• Check out the Free Press founder's new Rhode Island/New England sports blog
  • http://providencesportsscribe.blogspot.com/

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Granato breaks more ice at US Hall
Checklist not far from fulfillment


Cammi Granato’s fairly circumstantial integration hot streak has reached the rate where everyone just ought to clear the lanes and see how much more –and how much longer- it’ll take to whip the last puck home. After all, it is beyond self-evident that the PC and USA women’s all-time leading scorer won’t rest until at least someone of her gender fastens her goalposts to the moorings of every post-career honor attainable.

Granato will be included in the 2008 US Hockey Hall of Fame induction class, opposite former BC Eagle and Bruin Brian Leetch and NHL legends Brett Hull and Mike Richter, as was announced Tuesday. Ceremonies will be conducted over the weekend of October 10-11 in Denver.

Her inclusion in this class rounds out a high-scoring twelve-month period for the unremitting pioneer, highlighted by her share in the Lester Patrick Award last November and induction into the Quebec-based IIHF Hall of Fame in May. The only palpable establishment that she –and, for that matter, any member of her lady puck entourage- has yet to touch is the regal Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame.

And to think that all this started a good 20 months after she was plucked from the US Olympic roster and effectively packed away the skates, pads, and twigs. Since then, she has all but singlehandedly colonized women’s sects of one honorary hockey establishment after another –she was accompanied to the IIHF pantheon by Canadians Geraldine Heaney and Angela James.

So naturally, the rate of Granato’s revolutionary accolade consumption bolsters the stimulating question: do women have their long-craved tickets to Toronto on the horizon?

Granato’s latest bestowment comes but a month after she had expressly cited the lack of female pucksters in both the US Hall and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

As the women’s hockey advocacy website sheskateshard.com reported in a July 6 press release, Granato had alleged that women were only barred because the museums might “be diluted because there are so many more people going into the Hall of Fame.”

In other words, the pool of competition would suddenly be too deep to handle? If we’re following this right, that matches the chronic complaint from NHL anti-expansion activists who continue their outcry eight years after the league halted at 30 teams. Come what may, Granato’s rhetoric seems to insinuate this daft dilemma: hamper the opportunities of male candidates or continue to repulse female candidates altogether.

“Women belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” she would continue in the She Skates Hard statement. “It’s not just an NHL hall of fame. It’s international.”

Her pleas came a tad too late to perk up the committee at least for this year. The 2008 induction class had already been cemented in mid-June. But in the same online release, USA Hockey’s executive director Dave Ogrean admitted that, at his institution of reverence in Minnesota, coed enshrinement had been “a regular topic of discussion. I think it’s probably going to happen sooner or later.”

Well, a month later, it looks like it just did happen. As for the quintessential Hall of Fame, Granato technically packed in her playing career and the next class to be named will be for 2009, right when the conventional three-year waiting period will have run its course.

On top of that, a full decade has elapsed since Granato captained the Americans to the first Olympic gold medal ever distributed to a women’s hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Games. That same year, the Toronto museum opened its international-specific exhibit. Programs beyond North America are finally garnering authentic viability in international tournaments, as evidenced by Sweden’s overthrow of the Granato-less Amerks in Torino. The Women’s World Championships, a 1990 establishment and a secure annual occurrence (minus Olympic years) since 1997, just branched out to the U18 level last winter.

To be fair, there will be a hefty stable of watertight NHL alumni eligible for the 2009 class –Steve Yzerman, Dave Andreychuk, Hull, and Leetch spring to mind. But the overdue argument from the women’s side of the game is thickening by the minute. Granato may have a fighting chance in the immediate future, but a lack of consideration for her is hereby indefensible.

Numerical shuffles
The PC men recently posted their numerical roster for the 2008-09 season, unveiling a few exchanges, two curious and surely temporary splits, and a few eccentricities –i.e. a few new guys who will be skating around with football-like numerals on their back. Freshmen Andy Balysky, penciled in as a left winger, will don #33 while defensemen Bryce Aneloski and Danny New will assume 44 and 55 respectively. The highest digit any skaters went in the past two seasons was #29, worn by rising Matt Tommasiello and, for the moment, fellow Cranston resident and soon-to-be rookie goaltender Justin Gates. Meanwhile, incoming forward Rob Maloney is slated to wear #18, despite evidence that Paul Golden, who played a taxi role as a freshman last season, still lays claim to it.

Additionally, rising sophomore forward Jordan Kremyr has converted his digits to 12 and will hand his old #20 identity over to Chad Johnson. Three other rookies are inheriting numbers from recent graduates -5 going from Marc Bastarache to fellow backliner David Brown, 17 being passed down from Trevor Ludwig to Matt Bergland, and Jon Rheault’s freed #21 falling on the back and sleeves of Shawn Tingley.

The Friars’ active roster currently amounts to a total of 31 bodies after the deletion of Matt Johnson, who had initially planned a belated, abbreviated PC career after transferring from Division-III Norwich.

CCHA sanctions the shootout; anybody else?
So, the CCHA is the first Division I conference to accept its freedom of choice and usher in the shootout, which will be practiced precisely as it is in the NHL with three skaters apiece stepping up in the event of a 65-minute tie. Inevitably, eyes out here on the coast are bound to dilate a little more as Hockey East fans wait out a formal yay or nay ruling from Commissioner Joe Bertagna as well as his predecessor Robert DeGregorio. DeGregorio, the current chief of the Atlantic Hockey offices, infamously toyed with the shootout in Hockey East from 1994-96 with results equating the USA’s reception to the Metric Conversion Act. That homemade format, which offered five points for all regulation wins, three for shootout wins, and two for regulation ties, allowed Boston University to set the literally unbreakable record of 90 conference points in 1995-96. Provided no one goes there again and instead follows the straightforward two-points-for-all-wins format, there will be no complaints beyond those of the typical purists.

Quick Feeds: The online edition of The Hockey News has been exhibiting a logo ranking contest for each professional and collegiate league. When Hockey East had its turn Wednesday, the Skating Friar came in fifth, with the brief evaluation recalling 2003-04 when, “The locals love this skating friar so much that a one-year switch to an updated version led to a quick return to the original.”…Former Friar Brittany Nelson, who transferred to Vermont last summer, is now one of three newly anointed Catamount captains heading into her junior year, opposite classmate Chelsea Furlani and Sarah Smiddy, one of only three rostered UVM seniors…The forward-thinking Boston College Eagles received their league-high third verbal commitment for 2010 or later from rising Phillips Andover senior Chris Kreider, joining him with Kenny Ryan and KJ Tiefenwerth as Jerry York’s other tentative, long-term arrivals. Right now, Hockey East programs have a cumulative eight recorded verbal commitments for 2010 or 2011…New Hampshire goaltender Kayley Herman, Boston University defender Amanda Shaw, and Unh forward Courtney Birchard stoodd amongst the twelve US collegians remaining on the Canadian women’s U22 Red team, opposite Dominque Thibault (Connecticut) and Jenn Wakefield (UNH) of the White team, all fostering at Toronto’s York University in preparation for this week’s series with Team USA. Birchard assisted on the Reds clinching goal in Wednesday’s intrasquad scrimmage…Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News cites this series of Maine alumni as feasible candidates to replenish Tim Whitehead’s suddenly empty cabinet: Bob Corkum; Jim Montgomery, who worked for one year with Paul Pooley and Jeff Jackson at Notre Dame before shuffling back east to the RPI bench; Scott Pellerin, NHL vet, brief Bruin in 2001-02, and currently an assistant with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

P-Bruins Commentary

Gordon set extraordinary coaching standards

Generally speaking, minor leaguers are anonymous aspirants submissively allowing teams of all organizations and levels to pass them around the continent during the course of a season. Those who hang about for a full season are thinking more wishfully than Columbus Blue Jackets fans if they’re planning to stay in that city for two or three uninterrupted seasons. (And they’re not. They’ll eventually get a crack at The Show if they have it their way).

Only 71 of the 448 players listed on the P-Bruins all-time roster have been credited for more than two seasons with the spoked Ps, a majority of those cases saw multiple stints or a quick rehab return trip after the player had cemented his role in Boston (or, in Bob Beers’ former case, a broadcast position with WBZ). Some players can do enough –usually with their radiant sticks or bloodthirsty fists- to become a fan favorite, but they will have taken off elsewhere before long.

The Baby Bs, most conventionally, are a mere conglomeration of black-and-gold uniforms who have been slaking sport-hungry Rhode Islanders for the last 16 winters. But over a whopping five years, they’ve also established an identity as the students of Scott Gordon –that is, until Gordon accepted the head coaching job for the New York Islanders Tuesday.

Gordon, who will now be overseen by Mount St. Charles alumnus Garth Snow, has thus cut off a tenure that more than doubled the length of any of his seven predecessors. If you count the three years he spent as an assistant, that’s an unthinkable eight seasons in one AHL venue. In that same stretch, Boston has gone through five different coaching cabinets.

Five previous P-Bruin skippers –Mike O’Connell, Steve Kasper, Bob Francis, Peter Laviolette, and Mike Sullivan- were invited to a position behind the Boston bench after no more than two years here. The other two –Tom McVie and Bill Armstrong- were half-gently/half-firmly ushered to the exit after one and two unsatisfactory campaigns respectively.

That’s the AHL way, with a few gratifying exceptions. Already this summer, 11-year coach John Anderson of the Chicago Wolves –who has been with that team since the dying days of the IHL- followed up on his second Calder Cup Championship with a promotion to the parent Atlanta Thrashers. His time had more than come, most every puckhead agrees. And the same appears true for the man who just guided the Bruins to their second regular season championship in franchise history.

The most focused amongst Dunk-going hockey nuts had to have had this apprehension brewing in the back of their minds even before the 2007-08 Bruins came within three points of their own record (120) for most points in a season, which was set during the peerless banner campaign in 1998-99. Gordon’s exponentially improving track record didn’t lie.

Gordon got his first slurp of the top bench post at the tail-end of the 2002-03 regular season when Sullivan was summoned to finish Boston’s run in the wake of Robbie Ftorek’s dismissal. In that stretch, the younger Bruins went 3-3-2-1.

From his second full-length season and beyond, Gordon never won less than half of his regular season games, heightening the victory output year-by-year (40 in 2004-05, 43 in 05-06, 44 in 06-07, 55 this past year).

One could point to a touch of murky mist, though, in citing the fact that Providence only went beyond the first round of the playoffs thrice in Gordon’s five years and only once went as far as the conference finals. And few letdowns hit harder than evoking unspeakable memories of 1998-99 all through the regular season only to be zapped in four straight by the Portland Pirates.

But in the end, Gordon insulated his trustworthy consistency with just a shortage of puck luck after the Vernal Equinox. It was enough to hook him into the mix of replacement candidates the moment the Islanders discharged Ted Nolan last month. And it was enough for him to beat out fellow finalists Bob Hartley and Paul Maurice –each with a decade’s worth of NHL experience.

So where does Providence go from here? The case should be closed after one glance at the resume of Gordon’s tenure-long assistant, Rob Murray. Five years of pitching in for this organization and inevitably letting Gordon’s tutelage rub off on him should leave no doubt that Murray can be a comfortable extension of the Gordon era.

Monday, August 11, 2008

2008 Women's Soccer Season Preview

Proverbial priorities
Rev up offense, secure net, gain respectability


It seems the PC women’s soccer team will stop at no logical boundaries to pad on a little optimistic meat onto their skeletal scouting report.

The team’s hit press release over the summer was on the freshly arrived recruiting class’ inclusion in Soccer Buzz’s Top 100 list. It didn’t bother to detail that the Friars’ new pack is indeed in the Top 100 poll –at #93 in the nation and #8 amongst the Top 20 programs in the northeast.

An earlier statement from the Friars’ offices introducing the five rookies, who took in their first rounds of pre-season practice at Glay Field on Monday, proclaimed that “Head Coach Jim McGirr hopes to continue the winning tradition he is establishing at PC.” Granted, McGirr has only had three seasons to work with so far, but in those three seasons he has mustered an aggregate transcript of 12-33-8 (4-25-4 Big East) and the overall win supply has dwindled a touch each year.

Deceptive much?

Before the steadfast, unreserved PC partisans accuse this report of obsessive-negativity just for offering a thorough evaluation, perhaps a compromise can be reached through the Tevye approach. On the heels of a 3-14-1 season (2-9 conference) and a cringing 37-7 goal deficit, PC soccer –which has seen no more than two conference wins in any season on record- is near that point where it can’t get much worse for them. It can only get better.

But how much, how soon? The Friars will return all of those who pitched in to their slender offensive output in 2007, led by senior Megan Mancarella, the only one out of eight PC point-getters to muster a single goal and assist –and she literally got a single goal and assist for a team-best three points on the year. As a whole, McGirr’s lineup compiled seven goals on the year, easily the shallowest output of his coaching tenure here after 13 and 14 connections were celebrated in the previous two seasons.

The brittle, though largely intact strike force’s palpable endeavor to beef up can also count on a little aid from Maryland transfer Kylie Ricker, who started in three of twelve appearances and inserted a game-winning kick as a freshman Terp.

Barring any blindsided prodigious breakthroughs, though, Providence will have to settle for bit-by-bit progression in the way of scoring. But in their own goal box sits a much more harrowing cavity now that the reliable Laura Elfers has graduated.

Elfers made her tracks after appearing in all 35 games of her junior and senior campaigns and having consumed all but 35:45 of the clock in those games. Elfers’ GAA barely nudged above two per game last year, but she valiantly dealt with an overloaded average of over seven shots on goal in each outing.

She now leaves her vital station, which was explicitly the paramount reason PC had any utterable shot at the 2007 Big East playoffs, in the collective hands of freshman Caitlin Walker and the almost equally unripe sophomore Jill Schott. Schott filled in the three-and-a-half minutes not occupied by Elfers in a 3-0 loss to Quinnipiac last September 16.

It is worth mentioning that nine out of ten Elfers’ praetorian guards, who confined the overwhelming opposition to a .496 on-net rate versus the Friars’ .513 percentage, is slated to return. But if that kind of knuckled-down defense doesn’t duplicate or better itself this autumn, the new keepers could be prone to piteously green exploitation. Unless, of course, Walker can suitably translate her club resume highlighted by a reported 38 shutouts and a Metuchen (N.J.) High School scholarship.

While that ambiguous outlook develops, PC ought to attend principally to its clear-cut lack of scoring proficiency. This team left on a four-game road wrap-up still mathematically eligible for a conference playoff spot after a season-high two goals in their home finale against Pittsburgh last October. Suffice it to say, they hardly managed to build on that heartening U-turn, losing those next four bouts by an aggregate 9-2 and finishing at the top of the red by a gaping five points.

And so the annually renewed Operation Breakthrough quest begins once more.