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Saturday, September 20, 2008

On Soccer

Goalie’s Yin waiting for offense’s Yang

Through yesterday afternoon’s 0-0 deadlock with Cincinnati, Friars goalkeeper Timothy Murray charged up his fifth goose-egg of the season and lengthened his active shutout streak to precisely 336 minutes, 27 seconds, and counting.

Looking for a catch? That impressive string is protracted in large part by three mutually fruitless overtime affairs. Between the twenty bonus minutes of a 1-1 tie at Holy Cross two weeks back and yesterday’s affair, the cumulative score has read: PC 1, Adversaries 0.

The only victim, ironically enough, was a Georgetown team that had authorized absolute nada in the way of goals leading up to their visit here a week ago today. This week, the likes of Northeastern on Monday and the Bearcats yesterday laid their elbows on the arm-wrestling table and simply didn’t budge for a full 110-minute affair.

Overall, the Friar offense has a slender four goals to speak of in a space of six games on the year and has not scraped out a single multi-goal outing. Yet that jittery brew of dollar-a-day offense and all but supernatural veiling on Murray’s part has amounted to a 3-0-3 transcript, including a 1-0-1 output for four points in the Big East standings.

Still, yesterday’s go-around with the Bearcats was the first of what will be a nonstop train of seven conference tussles. The last minute for assessing fundamental needs has expired, and those fundamental needs are about as explicit as a Lewis Black anecdote.

Game in and game out, PC’s strike force has habitually saved its best for last –whether that means tapping in its singular goal in the sweatier stages of the game or waking up to shower the opposing net like it did to Cincinnati stopper Matt Williams yesterday.

In the two fun-size overtime frames yesterday, the Friars heaved five shot attempts and three shots on goal while the Bearcats could do nothing of either sort. While at Northeastern Monday, they authorized six stabs from the Huskies in the first half while dishing out only one of their own, but went on to hold a 4-1 edge in that category in the bonus action.

More tellingly, in neither of those accelerations did they etch the one goal they craved. Then again, by the grace of Murray, the same has applied to the opposition.

For the better part of Friday’s first half, an ominous salvo unfolded to offer a reminder of the Cincinnati program that had served Murray his true welcome-to-the-Big-East enterprise in the 2006 league playoffs, when Murray pushed away nine shots towards a 2-0 triumph.

But for the home crowd witnessing the Bearcats’ first pre-arranged visit to the Divine Campus since joining the Big East in 2005, it was probably more reminiscent of when Cincinnati bit the Friars back here in last year’s post-season.

In the latter stages of the first half, a difference in precision began to surface with the Providence defense looking a tad more mollified than its guest counterpart. PC ran up a 6-5 edge in the way of mere attempts, but the Bearcats led the SOG count 4-2 when everyone adjourned for a 15-minute retool. The Cats lone missed attempt –off the foot of D.J. Albert- only went down as such for grazing the goal post at the 21:32 mark.

Furthermore, the stats were visually self-explanatory as the Friar attackers were frequently cuffed, congested, and chased into loss of yardage whenever they entered the depths of the offensive zone.

But everything leveled perfectly in the second half. Each club mustered four attempts and each goalkeeper was summoned to make one save apiece. Murray’s praetorian guards were once again responsibly repellent to the opposing onslaught, though the same held true for Williams and his aides.

Perhaps in appropriate accordance with what Murray and the rest of the Friars have done for each other up to this point, the keeper has assumed the vocal habits of a lacrosse goalie, most notably midway through the second half when the Bearcats were awarded a free kick. As the referee set the ball in a position where striker Nick Weightmann had a straightaway shot, Murray promptly called and gestured for four pillars to stand in the range. Sure enough, backliner Justin Kahle clamped down his block of Weightmann’s shot and nimbly cleared it.

That play was ultimately scored as Cincinnati’s last attempted shot of the day.

When PC ran away with the scoring chances in the waning minutes of regulation and the duration of overtime, they carried out the siege in haste, found an empty vat of luck, or just ran into a daylong resolute defense.

Did they just wake up too late to concoct a finishing, winning potion?

In any case, the basic agenda calls for nothing beyond keeping Murray’s arrangement unaltered and to discontinue mirroring the opposing offense. Solid decisiveness is the essential still missing for the heated Big East season.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Commentary: Protect the prose!

May the game of sportswriting retain its dignity

Over the last month or so, this sportswriter-in-training has detected a rather toe-curling upsurge of craters inflicted upon the very field he aspires to.

Many within and without the journalism industry have already expressed a melancholy acceptance that newspapers as we’ve long known them are an endangered breed. Like with our environment and our economy, some unswervingly insist otherwise be it out of impatience or veiled anxiety. But, on the whole, the evidence is sufficient to have both the producers and consumers pondering what they can and should do with the inevitably changing field.

In my reportage of the reportage scope, I regret to conclude that the quality and quantity of many –if not all- sports pages are dissolving at a slow, anguishing rate. Nothing underscores this more than the removal of household names from any given publication, of which there have been a handful of examples in recent weeks.

Starting here in Providence, the Journal –owing to a reported plethora of staff buyouts- has seen its last contributions from Steven Krasner, who was on their roster for over three decades primarily as a Red Sox and Pawsox reporter and trickled his touch down to beginner’s audiences with works like the 1996 picture book, The Longest Game.

Sticking with the diamond writer’s guild, at the beginning of August, Boston Globe Red Sox beat reporter Gordon Edes turned in his nightly Fenway press pass in favor of a column with Yahoo! Sports. Go figure; it is a web exclusive outlet.

And last week, at virtually the same time that the Sox saluted Krasner as he typed his way into the sunset, The Hockey News bid adieu to longtime back-page columnist Mike Brophy, who now intends to devote all of his journalistic energy to the Canada-based Rogers Sportsnet channel.

For both better and worse, it’s all in the electronics these days. There is no other operative summation than to call this too much of a good thing. I know this from personal experience as both a consumer and aspirant producer.

In the bordering years between the conclusion of the 20th century, the mostly irrational Y2K fuss, and the advent of the new millennium, I was a displaced adolescent Rhode Islander stuck in the Midwest. Naturally, I embraced the still fairly new Internet as it allowed me to follow my favorite teams via projo.com and boston.com. (Not to mention, I subconsciously grew to idolize the reporters and take a fervent interest in journalism myself).

At that time, the Journal sports section was perfectly to the Rhode Island sports scene what the Globe still largely is to the Boston teams. During their respective seasons, the Pawsox and the Providence Bruins would garner an enriched 800-word notebook and/or game recap almost every day. The inventive detail in every article was reliably constant and the spirit of the thing was pleasingly captured.

Then the frequency of coverage and the quantity of content lessened ever so slowly. And now, a Pawsox game summary is a vanilla-flavored packet of bullet points and P-Bruins stories are a word-for-word identical twin to what you find on the team’s website.

Dare I predict that the same troubling fate ultimately awaits the pages chronicling the state’s collegiate basketball teams? Right now, Friars and URI Rams fans each take in nourishing coverage of their respective cager clubs with the regular seasonal insights of Kevin McNamara and Paul Kenyon. That coverage remains sufficient in proportion to the level of play and the market size, but the same impression is extinct for the area’s minor pro teams.

Did I say extinct? Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to hit that extreme. It’s not as though the deterioration of sportswriting –and newspaper writing as a whole- is a fixedly irreversible phenomenon.

A recent correspondence with a longtime family friend and Ohio newspaper editor offered me a mixed review concerning the state of the fourth estate. “Newspaper journalism is going through some tough times right now,” he told me, “but there will always be a demand for good reporters who dig for stories and can tell them well.

You the fans/readers can help. Disregarding apparent realism for a second, remember that the opening montage to Cheers wouldn’t look the same if the guy triumphantly hoisting the “WE WIN!” headline had printed it off his Apple in pdf form. There’s something about a foldable broadsheet –especially the morning after an unmistakably historic event- that makes it a unique souvenir.

If nothing else, as you heighten your patronage for online multimedia outlets, get hungry. Demand detail. Demand to be as entertained by the immortalizing accounts of the game last night as you were by the game itself. Demand to be perched back in that seat for an encore of highlights –or to taste the atmosphere you had missed if you couldn’t make it.

We the scribes need that kind of drive, and an adequate playing field to dispense that drive.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hockey Log Extra

For the second consecutive season, the PC men’s hockey team will hold a Black-White intrasquad scrimmage the weekend prior to the start of their game schedule. The exhibition, again free of charge to the public, will commence at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 11, immediately preceding a women’s home game versus Colgate (4:00 face-off time).

Additionally, the PC alumni department has released an invitation to a Saturday, November 8 alumni game and reception that will precede the Friars 7:00 tangle with Notre Dame. For a $75 fee, any alumnus of the program may get hold of an alumni game jersey plus admission to the gathering in the Friends of Friar room.

Shifting to a different pond, specifically the celebrated Bacon Street Omni from a Massachusetts backyard, we want to take a moment to mourn the sudden passing of hockey writer Jack Falla, who suffered a reported fatal heart attack at the age of 64 Sunday morning. Almost precisely three years ago, this author had the honor of e-mailing Falla shortly after he had published a guest piece in USA Hockey Magazine conveying ten tips to fast-track on a journalism career. When I simply asked him for further advice, he replied “Keep your head up in neutral ice, because in journalism –as in hockey- no ice is truly neutral.”

Falla, best known for the 2000 narrative -Home Ice- on his famed do-it-yourself rink, also nobly and resolutely stood up for the clean persona hockey has always struggled to tug on. A key passage in another book of his: “Hockey will always be a contact sport, but it need not be a violent sport…In the movies, on television, and in some sports pages, people often see hockey players depicted as brawling goons quick to drop their sticks and put up their fists. The reality is that hockey is a swift, fluid, and beautiful game when it is played –as it generally is- within the spirit of its rules.”

Amen: so concise, yet cultured and gripping. Thanks for everything, Jack.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Men’s Hockey East preview: Hub Hunks looking the best

For customary look-back purposes, we will remind everyone one final time that “parity” was the word carrying endless savory juice in the Hockey East talkosphere for the better part of the 2007-08 campaign. But now, much like New England’s professional football pundits with their own threadbare P-word, let’s bury it and move on with the safe assumption that phenomenon will not equate itself this season.

Instead, consider how each program more or less stapled its true identity in March and the varying pivots they have all made in the offseason.

Starting from the presumptive bottom-up, the nine-time national tournament invitee from Maine duped the pollsters early on last year just for their respectable history. Since the stretch drive last winter, everyone has come to know better, and more personnel deductions should keep the Black Bears in the doubter’s light for a while. Similarly, UMass-Amherst was one of the quieter HEA teams –for better or worse- and suddenly doesn’t look like a potential regular at TD Banknorth Garden.

But along the snowier treads of the mountain, the Commonwealth Avenue rivals and Vermont call for little beyond simple consistency –which, plainly, nobody could snatch for the full ride of last season- to cement their powerhouse personas.

We now offer you a snapshot of each team’s preseason outlook in order of projected finish, concomitant with a team grade in parenthesis.

1. Boston College (A): Put the anxiously smug no-Gerbe-plus-hangover-equals-collapse notion in the cooler. Yes, the national champion Eagles saw their runaway scoring spokesman sneak off campus a year early, but BC’s road to glory was defined by persistence and non-fatal lesions. They stamped their passport to the national bracket with another HEA crown, for they had no other choice having finished fourth at 11-9-7 in the regular season. They dealt with two mid-season pro signings and the loss of puckslinger Brock Bradford to injury. Bradford, by the way, has healed for his senior campaign and will partner with fellow flares Joe Whitney, Ben Smith, and –if all goes according to plan- rookie Jimmy Hayes. Defense? Goaltending? Not a second missed in a freshman banner campaign (ahem –John Muse) kind of speaks for itself.

2. Boston University (A-): With a lavish foundation of skaters underlined by Colin Wilson’s decision to stay put and a recruiting class featuring four fresh NHL draftees, BU’s outlook is redressed from the slushy NCAA no-go road it paved. One potential hindrance: unlike Wilson and 2007 first-rounder Kevin Shattenkirk, would-be junior goaltender Brett Bennett did bolt for the pros, leaving an inclusive hole in the already shaky crease. But if either Kieran Millan or the imposing Toronto draftee Grant Rollheiser (6-foot-4, 195-lb.) can make a stable claim to the cage, and if the whole team doesn’t waste time thawing out its win column, there should be a more substantial succession of Terrier fist-jabs this season.

3. Vermont (A-): The steadily ascending Catamounts’ returnee corps includes seven tin men who were available for all 39 games in 2007-08, another –sophomore Jack Downing- who missed but one game in a respectable rookie campaign, and all but one of their regular forwards who can lash out audible locomotive slappers reminiscent of Bernie Geoffrion. Oh, and then there’s reigning Bob Kullen Award winner Kevin Sneddon, who rationally brandished pure raring optimism after his pupils spilled the league title to BC. All Vermont really needs to indemnify their Contender’s Club membership is a resolute campaign out of lightly seasoned junior goalie Mike Spillane, who will likely fill the sturdy pads of Joe Fallon.

4. New Hampshire (B+): Of those teams who have lost their established #1 goaltender, UNH may have the best immediate compensation in Brian Foster. Foster, a rising junior, has filled in for Kevin Regan 13 times over his first two seasons and rolled out a 4-4-2 record while slurping often heavy bushels of shots. With that seasoning, he should be ready to backstop the Wildcats’ strike force on a nightly basis. On that note, while not catastrophic, the graduation of scoring beacons Matt Fornataro and Mike Radja will press heavy demands on a fairly young crew anchored by sophomore James van Riemsdyk. Ultimately, though, any analyst’s trust in the Wildcats should lie exclusively on the stick of their playoff responsiveness, which they’ve lacked despite back-to-back regular season championships.

5. UMass-Lowell (B): This year’s Vermont Catamounts? The Riverhawks have paved that kind of road so far, giving BU a little static shock in the best-of-three quarterfinals the same way UVM did in 2007 for the program’s first post-season single-game victory since 2002. And with everyone but defenseman Kelly Sullivan returning, coach Blaise MacDonald can bank on a completely unruffled batch of forwards –who along with the defensemen made for the league’s most disciplined gang (10.1 PIM per game)- and a fairly reliable goaltending tandem of Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton.

6. Providence (B-): The Friars finished the 2007-08 regular season at a clear-cut median rarer than a lunar eclipse, posting a .500 mark of 11-11-5 and a GF-GA split of 66-66. Examine it a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that PC’s defense was second in the league behind only New Hampshire, but the offense was #8 on the landscape. Incidentally, the only departed forward from last season, Jon Rheault, was immeasurably the most consistent scorer on the roster. Now, his residual mates will have to collectively pad on that consistency if PC is to maintain or enhance its competitive posture. They have the indubitable mass for it (a whopping 20 rostered forwards), but the acceleration has yet to be seen.

7. Northeastern (B-): Subsisting too heavily on Brad Thiessen’s acute goaltending made the Huskies one of the first lost promises of last season. But save for Jimmy Russo, coach Greg Cronin’s entire depth chart is back for another try, which only oozes the program’s reinforced potential. Like the aforementioned Friars, though, the easier-said-than-done trick for Northeastern will be to freeze and exercise all-around consistency with no breathers at any time. You can ask for no less when you have so many certified obstacles in your league. The Huskies may also want to do something about that power play that finished dead last in league action.

8. UMass-Amherst (C+): The Minutemen haven’t lost much on a numerical front –only five seniors suited up through the course of last season. Rising sophomores Paul Dainton, the established starter in the crease, and James Marcou, the team’s reigning point-leader, ought to scrape out more gold as they mature. But the rest of UMass has yet to prove it can renew the ripples it made en route to its first NCAA tournament bid in 2007.

9. Merrimack (D+/C-): It’s no secret or surprise that the perpetually plebeian Warriors like to do –or try to do- as the Hockey East Romans do. And it just so happens that they, too, are returning a substantial core of players this season –their lone departures being the statistically shallow iron forward Derek Pallardy and one early signing in the form of would-be junior Matt Jones. But is this foundation enough to finally pilot Merrimack into full-length playoff contention? The safe gamble here is no gamble at all, for the Warriors are simply looking up at too many competitive hurdles.

10. Maine (D): Through their respective premature departures, goaltender Ben Bishop turned head coach Tim Whitehead’s left pocket inside out, as did forward Andrew Sweetland to the right pocket, exposing their emptiness. This once-perennially underachieving tournament shoo-in (on both the conference and national fronts) flaunts nothing to build on that can be seen without perceptive spectacles. Their top returning scorer –physically towering senior defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin- had but 12 points to speak of last season. The veteran skater crop as a whole (16 players) averaged 5.19 points over the course of last season. That’s enough to keep presumptive new starting goaltender Dave Wilson completely out of the equation. If he’s no Bishop or Jimmy Howard, he’s no help.

Quick Feeds: North Scituate’s Joe Augustine –the now 20-year coach of the URI men’s club team- released his 28-man Team USA roster for February’s Winter World University Games, which includes full-time Ram pupils Jon Biliouris (North Smithfield), Kyle Krannich, and David Sheehan. Additionally, team physician Razid Khaund cites Providence as his hometown…My personal slap shot of the week, while we’re thinking ahead to a new season: can someone tell me why I attended over thirty PC men’s and women’s games last season and never once heard “The Hockey Song” in any venues? That atmospheric hole must be plugged –and just to make this clear, I’m not looking at the pep band for it.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Men's Soccer 1, Georgetown 0

Step by step process
Friars puncture Georgetown garrison

Scarcely a minute remained in a mutually flustering showdown when the visiting Georgetown Hoyas, down 1-0 on the strength of Michael Pereira’s goal in the 82nd minute, were awarded just their second corner kick of the game.

That stab was awarded when another attempt was foiled by none other than their noted Friar nemesis, starting forward Timothy Ritter, slid through the goal box bog with his left leg up to tilt it out of harm’s way.

In turn, the Hoyas scraped out their fifth registered shot attempt of the day at the perfect point to deflate the edgy Glay Field mass and force overtime concomitant with reversed momentum. But within precious seconds, the play was turned over and Ritter was hustling the ball into Georgetown territory virtually unchallenged. He would be stripped before he could discharge a shot, but had incinerated enough of the clock and stamp PC’s 1-0 victory in the first of 11 Big East games for both parties.

The Friars’ dramatic, triumphant nipping process of a statistically textbook defense involved holding back any shot attempts whatsoever for the first 17 minutes of action, running away with the lead in that category (14-5 at day’s end) to no immediate benefit, and finally breaking the board at 81:40 of regulation time.

Georgetown, which had run up its first five adversaries by an aggregate 13-0, chipped the game’s first SOG in the 15th minute via Seth C’deBaca’s spiraling floater from the mid-to-left alley. After wide-leaning header from Jose Colchao three minutes later, though, the Hoyas let up to authorize eight unanswered kicks from the Friars.

The tempest commenced not long after reserve middie Alex Redding stepped in at the 17:11 mark, filling in Nick Cianci’s left side post. Between the 23rd and 45th minute, Redding accounted for four out of six PC shots and was the not-so-delectable centerpiece in a succession of offside calls, untamed kicks at Hoya goalkeeper Mark Wilber, and foiled swarms in the Georgetown goal box.

Only Ryan Maduro served up anything that Wilber could turn into a credited save before the half. At 29:10, the fiery second-term senior leveled a straightaway cannon from the brim of the goal box, only to see it lick Wilber’s fingertips and float safely over the crossbar.

Ritter –who tied Redding with four tangible attempts on the day- tipped Providence ahead in the SOG gallery at 62:48, at which point the Friars led 9-3 in terms of shots altogether. Still not fractured, Georgetown pulled even with precisely twenty minutes to spare when Peter Grasso forwarded the ball to an unguarded Colchao along the right post. Colchao crouched to discharge a low header, but keeper Tim Murray (two saves, second shutout of the season) was raring to swat and smother it, effectively ending the Hoyas’ sparsely distributed threats until their last ditch.

PC only garnered one more SOG themselves when exactly 8:20 remained, and moments after a quartet of defending Hoyas had nimbly deflected Maduro’s free kick out of bounds. Immediately awarded another whirl, the Friars’ forked at it twenty yards out from the cage before Pereira’s fairly sloppy boot pinballed off the congesting Georgetown backliners and skipped home to the right of Wilber.

That deciding kick was 14 tries in the making, but the home sect of the Glay grandstands –whose excitement had been stifled by endless brushes between the ball and the backstop mesh, not the cage mesh- tellingly erupted over it. And they doubled the celebratory decibels after Murray’s guards, who earned a startling rant from their stopper during a Georgetown threat around the 60th minute, snuffed the visitors’ last equalizing endeavor.