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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hockey Log Extra

Revisions to the PC men's hockey schedule have confirmed the smattering of visits from Cox Sports TV cameras as well as NESN's first trip to Schneider Arena in recent memory. The revered regional network will monitor the Friars' tangle with Boston College on Friday, January 30 as part of its annual Hockey East Friday Night package.

The Cox itinerary is as follows:
Friday, October 17 vs. Northeastern
Saturday, October 18 vs. Bowling Green
Saturday, November 1 vs. UMass-Amherst
Friday, November 14 vs. Maine
Saturday, November 15 vs. Maine
Friday, November 28 vs. Dartmouth
Friday, January 10 vs. UMass-Lowell
Friday, February 28 vs. Boston College

Red Sox Commentary

They’ve reached the peak of realism

Stage A of the ultimate annual mission has been fastened, as was signified by the audible, visible, and tangible presence of champagne in the Red Sox clubhouse Tuesday night.

Ideally, within the next month, the exact same acknowledgment will be made of the achievement of Stages B, C, and D –victory in the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series respectively. Until that engine hits the final line or busts, all the rooters and publicists shall incessantly stress the thirst for one more swig of party beverage, then another, and then one more.

But in sport, there is only so much room for everybody’s idealism to slip on the glimmering robe of reality. Come Sunday, 22 out of 30 major league franchises will have been forced to give up their presumed first-things-first goal of earning extra competitive activity.

Not long before Halloween, another seven will have had to relinquish their desire to clutch the Commissioner’s Trophy until they revive the bats and balls for spring training.

Sacrilegious as it may seem to even hypothetically suggest, especially for a fan base that is watching its team defend the championship and has all but grown addicted to winning, what are the odds that the Sox will again be the singular team that still stands and stands triumphant?

All right, enough of that dreadful fright for now, especially since the first round itineraries haven’t been solidified yet. The Red Sox have earned their spot and their shot at the title, and that in itself is something to be savored.

Even more succulent than that is the sudden frequency of Fenway Franks being on sale in October (remember when the Pinstripe Party Posse made jokes about that not being the case?). Boston will see postseason action for the fifth time in six years. And, if you’re interested in adopting a little Don Schula spirit, feel free to put an asterisk next to the playoff no-go year that was 2006, when the Sox melted from first to third in the AL East over the final two months largely owing to an incessant injury plague.

Or not. Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, and the rest of the management cabinet would be apt dismiss such an “excuse.” And indeed, this year, the Red Sox perpetual learner of a GM proved that the sturdiest franchises are those who compile an emergency kit in case the injury bug invades again, which it has for the better part of the 2008 campaign. When Mike Lowell has been down, Kevin Youkilis has shifted to his old third base post and in turn given first-year Bostonian Sean Casey a chance to contribute. A substantially quantitative and qualitative array of outfielders has averted disaster in the absence of J.D. Drew during the stretch drive. Et cetera.

Individual health and availability aside, the Sox are now a certified perennial powerhouse in MLB. In other words, they are a rare find in the stuffy 21st century sporting pool. After all, the Yankees’ have discontinued their practice of all but pre-ordering post-season tickets before Opening Day. And this comes a year after they severed their exponentially shaky ties with Joe Torre, who in a former era delivered four titles in five years and six pennants in eight years.

The Atlanta Braves –who until recently were hairs away from permanently purchasing the NL East flag? Don’t ask about them anymore.

The New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers are still arm wrestling for assumption of their league’s wild card bid, but whoever prevails will not commence the postseason with the same manager who led them at the start of the regular season. How does that guarantee stable, long-lasting contention?

All the while, Epstein and Francona have each enjoyed playoff action in all but one of their years in Boston. As far as the horizon is visible, they each have their respective posts nailed as rigidly as the Pesky Pole.

It’s an understandable propensity for fans of the more prosperous teams to crave dynasties. Such occurrences, however, are all but extinct. A legitimate annual crack at the crown is the next best thing, and for the moment, only the Sox and the Los Angeles Angels, who under the consistent guidance of Mike Scioscia have now garnered postseason privileges five times since 2002.

Could you ask for more than regular playoff ventures? Do you hope to build on what’s already been attained? Well, not doing so would defeat the purpose for fans and players alike.

But for safe keeping, just note that whatever isn’t earned in the near future won’t delete what was earned already.

Soccer Log

A cut and dry crisis

Drier than Death Valley; more shallow than a kiddie pool; unable to brush the back of the mesh and reap any statistical rewards in a single one of their last three games.

It’s not-so-super Friar Futbol, now on the heels of its first loss of the 2008 season after it had adeptly subsisted on a slim four goals through six games to post a 3-0-3 start to the year.

The Friars have been utterly scoreless since they cracked a 1-0 squeaking over Georgetown two Saturdays ago, granting them a 1-0 start to the Big East portion of the season. In the span of two scoreless, 110-minute marathons versus Northeastern and Cincinnati and Sunday’s 1-0 falter at the hands of Louisville, they have heaved a statistically substantial 43 shots, 13 of them going down as shots on net.

Beneath the unmistakable bushel of effort lay signs of ultimately draining hurriedness. During their draw with the Bearcats at Glay Field last Friday, PC’s onslaught perked up at an epically exponential rate to the point where they booted half of the day’s six shots on net in the second overtime frame.

On Sunday, they scraped out a season high 16 shot attempts, yet only three were played by Cardinal keeper Andre Boudreaux. Result: the Friars’ slimmest SOG precision rate in a single game yet.

Not even counted amongst those attempts was Chris Stoker’s straightaway sizzler at 31:15 of the second half, which beat the plunging Boudreaux by miles but couldn’t beat a play-killing whistle. It’s up for debate amongst the distressed residents of the Glay grandstands whether that misfortune or, say, Boudreaux’s recovery of a soapy Maduro rebound when Timothy Ritter could have cashed in on a gaping cage, was costlier for their team.

Come what may, while Providence procrastinates to score on a comfortable basis, the burden only thickens. Currently 0-0-2 on the road, with only a pair of interleague tilts up in Massachusetts to speak of, the Friars are now fostering for a vital weekend excursion to New York (Syracuse tomorrow night, St. John’s Sunday evening).

Like the Friars, the Orange were slapped with their first big L on Sunday –in the form of a 3-0 lashing via almighty Notre Dame. Like Murray, Syracuse stopper Robert Cavicchia has a radiant five shutouts to speak of and had authorized but one goal through six games prior to Sunday.

Unlike the Friars, the Orange have piled on a slightly healthier nine goals. And the undefeated Red Storm (6-0-2 overall, 1-0-1 in Big East play) have an even sturdier track record of 10 goals for and only one allotted to the opposition in a span of eight outings. St. John’s starting goalkeeper Neal Kitson was offered a breather when that one goal –booted by Boston College’s Mike Konicoff back on September 7- but has otherwise reeled in 35 shots faced and charged up seven shutouts.

Oh, and PC hasn’t inserted a single goal against the Red Storm since 2004.

The competition doesn’t exactly make compromises and entrust any catch-up sessions. Rekindling and inflicting their former scoring groove is all that juts on the PC priority handout.

Free kicks: Syracuse’s statistical leaders through the club’s first seven games read as follows: Tom Perevegyencev stands atop with four goals and 8 points; Justin Arena has pitched in three helpers; Spencer Schomaker has booted 20 shots…The Red Storm’s key categorical leaders through eight games: Adam Himeno is the top gun via three goals and six points; Himeno and Ryan Soroka share a lead with six SOG apiece; Ale Ivo has discharged the most overall attempts; and Ben Clack has consumed 767 minutes worth of playing time…The aforementioned Kitson is formally the Big East’s top goalkeeper three weeks running…PC’s last three tussles with St. John’s have required overtime, two get-togethers at Glay Field each being a scoreless draw and the 2006 excursion to Jamaica, N.Y. a 1-0 Red Storm triumph.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Soccer Log

PC women drool at more prosperous prospect
Test enhances as its all Big East games now

Upon burying the Massachusetts Minutewomen with an imbalance of shots (17-7 overall attempts, 8-4 on net) and tipping them over for a 1-0 triumph Sunday, the Providence Friars stuck down the interleague sect of their 2008 schedule at a nourishing 5-1 transcript.

But, if one can look past the overall atrocity this program trudged through last season (3-14-1 record, 1-5-1 out of their league), the path as it reads so far is scarcely out of the norm for fourth-year skipper Jim McGirr’s field project. Since his introduction, PC has gone a satisfactory 4-3 in the tune-up slate of 2005 and a worthy-of-no-complaints 3-0-3 in 2006.

In fact, over the last decade, between McGirr and the six preceding years under Tracy Kerr’s tutelage, only thrice have the Friars tilted the losing way in the nonconference portion of their season.

That said, after taking 2007 off to compress their endless statistical scrapes, abrasions, and lesions, they’ve returned to that familiar face-to-face confrontation with the query: Is this the year they smoothly translate the winning habits to legitimate Big East playoff contention?

For what it’s worth, the strike force is emitting a much more propitiating impression than most any of its recent predecessors. They might have stood to bend UMass stopper Lauren Luckey a little further than through one solitary goal on Sunday, but they did scorch six unanswered shots to start the game, getting three on net and culminating with Jill Camburn’s deciding conversion in the 23rd minute.

Camburn, the leading scorer two years back with 5-1-11 totals as a frosh, is now in a three-way tie atop the Friar charts opposite Courtney Collins and Tara Ricciardi. All three have officially doubled the output of last year’s leader (Megan Mancarella), equated that of the top guns from 2005 (Kelley Pettersen and Ashley Amaral), and surpassed that which everyone not named Camburn could cultivate in 2006.

When they did let the Minutewomen have a protracted buzz with the ball Sunday, specifically nonstop between the 75 and 83rd minutes, goalkeeper Jill Schott impermeably dealt with three shots on as many UMass corner kicks. When she pushed away Natalie Muka’s bid at 82:46, the Friars finally cleared and Schott’s second shutout (third for the team overall) turned to stone.

Schott, who a month ago stood in as Lonely Laura Elfers’ presumptive heir apparent with a solid three-and-a-half minutes of playing time to her credit, also effectively mollified the sting from last Friday’s 1-0 falter at Connecticut –PC’s lone Big East tilt and lone shutout loss to date. Only a hefty 10 saves on as many shots within her vicinity –seven of those coming in the second half- preceded Husky Annie Yi’s decisive strike at the 86:24 mark.

Through the first twenty minutes of their Friday visit to Morrone Stadium, the Friars temporarily led the shooting gallery, 4-2, and propped up a 2-1 SOG advantage. Although, save for Schott’s responsive rigidity, UConn ultimately assumed the visible command to which PC is all too accustomed.

They are also accustomed to fizzling with the foliage as the Big East slate intensifies. And, once they are finished tussling with Marquette here on Thursday, they will take an uncompromising aptitude test in the form of five uninterrupted road games, starting at South Florida this Sunday and concluding in Pittsburgh October 12.

And consider this: with all member schools having already consumed one of their 11 intra-conference tilts –save for Rutgers and Villanova, who tangled in their second respective games Monday- only three Big East teams are currently below .500 overall. (One, quirkily enough, happens to be the Huskies).

Now everybody’s relatively ambiguous nonconference background shall converge for the stretch drive. Truer colors, including those of Friartown, are on their way.

Free Kicks: In each of the last three games, at least two Friars have recorded three or more shot attempts…The forthcoming Marquette Golden Eagles have won each of their last three encounters with PC, all by 2-0 decisions…Camburn, Ricciardi, Lindsey Trubia, Christie Gent, and Marra Whaley have started all seven games to date this season. Gent and Whaley played through the full length of both Friday and Sunday’s matches.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Louisville 1, Men's Soccer 0

Louisville bugger

Seething Cardinals tag fruitless PC men with first loss

Only after their loyal stopper, Timothy Murray, had leapt to his right to make a double-palm block on Gerardo Chavez, who had smoothly circumvented defenders Justin Kahle and Michael Narciso, did the Friars long-barren strike force perk up.

At that point, the 29th minute of the opening half, Chavez had made the Louisville Cardinals a decent two-for-three in terms of SOG precision, their other stab finding the back of the cage courtesy of John Jonke at 7:15. Afterward, Providence finally hatched the egg on its shot clock and ran up an 8-2 discrepancy in terms of mere attempts for the rest of the half.

By the final horn of the day, the Friars were up, 16-13, in the way of shots, and up in terms of corner kicks taken (10-7). But with no change in their trend of futility, they let the 1-0 deficit turn to stone.

Every sign building up to the end result was favorable enough. Feisty senior middie Ryan Maduro –who by his output in the first six games this season may as well have been in Portugal, as rumors held all last winter- blasted off for five of his team’s registered stabs. Sophomore Alex Redding, granted just his second start of the year after the promise he had sculpted late last season seemingly disintegrated, resurged for three boots of his own.

From that angle, the Friars everyone got to know in the brighter days of 2007 could unmistakably have been back yesterday, if not for Louisville’s instinctive coverage of Maduro and Redding and rookie goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux’s dignified responsiveness on PC’s infinitesimal three shots on net.

And so, Providence is officially scoreless in its last three full games and 386:44 of overall playing time, dating back to Timothy Ritter’s conversion at Holy Cross 17 days ago.

The disparately bright facet was, of course, that Murray had consumed a similar run of shutout action all for himself, effectively keeping his club –four goals for and all- from making its first dip into the L column. But yesterday, his impeccability expired at 336:37 when the Cardinals –who have been good for a substantial 12 strikes in their first seven games- pounced on their second free kick of the day in just the eighth minute.

Senior midfielder Aaron Clapham –whose later shot in the 75th minute effectively knocked defender Kevin Neumen out of the game when Neumen sacrificed his mug to divert it- let a nimble bender skip through a dense collage of bodies. Jonke got a piece of it and whipped it home to the left of Murray.

After the Friars cleared their zone within moments of Chavez’s near-miss, they proceeded to run up the shooting gallery, 14-5, between the 20th and 71st minutes of action. And the Cardinals all but invited their hosts to put their brittle lead on the edge in the way of three unanswered yellow cards.

But Boudreaux was only required to touch three Providence shots, all of them in the first half, before his guards filtered all six of the Friars’ purposeful boots in the latter 45 minutes.

In the 67th minute, Murray lashed out to snuff Chase Kreger’s long-ranged bid that ended a 49 minute, 41 second fast from SOGs for the Cards. Once thawed out on that front, Louisville cracked down, authorizing three more far-flung bids from the Friars and absolute zilch after the 69th minute elapsed.

In that climactic stretch, Louisville discharged five unanswered shots, earned five corner kicks, and seduced PC into picking up two yellow cards of its own.

Maduro was flagged for the first of those cards in the 77th minute when he characteristically impugned a whistle that had beat Chris Stoker’s net-bound scorcher, zapping the would-be equalizer.

Seeing how that particular play unfolded, the passion is not to be questioned, but the productivity is still conspicuous by its absence.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Women’s Hockey East Preview: Conn Ascending

“As Maine goes, so goes Vermont,” the late politician Jim Farley once quipped.

Farley, chairman of the Democratic National Committee through the first two terms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said so in 1936 to describe the two states that stood alone in voting for Republican challenger Alfred M. Landon rather than the victorious incumbent.

Fast-forward seventy-two years and now that expressional comet is looking likely to fly again over the Women’s Hockey East thermosphere. A new playoff format admitting six of eight tenants to postseason action has been ratified, and the odd programs out –as preseason outlooks can best tell us- are the Black Bears and Catamounts.

That, of course, assumes Northeastern doesn’t spill its growth potential due to first-year coach Dave Flint’s struggle with the ignition.

Everywhere above, in the league’s mid-to-heavyweight sect, it looks as if an unexplained, unexpected act of grace has fallen upon those teams who have mustered nothing beyond a few individual post-season accolades in their effort to overthrow the three-time champion New Hampshire Wildcats. An unusual wave of offseason transactions has left Brian McCloskey with a guaranteed short bench for the duration of the 2008-09 season.

That’s as close as the Connecticut Huskies will get to a written invitation to grip the Hockey East championship trophy on the spot. But the door is more noticeably open to a program whose reckonable 2007-08 run (11-3-4 overall record between Christmas and the playoffs) was only eclipsed by the Wildcats’ regality, and whose hopes for an at-large NCAA bid were snuffed by a 5-1 conference semifinal defeat at the hands of Providence –on UConn ice no less.

The incentive should be running particularly high in Storrs right about now, though the aforementioned Friars and Boston College –easily last year’s prevalent disappointment- each bear similar competitive thirsts and resumes.

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. Connecticut (A): For what it’s worth, freshly graduated Jaclyn Hawkins is hanging about to serve as an assistant coach. Her 143 career points may not be statistically transferrable, but her uninterrupted presence should symbolically preserve the program’s unfinished ambition in everyone’s mind. With Hawkins there to help preach Heather Linstad’s respectably effective system, the Huskies will still have reigning Player of the Year Dominique Thibault at their disposal –minus, of course, any midseason obligations she may have with Team Canada. In such an event, it will be interesting to see if the burgeoning Jennifer Chaisson, Amy Hollstein, and other scoring understudies can step up and never go back down. Championship campaigns for other programs have unfolded that way in the past.

2. Providence (A-): Through yet another Bruins-like rollercoaster of a season, last year’s Friars incessantly hissed at doubters all the way to their 1-0 nipping by New Hampshire in the Hockey East final, a duplicate bitter finish to the previous year. But with their nemesis suddenly famished in terms of roster quantity, Providence, by contrast, has one of the league’s more promising foundations –seven 15-plus point-getters, three of them defenders, another three (Mari Pehkonen, Alyse Ruff, Jean O’Neill) effective linemates- and has padded on a few extra bodies (25 versus last year’s 22). With the means to replenish their former competitive posture in place, the Friars need only fasten a thoroughgoing rush with minimal injury roadblocks.

3. New Hampshire (A-/B+): Are the numerically depleted Wildcats doomed to crash into a state reminiscent of the post-1990 Oilers, post-1998 Chicago Bulls, or the Florida Marlins after they win a title? It probably won’t reach that extreme, but it’s sure taxing to try to four-peat a conference championship when you suddenly have guaranteed vacant blotches on your bench. A blindsided rash of transfers has left UNH with a brittle 17 rostered players –two of them goalies. Do the math: that’s three precious skaters below the game night bench allotment. Granted, the unmistakable talents of sophomore stopper Kayley Herman and heat guns Sam Faber, Kacey Bellamy, and Jenn Wakefield are still available, so the Cats should perform almost like their old Cyclopean selves most of the way. Come the stretch drive, however, their tanks will simply come into question.

4. Boston College (B+): Sure, the Eagles took an unexpected, unpleasant nosedive as a way of building on their journey to the 2006-07 Frozen Four. But, as a team, they grit their teeth through last year’s tempest and only snuffed out of the Hockey East playoff race on the very last day of the regular season. And, as individuals, scoring beacon Kelli Stack was the still the Kelli Stack and diligent goaltender Molly Schaus was still the Molly Schaus that introduced themselves two seasons ago. The rest of the crew need only flatten their wrinkles before the puck drops, not after, and rally around their catalysts to restore BC’s competitive credentials.

5. Boston University (B): In a mere three seasons of existence, BU has ascended admirably to relevance, and starting young should pay off to the fullest this season with an 11-member senior class –backboned by goaltender Allyse Wilcox; steady scorers Gena Kearns, Erin Seman, and Nicki Wiart; and defenders Amanda Shaw and Sarah Russell, each with 100-plus games to their credit- slated to return. On the whole, the Terriers are still vigorously sharpening their competitive blades, but have no cause not to ensnare either their cross-avenue rivals or the suddenly questionable Wildcats.

6. Northeastern (C+): E.T. successfully reached home at the expense of the Hub Huskies when second-leading scorer Chelsey Jones –a Minnesota native- capitalized on the opportunity to play for the Gophers. The Larry Lucchinos of New England women’s hockey are apt to observe that the evil empire extends its tentacles even to Matthews Arena. If anything, though, the loss of Jones plus leadership staple Nikki Petrich should serve to hinder Northeastern’s hopeful progress more than dock them to deeper doldrums. Northeastern’s only other losses from last season consist of backup goaltender Sarah Belliveau –who will be replaced by Swiss phenom Florence Schelling- and head coach Laura Schuler –succeeded by Dave Flint. Of course, we have yet to see how the intact Schuler-sculpted foundation will gel with Flint’s system.

7. Vermont (C): The Catamounts, like Northeastern, have a couple Zamboni loads of returnees and have the advantage of returning the same coaching cabinet from last year. And evolution-wise, it’s tough to overlook their improvement to 9 points in the standings last year versus three apiece in their first two Hockey East campaigns. They ought to be more than within nipping distance of the Huskies for the final wild-card playoff berth to the final week of February. But if it boils down to positional comparisons, Vermont is a tad less proven particularly in net. The Northeastern tandem of Schelling and Leah Sulyma will likely tip that scale.

8. Maine (D-): The Black Bears will return one of the most valiant goaltending tandems in the nation –of any conference, division, or gender- in Sarah Bishop and Genevieve Turgeon, the former of whom enters her sophomore year with an even 300 saves spread over 10 career games and the latter of whom gulped 907 blocks going in her junior campaign last year. But in front of that, Maine also returns an altogether shallow offense –rising sophomore Jennie Gallo led the team last season with a grand total of seven goals- and a brittle defensive fiber that asks far too much of its two masked ladies.

Summer 2008 Transfers
The past week’s commencement of official coaches-and-all practices should mean the ice chips from the NCAA’s customary off-season transfer winds have settled. Here is a list of confirmed female pucksters who switched their commitment hats:

Gabrielle Beaudry, D, Boston College to Syracuse (first-year program)

Cheyenne Bojeski, F, Mercyhurst to Syracuse

Brittony Chartier, G, Minnesota to St. Lawrence

Rebecca Gordon, F, Clarkson to Syracuse

Chelsey Jones, F, Northeastern to Minnesota

Keeta Koalska, F, Bemidji State to Syracuse

Nicolette Leone, D, Quinnipiac to Syracuse

Ashlan Lambert, D, BC to Minnesota

Carol LeBlanc, D, UNH women’s hockey to UNH women’s soccer (no joke)

Julia Marty, D, UNH to Northeastern

Stefanie Marty, D, UNH to Syracuse

Julie Rising, F, Bemidji State to Syracuse

Lucy Schoedel, G, UNH to Syracuse

Quick Feeds: Amber Yung, PC’s solitary representative in the past summer’s Team USA U22 activities, missed the cut for the more competitive US Women’s Select Team, which has no legislative age limit. Twelve current collegians –inluding BC’s Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack, UNH’s Kacey Bellamy, Dartmouth’s Sarah Parsons, and eight WCHA residents- and one future Wisconsin Badger in Brianna Decker will join nine established vets –PC alumna Karen Thatcher included- for November’s Four Nations Cup at Lake Placid and April’s World Championships…Kyle Richter, Harvard’s answer to John Muse in terms of stamina and durability, is suddenly the Crimson men’s answer to Tom Brady. Richter, who would have been priming for his junior year, will reportedly forego the entire 2008-09 school year and hockey season due to undisclosed personal matters. As a result, the Crimson shall resort to the untested trinity of John Riley (5 career saves over two bite-sized appearances last year), Ryan Carroll (one GA on five shots faced in a 17-minute cameo), and physically imposing freshman Matt Hoyle…Colleen Sanborn and Katy Applin will captain the Northeastern women’s team with the assistance of Annie Hogan and Erin Reil, as was announced Thursday…PC’s top returning scorer Matt Taormina is in a five-way derby poll on the New England Hockey Journal website for “Which Hockey East player are you most excited to see,” opposite bigwigs like James vanRiemsdyk of UNH, Colin Wilson of BU, John Muse of BC, and Brad Thiessen of Northeastern…The Brampton Junior Thunder, on tap to entertain the PC women’s exhibition a week from today will first drop in on New Hampshire Friday and Boston College Saturday…This author’s wacky prediction for the season (in a quick nod to what The Hockey News had each of its reporters do this week): Greg Collins –junior forward for the Friars out of Hingham, Mass.- and Greg Collins –senior forward for New Hampshire out of Fairport, N.Y.- score a hat trick apiece for their respective teams in their first meeting November 22 up in Durham. Of course, once the 3-3 deadlock stretches to a shootout (assuming Hockey East adopts it), the game will naturally be on the blade of Wildcat freshman Blake Kessel.