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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mercyhurst 3, Women's Hockey 0

Sparkling Agosta zaps Friars
PC skipper Deraney has mercy on shortcoming pupils

After a long night defined by slow suffocation induced by the Mercyhurst Lakers –led by internationally ornate scoring beacon Megan Agosta, whose two goals and single assist had factored into a 3-0 difference- the Friars’ discipline detonated late in the third period, and their tempo accordingly puffed out its final breath.

Flags drawn on Pam McDevitt for tripping and Erin Normore for elbowing –during a shorthanded rush to the porch of the Lakers’ net, no less- allotted the visitors a leisurely, cool-down, 5-on-3 twirl in the Providence zone for the last 75 ticks of the game. In effect, they smoothly solidified the 3-0 final, cutting off the Friars’ 4-0-1 unbeaten streak.

Yet in that brief winding-down window, PC coach Bob Deraney could distinctly be heard offering unfussy praise to his PK trifecta for at least making a Superball of the puck and persisting to grind till the buzzer.

After a lengthier-than-usual, fairly hushed post-game lecture in the locker room, Deraney initially stalled to answer the media’s first inquiry, which was build exclusively around superficial data. Namely, the unfavorable imbalance in the shooting gallery (54-23) and 10 empty power plays.

Maybe also toss in the fact that the Friars, dislodged from their No. 9 perch in the preseason national leaderboard after opening weekend, are now 0-3-1 against ranked adversaries. So unless the pollsters don’t see past freshman goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, who swallowed 50 shots in the by far sweatiest outing of her young career, nothing was likely gained in the way of national recognition.

Yet when posed the question of a presumed tablespoon of vinegar, Deraney’s vocal cords went dead for about 15 seconds before he offered, “Hey, they’re a good team and that’s what I said to the players afterwards. That’s the best game they’ve played all year.

“Our kids gave it everything they had. And not having Mari (Pehkonen) or Marty (Colleen Martin) in the lineup, against a team like UConn, you can get by. But when you’re up against who I think is one of the best players in the world, Megan Agosta, it’s really difficult when our own world class player isn’t out there.”

Over the latter half of a scoreless first period, and spilling over to the second, the Friars were afforded six unanswered power plays, but spilled the full vat of breakthrough invitations. Unable to penetrate the Lakers’ laser-beamed PK square, they spent the better part of those segments in hasty regroup mode in the neutral zone or hustling to stifle a shorthanded onslaught.

In the meantime, Mercyhurst finally lured Lacasse to default and broke the ice at the 2:54 mark. Agosta imported a long-ranged breakout feed from Melissa Lacroix in neutral ice, cut straightaway through the center alley, and slipped the eventual clincher home through the mouse-sized five-hole.

And moments after they had disintegrated PC’s sixth power play, Mercyhurst drew its third opportunity of the night –and first since the fifth minute of the opening frame- with a mere 1:13 till intermission and accordingly pounced to enhance their edge.

Agosta, withholding the biscuit about the near outer hash marks in a fairly stuffy slot, offered a left-wing lateral to an unoccupied Vicki Bendus in the far circle. Bendus nimbly slugged the conversion under a sliding Lacasse with 34.7 seconds left in the period.

“It’s just one of those nights,” Deraney shrugged. “They’re a good team, they had a good game plan, and they were very well-coached. They were aggressive, we found the open player a couple of times, didn’t cash in, the (pass) hopped over (the intended recipient’s) stick.

“In a game like that, where momentum is such a funny, fickle thing, they score the first goal, we get a couple of opportunities to score and we don’t, the game changes its complexion.”

The complexion, though, was stiff concrete by the 7:11 mark of the third. Only three minutes after PC had twice more failed to exploit the blunderstruck Lakers –whose Bendus went off a mere 14 seconds in for interference and who took their second too many players citation of the night at 2:49- Agosta, who alone finished the night with a Cyclopean 14 shots on net, strolled into Friar territory along the far alley to snap her second strike of the night home low.

Within the final four minutes, first-line centerpiece Ashley Cottrell drew one last power play, owing to Cassea Schols’ illicitly shepherding her en route to the cage. But Mercyhurst stopper Hillary Pattenden finished her night’s work nine seconds later, assertively snatching Brittany Simpson’s high, heavy floating blast from the center point.

Mercyhurst proceeded to sprinkle eight more unanswered shots in the remaining three minutes.

“I don’t think they can play much better than they did tonight,” Deraney granted. “Unfortunately, they were playing us.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Timetable for full bench come Mayor’s Cup

At the 68-second mark of the third period last night, PC’s two-way connoisseur Erin Normore folded up in a toe-curling gesture after a freak collision behind her own cage. She proceeded to lug herself back to the bench unassisted, but with a grimacing, heat-of-the-moment look of ailment.

But Normore, who had been reassigned to strict defensive duties with the recent upper body injury to Colleen Martin, hardly missed a beat. In another minute and 41 seconds off the play clock, visiting Meryhurst took its ninth penalty of the night, and she promptly joined classmate Brittany Simpson along the power play points.

Given the Friars’ flustering lack of connectivity in the way of offense over the 3-0 loss, Normore finished her night with a decent two registered stabs at opposing goaltender Hillary Pattenden and took a late elbowing penalty whilst attempting to screen the goaltender in a shorthanded sugar rush with 1:15 left in regulation.

“She logs a lot of quality minutes for us,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “It was a rough game, and whenever we play anybody, Erin Normore is one of those kids that they’re going to pay extra attention to. Obviously, Mercyhurst paid extra attention to her tonight.”

More to the point, assured that there are no new casualties to pen to the IR roster, Deraney intends to keep Finnish flare Mari Pehkonen, still recuperating from mononucleosis, and project defender Colleen Martin, recipient of an injurious hit from behind at the final buzzer against Robert Morris two weeks ago, sidelined for but one more night when Niagara visits this evening.

“Mari’s feeling better, so it’ll probably be another week,” he said. Martin, meanwhile is technically good to go, but “Unfortunately, she got cleared only yesterday (Thursday), so it just wouldn’t have been right to put her in the lineup tonight and tomorrow after taking two weeks off. It would be disastrous if she were to risk getting injured again.

“So we’ll play it conservative here, and try to get through another weekend without her, and welcome her back on Monday.”

Which, if all goes according to plan, would mean dressing them both again when the Friars’ make the night trip to Brown a week from tonight.

Appetite for reconstruction
Deraney’s quick assessment of tonight’s adversary from Niagara: “They’re a tough team. We always play them tough. It’s going to be a dog fight, it’s going to be close.”

More to his viewpoint, tonight promptly offers a chance to rerun last night’s type of sprint to the buzzer, albeit, he hopes, with a revised upshot.

“That’s the great thing about college hockey. You can an opportunity to bounce right back twenty-four hours later, so we’re really looking forward.”

Quick Feeds: Danielle Ciarletta had her turn juggling the fiery ammo of Meryhurst strike force two years ago, posting a still-career-peak 45 saves in a 4-3 falter October 28, 2006. With last night’s 54-shot salvo and 51-save count, Genevieve Lacasse has likewise placed her career bar on a bout with the Lakers…Mercyhurst and New Hampshire are each liable for two of the Friars’ last four home shutout losses…Mercyhurst did a convincing job of veiling the fact that they only dressed 17 skaters (11 forwards, 6 defenders) last night…The Niagara Purple Eagles will bus in for tonight’s 7:00 face-off at 3-9-1 overall and on the heels of a 4-2 triumph at Brown. Ashley Riggs sits atop their scoring chart with a 7-7-14 transcript through 12 games…After tonight, PC will not see home action for another seven weeks, attending to six sparsely scheduled away games before they resume the full-swing of the Hockey East season with UNH January 10.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hockey Log

Women’s Hockey vs. Mercyhurst quick hits

Like tonight’s host Friars, the Mercyhurst Lakers spent a jutting portion of their October grudgingly bearing more clips to the cleft than an aspirant national bigwig can handle. By month’s end, Providence had charged up a 3-5 overall log –sculpted entirely around losses of a one or two-goal difference- while the Lakers stood at 3-4, climaxing their iffiness with a 4-3 loss at Colgate October 31.

But like the Friars, ever since the calendar Zamboni completed its first of six tours around the 2008-09 slate, the Lakers have stabilized and have yet to lose a game in November, springing back to nip the Raiders, 4-3, in overtime in Part II of their visit there, then sweeping the first-year, Orange-flavored cupcakes from Syracuse last weekend.

And like apparently ascending Skating Sorority of PC, that of Mercyhurst can, in large part, attribute its newfangled smoothness to a freshman goaltender. Just as the Friars have been pampered by the poise of Genevieve Lacasse in their own three-game-old winning streak, the Lakers have Hillary Pattenden to credit for their last three Ws –although the last one was shared with senior Nicole Nelson and her lone 20 minutes of action as of yet this season.

Pattenden, Nelson, and senior Courtney Drennen all converged on their crease this autumn with a stake in succeeding the internationally seasoned Laura Hosier. Thus far, the novice has delivered the most convincing seminars, rolling up a 6-1-0 record versus the Nelson/Drennen combination of 0-3-0.

· PC’s top scorers: Laura Veharanta (10-3-13); Erin Normore (3-8-11); Ashley Cottrell (1-8-9)
· Mercyhurst’s top scorers: Jesse Scanzano (7-3-10); Hayley McMeekin (6-2-8); Meghan Agosta and Bailey Bram (4-4-8)
· Projected goaltending matchup: Genevieve Lacasse vs. Hillary Pattenden
Site: Schneider Arena, 7:00 face-off
· Media: Gametracker, online video streaming courtesy friars.com

Men’s Hockey @ UMass-Lowell quick hits
Their ignition still flimsy and utterly unresponsive, the 0-6-1 Friars suddenly have the taxing task of salting an evident sugar-rush fueling the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, who assertively docked them, 4-1, but a month ago.

While PC was decisively losing the full breadth of a battle to bar lonely derision with Maine last weekend, Lowell blitzed New Hampshire, 8-3, and stuffed up the Massachusetts Minutemen, 2-0, for their first bang-bang, four-point weekend of the year. They have thereby pole-vaulted into a three-way knot for fifth place in Hockey East at 3-2-0, opposite the Black Bears and Wildcats.

Early it still may be, especially knowing that nobody has yet consumed the first third of their 27-game league schedule. But the Friars, beyond the mere sake of psychological rehab, may note that the Riverhawks have two games in hand.

· PC’s top scorers: Matt Bergland (2-9-11); John Cavanagh (3-3-6); Matt Taormina and Ian O’Connor (2-3-5)

· Lowell’s top scorers: Kory Falite (6-3-9); David Vallonari (1-7-8); Ben Hollstrom and Maury Edwards (2-5-7)

· Projected goaltending matchup: Chris Mannix vs. Nevin Hamilton

· Site: Tsongas Arena, 7:00 face-off

· Media: Gametracker, online audiocast

Quick Feeds: The PC women are currently 5-0 when Alyse Ruff lights the lamp. When she is barred from the scoresheet, her team is 1-5-1…Junior grind-liner Pam McDevitt charged up her first career goal in a 7-3 throttling of the Lakers last season, only one game after she had etched her first helper as part of a 4-0 triumph of Niagara, tomorrow night’s adversary…Behind only Boston College, the Riverhawks currently boast the second most responsive power play in league action at an even 25% conversion rate…Carter Hutton, Lowell’s victorious goaltender in their last get-together with Providence, is shelved with an ankle ailment reportedly until mid-December…The Lakers and Purple Eagles will engage with both of the Divine City programs over a two-night stay here. Niagara will visit Brown tonight, then switch sites with Mercyhurst…From Lowell, the PC men venture up to New Hampshire tomorrow night, where the program is a wholesomely hollow 0-10 spanning over the last four seasons.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bruins Commentary

Fan absences no longer excusable

Head for the street and the Causeway crowd
You can feel it in the air, when the team's in town

-The Dropkick Murphys

Chiefly speaking, victory-thirsty Boston sports fans are most likely to flock to the troughs so long as they convincingly promise to provide a sufficient stock of “Dirty Water.”

Newsflash: the artificial frozen pond inside TD Banknorth Garden has just that. Heading into tonight’s visit from the Buffalo Sabres, the Bruins are a searing 5-1-1 on home ice and 11-3-4 overall –concomitant with a GF-GA differential of +14, second-best in the league behind San Jose- for sole occupation of the Northeast Division driver’s seat.

Starting with a 5-1 straightening-out of a disorderly Dallas Stars team on the 1st, Boston is technically undefeated (6-0-1) this calendar month, only missing out on one point last Saturday when the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers insidiously abolished a 2-0 Bruins lead en route to a 3-2 shootout decision.

Only then were there any grounds for underlining a possible case of wear-and-tear instilled by a hectic travel itinerary. (And even at that, it didn’t even send the Bruins packing empty-handed). Such a passé excuse plainly didn’t get its voice heard last week when, upon darting back home fresh off a profusely sweaty shootout win over the equally resurgent Chicago Blackhawks, the Bs made none other than the detestable Canadiens look like the shagged out travelers, planting a 3-0 first period lead and pacing themselves to a 6-1 triumph.

So what’s holding you back now? True, all things considered –recent history plus the fact that another three quarters of the regular season schedule still lie ahead- it is presumptuous to pronounce this team a certified, stable contender.

But any contented or confident proclamations of any degree are presumptuous unless they are made after the ultimate end is fulfilled. And it would be neither fanlike nor healthy to withhold, let alone ignore, one’s excitement until Game #82 wraps up and the Bruins’ spring itinerary is finalized.

Enjoy the good signs while they’re there, and don’t childishly draw attention by openly assuming the other skate shall drop before long. Hey, the plebeian-to-princedom Celtics of 2007-08 made it through the length of their campaign without the unspeakably feared blow to the Achilles Heel, did they? Ditto Barack Obama.

But what about 2001-02 or 2003-04? Yes, you’re factually correct to note that this franchise hung up a divisional banner at the conclusion of both those regular seasons, only to snuff out unceremoniously against Montreal before the calendar morphed to May.

But to be fair –and optimistically fair at that- this time around, the little things give light to more favorable signs. For one, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton are now indubitably propping up the rekindled Lunch Pail Gang torch, punching in a respectable balance of rumbles and lamp-lighters.

For another, the youth movement is making a habit of bringing in a new freshman phenom by the year, and this year it’s Blake Wheeler, already brandishing six goals in 18 career games.

And Claude Julien, for another, is in his second year as head coach, whereas in 01-02 and 03-04, the Bruins were subsisting on what later proved to be stimulating sugar rushes with first-year tutors Robbie Ftorek and Mike Sullivan. Within the next year, both of those overestimated, homegrown coaches crashed and were canned.

Not so with Julien, it appears. And with him, there is an equally long-lacking stability in the crease embodied by Tim Thomas (7-2-3 in twelve starts) and associate Manny Fernandez, who is pleasantly proving himself and his knee worth keeping after he gave out a month into last season.

When’s the last time the Bruins simultaneously had a satisfactory coach and crease custodian for more than a year? It would have to have been the combination of Pat Burns and Byron Dafoe circa 1997-2000. As it happens, those two were a few of the cruces behind Boston’s last venture beyond the opening round of playoffs in 1999.

And that’s what this particular fan base really wants, isn’t it? As a start, at least? Dream as big as you want, but this market is going on a full decade of repeatedly recycling a yearning for mid-spring hockey. Any specimen of progressivism should be welcomed and where this team stands, the bar is rigidly perched along the rung of Game 7, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

For the time being, the best the Bruins can do is to presage that playoff outburst for all in the Hub and the hockey spectrum to see. Taking up the old fashioned, night-to-night approach –for which there is no alternative- you can’t ask for anything beyond continuity of this hot streak.

Sure, they’ll lose in regulation a few more times. But that’s simply because, not to get too condescending here, you don’t win every game. We New Englanders should know.

So, if you still choose to doubt and deride for the sake of doubting and deriding, just admit that you don’t care much for hockey, admit that you’re not a complete Boston sports fan, then go chew on a puck and let the genuine Bruins Buffs enjoy themselves in peace.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hockey Log

Ruff meets smooth
Sophomore scorer is the hero once more

PC women’s hockey sophomore Alyse Ruff and freshman Laura Veharanta –two primordially well-matched wingers brandishing similar acetylene sticks and scoring prowess- traded traditional positions in the ultimate deciding play of Sunday’s 2-0 tipover of Connecticut.

Deployed with centerpiece Ashley Cottrell and point patrollers Brittany Simpson and Christie Jensen with precisely 7:00 to spare and a 5-on-3 advantage, Veharanta, already with seven power play strikes to her credit and usually given to violating goalie’s sightline, this time took up the task of feeding Ruff for a grittily executed tip-in.

The goal would go down as Ruff’s second game clincher in as many ventures and her third this season. Pad on her two deciders as a freshman last season, and she already has five in a mere 48 career outings.

Enlightened to that data, though, Ruff responded in pure Nuke Laloosh of Bull Durham mode. “I just go out there and put forth my best effort every time and just hope the best out of the situation,” she mused.

But surely, there was something extra pleasurable to extract out of capitalizing and shattering a rigid 0-0 knot against a frustratingly thorny defense like that of the Huskies, right?

“The way we go into every game is to give our best effort out there (regardless of circumstances),” said Ruff. “So whether we score shorthanded, or on a power play, or even strength, they all give us great opportunities to win.”

Conn descending statements
Granted, the Friars’ startling 5-1 throttling of the Huskies in last year’s Hockey East semifinals layered a welcome sweet frosting on an initially limburger-based cake that was the 2007-08 season series. The same held true in 2006-07, when the Huskies nipped PC at Schneider Arena, 1-0, in October, only to bow before them in both ends of a home-and-home series in the final week of the regular season.

That notwithstanding, head coach Bob Deraney has stressed the urge to kiln a more convincing persona of start-to-finish aptitude.

“This game had some significance because, one, it’s the beginning of our season series with them, so it was important to kick that off in our favor,” he said. “Secondly, it is two valuable points in the league. And they’re a very tough team. They have to take away points from other teams so it’s important that we take as many points as we can from them.

“When they’re ahead, they’re a very tough team to come back against. But when we’re ahead of them, it opens things up for us, and as you can see, they’re a very disciplined, well-coached team that just tries to wear you down.

“That’s what I’m most proud of. We won the mental battle.”

Pehkonen recuperating
Finnish flare Mari Pehkonen, who contracted mononucleosis while at the Four Nations Cup more than a week ago, has skated lightly and periodically in practice, but sat Sunday’s game out. “Luckily, she doesn’t have a very severe strain of it,” Deraney noted. “So it could be one week or it could be three weeks. But it’s not going to be very long (before she returns).”

Elsewhere in the medical wing, junior defender Colleen Martin –still alleviating an upper body injury sustained at Robert Morris on November 8- is classified as day-to-day and still looking hopeful for a return in time for Friday’s visit from Mercyhurst.

Quick Feeds: Goaltender Genevieve Lacasse garnered recognition as the week’s top defensive player in the league for her 30-save, career-first goose-egg…Sophomore Jen Smith joined in on the pregame warmup and took a seat at the one of the bench doors, opposite Danielle Ciarletta, making for the first time the Friars have dressed three goalies since October 11…For the first time since October 10, Veharanta led the team in registered shots on Sunday with five, boosting her team-best cumulative total to 49 on the year…Kelli Doolin, a 2008 graduate of the program and co-captain last season, put in a cameo appearance at Sunday’s game.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, November 17, 2008

Women's Hockey 2, Connecticut 0

Women’s Hockey 2, Connecticut 0

Friars prevail in battle of patience
Late power play perk-up equals third straight win

Together with the newly habitual victors he instructs, Friars head coach Bob Deraney has a personal hot streak of sorts brewing. One that could justifiably leave him contemplating a secondary career in tarot card readings.

As he foretold in advance of yesterday’s confrontation with the gritty Connecticut Huskies, he found his pupils engaged in a tussle defined by anaconda-like constriction, which ultimately ran scoreless through the first 53 minutes of play.

Then, with an even 7:00 left to work with in regulation, the Huskies absorbed their second penalty in a matter of 62 ticks –Cristin Allen going off for the third time of the day with a cross-checking citation- in effect granting Providence its fourth power play and 58 seconds worth of a 5-on-3 sequence.

Acutely smelling an invitation to a favorable turning point through the suddenly creaked door, Deraney used his lone timeout at once. His message to the strike force?

“Just stick to what we do,” he said. “And what I mean by that is, we have our systematic play when it comes to 5-on-3 and our special teams have been very good. So I basically said ‘Hey. Here’s an opportunity. Just continue what you’ve been doing, but make sure you execute. You’re going to have a little bit more time because it’s 5-on-3, so find the open player. She’ll be there.’”

The skipper’s prediction precision lit up yet again. Six seconds after the first UConn penalty expired and Rebecca Hewett hustled in to join the PK, Friar forward Laura Veharanta churned elusively throughout the far circle, the puck irremovably fastened to her tape, then turned to find linemate Alyse Ruff patiently perched in front of goaltender Alexandra Garcia (18 saves).

With 5:57 to spare, Ruff facilely tilted Veharanta’s subsequent magnetic feed top shelf over Garcia’s trapper for the decider in a 2-0 Providence victory, later solidified by Kate Bacon’s empty netter with 20 seconds remaining.

With that, the Friars prolonged their unbeaten streak to 4-0-1 in their last five ventures and, for a change, leaned over the right side of the .500 fence in both their Hockey East (3-2-1) and overall (6-5-1) game-by-game transcripts.

Then there was freshman goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, now perfect in the win column over three consecutive starts, who pitched her first collegiate shutout through a 30-save dolphin show.

For the better part of the first period especially, the Friars were in tongue-biting mode, grating a persistent UConn attack brigade that mustered a 9-3 edge in the shooting gallery and at one point –within the fourteenth minute- induced Providence to three icings in a space of 52 seconds.

PC’s lengthiest, most favorable-looking early visits to the Huskies’ domain were boosted by a pair of power plays, but in the 18th minute, a fresh-out-the-box Allen absorbed an authoritative clear from her own zone and broke untouched down the Broadway lane for the best scoring chance of the period. She would be thwarted, though, by a vitally collected Lacasse, who paced herself to a sprawling, post-hugging save.

Deraney was apt to commend his defense for never puffing out in addition to acknowledging the cornerstone in his crease.

“You can just see us growing and getting better every day in all phases of the game, and it all starts with our goaltending,” he said. “They didn’t get a lot of quality opportunities, but when you get your goalie in the zone like Genevieve was tonight, it’s uplifting to us and deflating to them.”

Both clubs tuned up their offensive maneuverability in the middle frame, UConn slightly augmenting its shooting edge to 20-12, including five registered stabs over one power play about the halfway mark. But Lacasse and Garcia alike still failed to default.

The Friars even disrupted that productive UConn power play tempest when Bacon accepted a breakout feed in neutral ice and bustled through the near alley en route to a face-to-face encounter with Garcia, who would equate Lacasse’s resolve to ultimately the two-set of goose eggs for another intermission.

Added Deraney, “We missed some golden opportunities on our first power play. A couple of open nets that could have opened it up (for us) a little more.”

But PC, which neutralized a 6-on-4 disadvantage in the final 90 seconds over Connecticut’s fifth and final power play, tipped the scale when daylong heart-skipping and teeth-gnashing gave way to bonus breath and two bonus skaters.

“When it’s going and going, and there’s no scoring, it’s touch and go, and it’s tough to gain an inch, if you’re not mentally tough, sometimes you’ll crack,” said Deraney. “(Instead,) I think they made us a more disciplined and composed team and I’m really excited about the way we responded to this challenge.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

A Leaf of absence?
Burke seeks to take his foil-fisted touch elsewhere

Brian Burke is one of the handful of famed alumni –and one of only two puck-centric people, opposite Sara DeCosta- to have offered a detailed profile of himself for Providence College’s official website, pedaling the institution’s branch motto “Transforming Society.”

He’s done that, all right. There’s indubitably something of a transformative connotation that comes with reeling Lord Stanley into Southern California, as the brass knuckled Burke did as GM of the Anaheim Ducks but 17 short months ago.

Actually, judging by Burke’s current home landscape, those were a lengthy 17 months ago. The Ducks just succumbed to the 21st century trend of snuffing out in the middle of their road to a repeat. Like the previous four Cup winners before them, they didn’t so much as surmount Round 1 of the playoffs the following spring.

On the whole, Burke himself is not at fault for that. Nor is he to blame for his unmistakable transformations subsequently stripping themselves off the venue formerly known as The Pond (Honda Center these days).

It’s a Sun Belt hockey market. It happens. Just like it did to the Carolina Hurricanes after 2006, the Tampa Bay Lightning after 2004, and so on. Beachcombers with inherently little patience for wintry breeds of entertainment and leisure force their local hockey hype to evaporate quicker than any Hollywood movie star’s attempt at a backyard rink.

Might that explain Burke’s –albeit awkwardly timed- backing off from his post in the Ducks’ front office? Up until the middle of this week, everything beyond his ongoing duties with the Ducks was sheer speculation.

Everyone knows what we’re talking about. The management dream team of Burke and fellow 1977 graduate Ron Wilson linking up in Leaf Nation; the same tandem guiding the American Olympians in 2010 in none other than Burke’s former home of Vancouver.

Both parties have calmly deflected those notions when the media thinks it out loud. But now that Burke is weaning himself off of Orange County, even the last of the rigid skeptics have to let loose and join in on the fun pondering.

This past Thursday, Hall of Fame inkslinger Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe went so far as to pose the breathtaking notion of Burke leaving a third mark on New England –having already skated for the Friars in the infant years of Schneider Arena and briefly overseen the late Hartford Whalers in the early 1990s.

That’s right. Dupont was stoking an appetite for Burke amongst Bostonians. Three other potential suitors he cited were Chicago, Ottawa, and naturally, Toronto.

As far as the Spokespeople are concerned, it’s an inarguably stimulating concept. (And for homegrown Friar Fanatics, it would be especially quenching since Hal Gill and Jay Leach don’t work in this area anymore.) But considering the Bruins’ pleasurably steady progression under Peter Chiarelli, there might be the risk of fixing that which is not broken.

But for the rest –especially the constituents of the Battle for Ontario- it is all the more plausible and appetizing now that Burke is backing out of Anaheim. The Senators made the very mistake the Bruins are wisely avoiding when they shuffled their front office personnel so soon after falling three wins short of a Cup thanks to Burke’s Ducks. Coach-turned-GM Brian Murray implicitly admitted to putting his skate in his mouth when he canned replacement John Paddock in the middle of last season, but the bleeding is not yet fully compressed.

Now back to the Leafs, of course. When one really thinks of it, Burke’s most PC-esque transformative ambition is indeed a potentially fulfilling plug in the market of starving, rabid Buds Buffs, who haven’t so much as gotten fired up for a Stanley Cup Final since 1967.

When a perfect stranger born in the 1990s –i.e. Anaheim- does not look like a certified contender, their general relevance slips. When an Original Six franchise born decades ago in hockey’s native land –i.e. Toronto- is not delivering the Ws, the fans flock to the rink anyway, often in the form of boo birds.

They say negative publicity is still publicity. And Burke’s track record makes it plain that he feasts on it all. Through his Old Time Hockey instincts, he’ll feud with the fan base and media guild if he deems it necessary. And he won’t tire of it any more than they will.

Only simple science is needed to understand this progressively valid hypothesis. If Burke tries to flood a transformative pond in Toronto –regardless of what his assemblage produces in the standings- that pond is sure to freeze.

Veharanta, Bergland unmistakable impact frosh
In a nod to the current edition of The Hockey News (newsstand date: November 24) wherein “NHL Team Reports look at the rookies making an impact on each NHL club,” the Free Press offers the same report concerning PC:

Due merely to her on-ice fostering on the opposite coast and shortage of international seasoning, Laura Veharanta came to campus at a much lower profile than some her peers. She was accompanied by the likes of Abby Gauthier –a scoring beacon out of St. Mary’s of Lynn- and a pair of Team USA U18 veterans in Kate Bacon and Ashley Cottrell.

The surface of notoriety was Veharanta’s to break, and the former California Wave captain did just that upon the first face-off of the season, linking up with veteran top-liners Mari Pehkonen and Alyse Ruff in the preseason exhibition. Since then, owing in large part to her Ryan Smyth-like instincts in the dirty-nose area, she has been one of the few consistently productive Friars with one-third of the schedule consumed. She has charged up a 10-2-12 transcript, including four two-point ventures, and has been held scoreless but three times out of 11.

All this is to say nothing, though, of Genevieve Lacasse, who has pried into a stable containing three incumbent goaltenders and so far shared a pleasing robustness with Danielle Ciarletta. At this rate, Lacasse and Veharanta may justly seal joint accolades in the departments of Rookie of the Year and Surprise of the Year.

Matt Bergland has stood out in an eerily similar manner with the struggling PC men’s program. Going into the weekend action, he had stamped eight assists in as many games and, with 10 total points, led linemate John Cavanagh by a distant margin of four atop the Friars’ scoring charts. After Friday’s Part II of the Maine series, Bergland and classmate Bryce Aneloski –a regular starter on the blue line these days- were two of only seven Friars to have dressed for every game.

Mounting flattery
Scurvy-riddled Friartownies have little beyond words of encouragement and promises of perseverance to subsist on in the early going of this season. If that type of psychological crack cream really hits the spot for anybody, look nowhere beyond Vermont skipper Kevin Sneddon’s fraternally graceful words in Tuesday’s league-wide media teleconference. Four days after his Catamounts slipped from ahead to ultimately give PC its only Hockey East point to date, Sneddon said, “Give all the credit in the world to Providence, who in their own building just made it very difficult for us to play against. They really slowed us down in a good way, with their aggressive fore-checking style…It was kind of a disappointing tie, but looking back on the weekend any time you can get a point at Providence, it certainly is a good thing.”

Extra cap on professionalism
Defenseman John Carlson –who in a world with a tad more emphasis on education may have been a prosperous point-based puckslinger for the UMass Minutemen right about now- signed a three-year entry level contract with the Washington Capitals, who claimed him with the 27th overall draft choice last summer mere days after he had unplugged himself from Don Cahoon’s class in favor of a half-shield and a stipend from the OHL’s London Knights. Thus far, he has charged up 12 points in as many major junior games and may now be invited for a slurp of NHL java at any time. Maybe, from Cahoon’s perspective, it was for the better that he lost the two-way bruiser before he ever really had him versus a more anguishing Kyle Okposo/Minnesota Gophers/New York Islanders scenario.

Quick Feeds: Based on the online transcripts, Tim Army, being Tim Army, offered the longest single-question response amongst any of his peers in Tuesday’s media conference call. When asked to merely measure up his own club with that of Maine, he delivered an answer constituting a word count of exactly 533. Somebody believes in giving you more than you bargain for, no?...With the early NLI tempest brewing, at least three current or recent Boston College siblings appear intent on propping up the household legacy. Benn Ferriero’s brother Cody, Joe Whitney’s brother Steve, and dropout Brett Motherwell’s sister Ashley have all been cited on commitment lists for their appropriate sects of the program…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: the Big Blue M (i.e. Michigan) has a two-night stay in Miami to engage the Big Red M.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com