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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

UVM pacing itself to legit contention

Running a relatively smooth 10-4-2 performance in the turbulent eight-week stretch drive last year, Vermont laid a startling and commanding claim to the program’s first patch of home ice in a Hockey East quarterfinal series.

From there, seeded third overall in the league, the Catamounts pinned the inversely disintegrating Northeastern Huskies in three games, overthrew Boston University in the semifinal, and celebrated coach Kevin Sneddon’s acceptance of the Bob Kullen Award, an honor which has now gone to a skipper for every Hockey East tenant with the exception of Merrimack.

Then on championship night, a weary-of-losing Boston College team wasted no time assuming the upper hand and claimed the Lamoriello Trophy, 4-0.

By then, it was fairly plain to see that the Catamounts were subsisting primarily on sentimental Rockstar and didn’t quite have the requisite stock to be deemed an indubitable contender. That’s doesn’t mean the same will hold true in the future.

When Vermont, whose first accomplishment after its ECAC transfer was winning the 2005-06 Charlie Holt Team Sportsmanship Award, finished a pinch above .500 in its 2006-07 league schedule and came within an overtime goal of surpassing BU in the rubber quarterfinal game, there were no indefensible signs it was on the rise. And now that they’ve skipped a few more paces ahead, it should be noted that a vast foundation is still intact at the Gutterson Fieldhouse.

All nine of UVM’s double-digit point-getters from 2007-08 are slated to come back for more. Meanwhile, the Catamounts have watched only four regulars –forward Reese Wisnowski, defenseman Mark Lutz, and goaltenders Jeff Hill and Joe Fallon- leave their tracks to dry this off-season. The rising senior class doesn’t exactly require a panoramic Polaroid to fit into the frame, either. But the offensive trinity of Corey Carlson, Peter Lenes, and Dean Strong, who constituted the team’s top line for the concluding six games of their season, leads the four-member class.

As a unit for the stretch drive, beginning with a 4-3 overthrow at New Hampshire in the regular season finale, the three combined for 12 points, 48 shots on net, and did not finish below the plus-minus poverty line on any given night until they snuffed out against Boston College.

The most formidable kicker candidate to Vermont’s presumable ascendancy, go figure, sits in the crease, which has just been left by Fallon in the hands of rising junior Mike Spillane –who is an iffy 3-4-4 in 15 credited collegiate games and has authorized three-plus goals on seven occasions- and freshmen Rob Madore and John Vazzano. But Fallon, even through four seasons as an established nucleus, never needed to be overtly untouchable. One of his successors stepping up to the general B-to-B+ range he was in for the better half of last season should suffice.

As for the road ahead, Sneddon offered this daring proclamation in a team press release: “Our non-conference schedule will be one of the toughest in the NCAA…Our non-conference schedule will prepare our team for another challenging year in Hockey East.”

Well, let’s just have a glance at that, shall we? October 11 vs. RPI @ Quebec City; October 17-18 vs. Miami of Ohio; November 2 @ Dartmouth; December 13 @ St. Lawrence; January 2 vs. Colgate in the Catamount Cup: Day 1; January 3 vs. Ferris State or St. Lawrence in Catamount Cup: Day 2.

Certainly, with the home opening pair of Miami games, which on the Redhawks’ part will be returning the favor from the Catamounts’ visit that started last season, Sneddon may be acquitted of any exaggeration charges. Under soon-to-be 10th-year coach Enrico Blasi, the Redhawks have more than pasted their presence amongst Michigan, Michigan State, and Notre Dame in the CCHA’s reckonable ring.

And come the commencement of this season, Miami’s unfinished mission will mirror that of the Catamounts: to come out retooled and ready to clear the conference pennant hump that tripped them up last March. Miami, which did win the Mason Cup as CCHA playoff champs in 2006, missed out on another one last year by dropping a 2-1 title decision to Michigan. The real telling difference in this imminent mid-October interleague collision, though, lies in the Redhawks’ journeys to each of the last three (all ending in defeat at the hands of BC) and four of the last five NCAA tourneys.

Everyone else on the NC tap for Vermont, minus Colgate and Ferris State, has habitually finished well below .500 overall in recent years and have done next to nothing to presage a finger-snapping resurgence. If one must, one could look at the October 11 excursion to Quebec with RPI as a team-building test of culture shock responsiveness.

But the subsequent two-night visit from the CCHA’s underrated, but here-to-stay powerhouse will bear Sneddon and his pupils the personal opportunity to flaunt their years-worth of improvement to the Redhawks, who swept them last year by an aggregate score of 6-2. And regardless of what the Catamounts cultivate in the way of early Ws and poll points, the series should be meticulously used as a springboard for the rest of their trek. The very next week, they will break in the Hockey East season in a one-night stop at BC’s Conte Forum. How about that?

Where have they been? (Part II)
The following is this column’s second consecutive randomly concocted “starting lineup” of Friar alumni from the not-too-distant past and a snippet of where their playing endeavors took them in the 2007-08 season.

Jon DiSalvatore ’03, F, 148 GP, 59-83-142 scoring totals in four PC seasons: A career AHLer (minus a five game promo to the St. Louis Blues in 2005-06) whose first stop was in Cleveland along with former classmate Nolan Schaefer, DiSalvatore settled into his fourth city in five years this season. Playing 66 regular season games for the Coyotes’ affiliate in San Antonio, DiSalvatore had brushes with Alex Auld before he went to the Bruins and later teamed with fresh-out-of-Michigan beacons Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik –whom the current Friars got to know well enough in December- for the Calder Cup playoffs. Just this past Thursday, DiSalvatore signed with the New Jersey organization, as did fellow Friar grad Jay Leach.

Chris Caput ’05, F, 144 GP, 33-63-96 scoring totals in four PC seasons: Caput, originally hailing from Providence, broke in his first set of professional playoff blades in his second year with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays. Caput charged up a 25-38-63 scoring log in 71 regular season games to finish second in the Rays point-getting and ironman categories and inserted 12 points in 20 playoff games before South Carolina submitted in the conference finals to the eventual Kelly Cup champion Cincinnati Cyclones.

Tony Zancanaro ’07, F, 146 GP, 23-29-52 scoring totals in four PC seasons: Native to Trenton, Mich., Zancanaro ironically settled in to the New Jersey capital of the same name after an eight-game dip with the ECHL’s Titans at the immediate conclusion of his Friar career. In his first full-season with the newly christened Trenton Devils, Zancanaro saw action in all 72 games and finished fourth on the team scoring charts with a 15-24-39 transcript.

Stephen Wood ’04, D, 143 GP, 28-60-88 scoring totals in four PC seasons: After splitting his first three pro campaigns between a combined five AHL and ECHL cities, Wood was briefly in Peoria under the watch of the Blues before he was dealt to New Jersey and reunited with Zancanaro in Trenton. He proceeded to appear in 66 games and charged up a career high 34 points.

Regan Kelly ’02, D, 74 GP, 10-31-41 scoring totals in two PC seasons: Save for 39 games in 2005-06 with the now defunct Danbury Trashers in Connecticut, the Saskatchewan native has yet to call anywhere in the US his hockey home. With slivers of playing experience in Sheffield, England and Bolzano, Italy to his credit, Kelly went overseas once more last season to play in Italy’s second largest city of Milan, logging 32 games played and 17 points for the Vipers.

David Berard ’92, G, 87 wins in four PC seasons: Hey, give us a break. There aren’t many former PC stoppers left in the pro ranks, unless you want us to reach back into the jagged legacy of Bobby Goepfert. Anyway, Berard completed his tenth consecutive season and twelfth overall as a Friar assistant coach.

Five Easy Answers
Ty Halpin and John Harrington of the NCAA’s hockey legislative branch recently posted a brief online video highlighting five of the most shape-shifting rule changes out of a dense pool of revisions set for use beginning this autumn. Highlights of Harrington’s explanations:

Obstruction: “We felt that our referees have done a great job of protecting and calling obstruction away from the puck…but we felt this year that we really needed to focus on the person with the puck. We want that person to be able to have the freedom to make plays himself and to also make plays to other players on the ice.”

Hurrying along the face-off procedure: “It’s something that we always need to keep reminding our officials and our coaches and our players, that we have a time frame where we’d like to get the line changes out there, get the puck dropped and keep the game moving.”

Kicking the puck: In fairly obvious, though not directly referenced, light of the Notre Dame no-goal call in the last national championship game when player Kyle Lawson sloppily tried to settle the play and cash in on a gaping BC net, “We’ve proposed that all goals that are deflected into the net will count as goals. That would include a player who is in the motion of stopping or coming to a stop as long as neither of his skates directs the puck into the. Kicking the puck into the net or directing the puck into the net where skates are moving toward the goal line will not count as goals.”

The shootout option: All regulation deadlocks must first try to usual 5-on-5, 5-minute bonus round. If that fails, each individual conference is free to try its own method. That said, “It is going to allow leagues, if they so choose, to go to a shootout at the end if they want to solve that tie game if it isn’t solved in the five-minute overtime…I will let everybody know that shootouts will not be included in any NCAA rankings.”

Icing: Like in the NHL, the offending team shall do penance by keeping its rusty five-pair of legs out for the subsequent face-off. “We’re hoping again, thinking as we always do about the skill of the game, that this might give an opportunity for an offensive team to generate some more offense.”

Cat Clash in Canada?
Two members of the New Hampshire women’s team, Kacey Bellamy and Sam Faber, are already sealed into the 22-member USA roster –opposite Friars’ sophomore blueliner Amber Yung- for next month’s traditional three-game friendly with Canada. In its far more prolonged, competitive, and meticulous admissions process, the Mighty Maple Leaf has condensed its list of prospects from 51 to 40. All three Cats from the first test period in May –forwards Courtney Birchard and Jenn Wakefield and dynamic goaltender Kayley Herman- are still standing, though note that the coaching staff still needs to scrap another 18 players before the trio of exhibitions in Pierrefonds, Que. The decision on that will be made in confident haste –which is proven to be okay for a runaway powerhouse like this- from August 10-17 at another convention in Toronto. Boston University’s Amanda Shaw and Connecticut’s Dominique Thibault also have their helmets in the ring.

Quick Feeds: Boston College’s recently released 2008-09 schedule includes a two-night friendly visit to the University of New Brunswick January 2-3. There was also a simple error in the site slot for the Eagles Sunday matinee visit to Maine November 9, claiming that the game would be held in Bangor rather than the blank-drawing Black Bear campus town or Orono…Speaking of Maine, the men’s team up there recently announced the most locally appealing season kick-off event imaginable: a Downeast Lobster Bake on Sunday, September 28…UNH has linked up with its fifth radio ally, Manchester-based WGIR AM-610, to augment its listening base. All Wildcat-friendly networks are slated to deliver the entire men’s hockey schedule, plus select women’s games… As of this weekend, the upstart Syracuse women’s program, which is supposed to be visiting Colgate to start the regular season on October 1, has yet to confirm any signees beyond former UNH backup stopper Lucy Schoedel, a deal that was done a good two months ago. Judging by the countdown clock on the team’s website, they seem all poised to launch on schedule, but it won’t happen if they keep building at the same rate Brian Griffin builds his novel…Michigan blazer Max Pacioretty, good for 39 points in 37 games as a freshman, broke a full two weeks of signing silence and made a three-year pact with the Montreal Canadiens Thursday…You don’t even need the groundhog’s alter-ego to deliver this half-full news: according to the college hockey calendar, only about 6-7 more weeks of summer, then captain’s practices are in full swing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Hockey

New Deraney pact should fuel winning interest

Late last February, when the PC women’s hockey team had a matinee venture to Boston College uprooted from a Sunday to the preceding Friday, the same day their male counterparts were to visit the Eagles as well as host a traveling community reception, men’s skipper Tim Army insisted it was sheer coincidence. “(The women’s team is) an entirely different entity from what we are,” he plainly explained.

Maybe so, but the way athletic director Bob Driscoll has been exercising his powerful pen, he likes having all of his Schneider Arena employees on the same page. Like Army six days before him, women’s skipper Bob Deraney has just been locked in to remain at his post through at least the lucky year 2013, as was declared Tuesday.

On the Friars’ longevity leaderboard, this will mean Deraney’s run tying the ornate 14-year reign of John Marchetti (1980-94), which was underlined by five conference championships and a runaway overall record of 262-69-15. Deraney, whose all-time transcript in his first nine years here reads 173-113-35 with four conference titles, is far from likely to regenerate the same statistical supremacy that the Friars enjoyed under Marchetti, who left the program with a Cyclopean lifetime winning percentage of .779. The pool these days both within and without the league has simply picked up too much competitive volume.

But now that Deraney’s project plan has likewise extended, he and his staff have no less than five additional seasons to recapture, reinstall, and reseal the contender’s caliber that defined an earlier sect of his reign. Though they were tangibly within tasting distance of another Hockey East title –and therefore another spontaneous passport to the NCAA bracket- the Friars’ shaky track records of the last two years, especially on the nonconference front, have docked their points with the pollsters. PC has always safely finished above the .500 equator in their conference slate and has given New Hampshire a decent fright during judgment week. But ever since the dramatic changing of the guard between 2005 and 2006, the Wildcats’ new wave citadel hasn’t budged.

With Meredith Roth and Amy Quinlan –both members of Deraney’s first official recruiting class back in 2000- having now delved deep into their new careers as assistant coaches and recruiters, there rests a new hope that the Friars can reverse the reversal. Both Roth and Quinlan partook in Deraney’s first three of four uninterrupted league championships, overlapping between the ECAC exodus and the dawn of the WHEA. And within the last two years, they’ve been latched on to Deraney’s replenished cabinet in partial hopes of upholding and reincarnating that winning legacy.

Recent correspondences with Roth had her labeling the forthcoming rookie class as the first one she played a substantial role in conglomerating, though she wasn’t completely sidelined in the midst of inviting the new faces of last season. As it happened, the graduating class of 2011 was the most noticeably productive pack of frosh since the class of 2008 –the last class to have helped put fresh numerals on the Hockey East banner hanging over the visitor’s net. And so, all in all, the likes of Alyse Ruff, Jean O’Neill, and Amber Yung –splitting an aggregate 51 points last season- have backed Deraney’s proclamation from last summer, “Our future is very bright.” For what it’s worth, a few sturdy beams blossomed.

When the first sect of a now ten-member class of 2012 was confirmed in December, Deraney dared to compare it to the one class that ended all four of its seasons with a little group hardware. The new blood slated for this autumn is highlighted by St. Mary’s of Lynn beacon Abby Gauthier, her high school’s runaway all-time point scoring leader who has been fastened to the Friars since mid-November.

Uncannily enough, Gauthier had been perched in a near-perfect middle between the PC and UNH campuses (Lynn lies 46 miles away from Durham 46, 51 from Providence). In other words, if given the chance, she could have just been another savory additive to Brian McCloskey’s undeniable block of proficient puckslingers.

Instead, Gauthier will be relied on to smoothly carry over her influential graphite to the lately lesser-rich Friars. For that particular maneuver, Deraney and Co. may rightly holler in the name of Friar Puck, “Yoicks, and away!”

Of course, Gauthier and her classmates will have to deliver just what they promise. And they will need hardcore fostering from their elders and instructors.

For the moment, the best proclamation Providence can make is sheer potential. That’s at least good enough for Driscoll to make sure Deraney sees the full run of both Gauthier’s class and the class after that, who nobody’s even met yet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Commentary

Providence for Titletown Jr.

On Monday’s morning installment of Sportscenter, Boston had its turn to state its case in its campaign for ESPN’s “Titletown, USA” moniker derby. It didn’t hurt to have Jonathan Papelbon as the on-air delegate with Fenway Park’s unmistakable lawn and wall perched behind for everyone to see. Nor should Beantown –if voters really keep their heads and hearts in a stable position- have much trouble topping such challengers as Chapel Hill and Gainesville which are only famous for a single collegiate program or Green Bay which is only about the Packers and their attention-addicted quarterback.

But let’s cut to the chase. Imagine if this contest branched out further to a separate pool of notable minor league and amateur sporting hotbeds. Think the Divine City would have a shot? The Free Press thinks so.

Incidentally, the Hub could provide a near-spoil of helpful evidence. For instance, both the Red Sox and Bruins have their Triple-A farm teams in this area and the NBA champion Celtics are overseen by a PC graduate in franchise president Rich Gotham.

More evidence from each of the three aforementioned entities:

Pawtucket Red Sox: Before we go any further, let’s make this plain: If Foxboro counts as Boston, if East Rutherford, N.J. counts as New York, and especially if Anaheim counts as Los Angeles, then Pawtucket may qualify as Providence.

Besides the convenient location from Fenway that has allowed Red Sox Nation to embrace its Ocean State satellite for over 35 years now, McCoy Stadium was immortalized by its hosting of “The Longest Game.” No fundamental explanation should be required for those seasoned, scholarly baseball enthusiasts, but here’s a refresher: A 1981 Easter Eve (April 18) get-together between the Pawsox and Rochester Red Wings, then a feeder club for the Orioles, was knotted 1-1 through the standard nine frames (ironically, Pawtucket had to rally to spot their single run in their final at-bat). The length of another game and then some elapsed before Rochester nudged back ahead, 2-1, in the 21st only to see the Sox knot it back up. Eventually, after 32 total innings and no additional scoring, the game was stashed away in a jar of preservatives and thawed out 66 days later. In a mere inning spaced over 18 minutes (after 8 hours and 7 minutes worth of action didn’t produce a winner in April), Dave Koza hammered a walk-off single.

The Pawsox, who are at least partially defined by their lifelong jolly giant of an owner, Ben Mondor, have given boundless starring gifts to the Old Towne Team. A running poll on the team’s website asks for the fan favorite among the most recent accomplished Pawsox graduates: Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, or Jacoby Ellsbury. They have just as willingly taken stars back when asked for help in their rehab. Look for David Ortiz to mollify Rhode Island families seeking a simple summer night outing later this week.

Providence Bruins: In their first four years of existence (1992-96), the Baby Bs topped the AHL charts in terms of attendance. Not only did that annihilate the fidgeting notion that the market would serve them no better than the old Providence Reds, but it more or less pioneered the NHL’s now sole Triple-A league to a more solid understanding of what the best Triple-A markets are. In the mid-to-late 90s, when it was still in competition with the IHL, the AHL was virtually restricted to New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Canadian Maritimes. In one case, three New Brunswick-based teams were all within the same area code. What is this, Hockey East? Since then, the AHL has planted more widespread seeds and found more fertile ice in fairly sized cities that aren’t quite right for the NHL. Perhaps the best example is the Hartford Wolfpack, the Baby Bs chief rival and, according to some sources, a distant reincarnation of the former Reds.

Not enough? Well, not to make Rochester –another fine candidate for the hypothetical contest- turn its other cheek, but the P-Bruins’ defining moment in their first 16 years of existence came at the expense of the Rochester Americans in 1999. On July 13 of that year, Providence stamped the Calder Cup Championship with a 5-1 Game 5 victory before a sold-out still-Civic Center (two years away from the corporate bug bite). To this day, those who partook in that memory, which was also the Hershey’s syrup on a mountainous record-breaking run, deem it the most electric minor league sporting event there ever was.

This past year, though zapped out of the second round by the Portland Pirates, the P-Bruins came within teethmarks of surpassing their ’99 predecessors in some slots of the AHL record book. At the very least, for the second time in franchise history, they had the league’s best 2007-08 regular season transcript at 55-18-3-4. That amounted to 117 points, three shy of what the same franchise mustered in 1998-99.

Now might be a good time to note that, as of this weeks All-Star Break, the Pawsox themselves are tops in the International League at a rigid 61-37.

Providence College: The cheer-worthy moments of the 2007-08 season came to an abrupt halt right after the Friars’ OT win over Boston College at TD Banknorth Garden, arguably returning in spurts for a couple of wins over UConn. But even with the excruciating Tim Welsh saga that ended in his prompt dismissal at season’s end, Friar Fanatics are anything but estranged. They may have gone a tad over the top with their attempts to take managerial matters into their own hands this past season, but they didn’t stop coming to the Dunk. Nor, it seems, have they ever before and nor, it seems, will they ever. As a result, Friar men’s hoops is virtually the only other entity besides Family Guy that guarantees regular national attention for the Ocean State.

And the ever-dense fan base that makes that possible didn’t take horribly long to propitiate in the search to fill the coaching void. Anticipation of the first installment of the Keno Kagers has already been in effect for three months. The only problem now is a lack of the time machine former Friar Marvin Barnes so detests. We're still not exactly sure when opening night will be.

So, what do you think, judges?