling that it did all the rooters, even if they did not outwardly admit it.

But that’s the key. Being the pros that they are, they most naturally didn’t admit it. And that, my friend, explains Games 2-6.

In five events of board-to-board, seat-to-seat anarchy, the Bruins have battered out three wins, including the last two to slurp away a 3-1 series deficit.

That’s odd. Didn’t something along those lines happen a little while before the thankfully forgotten NHL lockout? Didn’t it happen in something like the following order?: two Boston wins, Games 3-4 split, Montreal hustles back to force the decider?

Yep. And as NESN’s Sportsdesk pointed out, the Habs’ table-turning Game 5 win in 2004 was a 5-1 decision at the then-FleetCenter. Last Thursday, the Bruins stalled Montreal’s victory party with a 5-1 win at the Bell.

Furthermore, in 2004, the Bruins started off with a decisive 3-0 Game 1 win followed by an uplifting OT decision in Game 2. This time around, they fell into a 2-0 hole after Montreal ran off with a connection in the bonus round.

The two Game 4s we’re looking at were not quite brothers but cousins at the very least. Remember the hilarious highlight of Montreal’s Alexei Kovalev and Sheldon Souray blindly colliding at the blueline, Glen Murray seizing the loose biscuit and depositing the OT winner? I’ll bet the Garden visitors from the North similarly smirked at the Garden on Tuesday when Andrew Ference went off for tripping late in the second, setting up Patrice Brisebois’ bar-down snapper for the 1-0 final.

When the Canadiens morphed the win count from 3-1 to 3-3, they split ten goals over those two games. The Bruins just came off 5-1 and 5-4 epics.

Oh yeah, and current Boston coach Claude Julien was the Canadiens conductor last time these teams had a springtime series.

And one more thing, just to finish this marathon of quirks in style: the deciding game for the series will be on the night of Patriot’s Day. Recall once more that when the Bruins spilled their lead and bowed out in ’04, it spoiled –absolutely party-pooped- a day otherwise highlighted by the Marathon and the Sox’ morning triumph over the Yankees. (The anniversary of that letdown, by the way, was Saturday).

Do you smell momentum? Redemption? Bleu, blanc, et rouge blood trickling in the frozen water?

Well, if educated –or even novice- Bruins Buffs now anything, it’s how to be cautious. So let’s grant that anything is far from sealed.

Although, this much has been accomplished: it’s obvious that pro hockey is of considerable importance in New England again. I have two specimens to prove it. For Game 6, the Garden masses was far less bipartisan than the first two home dates, when Hab fans slithered down and usurped an embarrassing number of unclaimed seats.

Additionally, in the small hours after Boston’s epic sprint to the finish line that made Monday’s match possible, I heard something new out of the nightly parade of party animals that always stalls my slumber. I swear I heard the words “Bruins” and “Rangers” exchanged in a semi-sober shouting match.

New York isn’t even in the equation for once, but according to what I was hearing, the Blueshirt fans around here want to see the spoked-B crumble again and the locals will have none of it.

Let’s just see what happens.