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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Women's Hockey 4, Maine 1

Quick fix
Friars clear early bump to pin Black Bears

Report based on Gametracker

Orono, Maine- Thriving slickly on a newfangled 3-1 edge near the dusk of the second period, the patient Friars finally afforded themselves a chance to exploit the Maine Black Bears’ feeble penalty kill.

With 5:34 remaining in the stanza, Jordan Colliton took her team’s first whistle of the night for holding and PC, which had already run up a 12-4 edge in the way of registered shots since coming onto a new sheet, peppered goaltender Genevieve Turgeon (31 saves) with four more until Colliton’s jailbreak.

Turgeon later withstood another three stabs while teammate Jenna Ouelette served a two-minute sentence for body-checking that carried over to the third. But when the Bears hiccupped once more at 3:40 –through another hitting infraction with Jennie Gallo held liable- the Friars’ strike force swiftly delivered the dagger.

Within a mere twenty seconds of the next face-off, Laura Veharanta and captain Brittany Simpson had collaborated to set up Mari Pehkonen for her first intercollegiate tally in a month, cementing a 4-1 victory at Alfond Arena that took a considerably short two hours and one minute to complete.

Nagged by a moderate bout of mononucleosis since she returned to campus from the Four Nations Cup in early November, Pehkonen had left her appearance of game time readiness up in the air during the practice week. But she would take a chance on donning the Friar attire for first time in five weeks, link up on the first line with Erin Normore and Kate Bacon, and connect on her lone shot of the evening.

Symbolically, Pehkonen seemed to zap the last of her not-too-distant illness memories whilst making the Black Bears forget a time, from about two periods prior, where they were sprinkling hints of pure command on last night’s scoresheet.

For the better part of the opening frame, the puck switched possessive teams in pigskin-length intervals. After Jean O’Neill spotted a fleeting one-shot deal for the Friars on her first shift of the game, Genevieve Lacasse (27 saves) got her gamely torture test in the form of about one-and-one-half of a near-continuous penalty kill.

Over the Friar bench’s too-many-players infraction, called at 4:09, and Kate Bacon’s tripping citation at 6:30, Maine’s power play, tops in the league to recompense their cellar-dwelling PK, a cumulative nine unanswered power play shots at Lacasse in a matter of three minutes. The crease custodian finally bent on that ninth lashing at 7:18 when Vanessa Vani, Maine’s top point-getter and solitary skating senior, converted a feed from winger Jennie Gallo.

Their wake-up call in clear and their discipline back intact, Providence proceeded to pay a lengthy return visit to the Black Bears’ estate, rapidly wrinkling the 10-1 shooting gallery deficit to 10-7 while Turgeon forced frequent whistles.

The Friars did nothing more than subtly soften Turgeon up for the moment. But when they rushed in again with just over five minutes till intermission, they punched in an equalizer courtesy Jackie Duncan and the aid of Colleen Martin –who heaved an uncharacteristic six shots of her own.

From there on in, every new entry within the scoresheet smiled upon PC. Veharanta, who has suddenly been more given to playmaking of late with assists on two of Alyse Ruff’s clutch goals and another pair of helpers last night, tallied for the first time in five outings at 0:28 of the second, granting the Friars a first time 2-1 edge.

Twelve minutes later, centerpiece Ashley Cottrell deviated her normal role of playmaking to accept Veharanta’s export and stash away her second goal of the season to enhance that lead to 3-1.

Veharanta thus charged up a breakthrough first three-point outing in her booming young college career and bulked up her team-leading scoring transcript to 11-6-17 over 16 games. And by carrying out the deciding strike singlehandedly, she knotted herself with Ruff with three game clinchers apiece on the season.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hockey Log

PC women carry Bear hunt on to Orono

By sheer serendipity, the puck prophets foresee the Friars’ chance to epitomize their new fetish for defensive nail-biters in this weekend’s two-night stay in Maine.

Over the three preceding weekends, Providence has run up a 2-1-1 log and mirrored that near-parity with a cumulative GF-GA discrepancy of 5-5. Meanwhile, from the time this year’s senior class broke in their first sets of collegiate blades, the Friars have drawn a .500 point-plucking rate concomitant with a 6-6 aggregate score in visits to Alfond Arena.

Now on the heels of a 1-0 nipping of Brown, which splashed a minor drought from Ws at Meehan Auditorium and nudged them back into the black overall (7-6-2), and bearing a similarly intermediate Hockey East record of 3-2-1, the Friars are yearning for a booming breakout before Christmas break.

“It’s very important,” stressed head coach Bob Deraney. “First of all, it’s a chance to sweep a (season) series,” noting the favorable 4-2 decision his team picked up in Maine’s lone trip to Schneider Arena on October 26.

Hardly a cinch, that will be. Every last on-ice constituent involved in this series, which kicks off tonight with a 7:00 opening draw, knows no drill beyond drawing a knot when these parties lock twigs on the Black Bears’ Alfond pond.

Their perennially plebeian status aside, the gritty Black Bears have mustered a tie in each of the Friars last four drop-ins at Alfond Arena, spaced over the full breadth of the past three seasons. PC’s half-full winless/undefeated streak in Orono dates back roughly four months longer than the program’s tantalizing fast from Hockey East championships, when they scraped out a set of 3-2 and 4-2 triumphs in November 2004.

Size all that up with the teams’ last four tangles on the Divine Campus, all of which the Friars have wrested by a collective tally of 18-6.

It’s not all specific to Providence, though. Maine enters this weekend empty on the road (0-8) but respectably level at home (3-3-1). Minus a 7-3 lashing via North Dakota in the first weekend of October and 7-1 submission to New Hampshire three weeks to date, the Bears have kept their home scores to a rate of minus-2 or better.

“They’re a much different team in their own building,” Deraney acknowledged. “They beat Boston College up there two weeks ago (5-3 on November 16). So it just shows that we’ll be playing a tough team. But at the same time, it’s going to make us tougher and I like our mindset. I like how tough we are, and how tough we are mentally.”

Nine of the Friars’ last eleven ventures have been decided by two goals or less. And lately they’ve appeared to duplicate the daredevil habits of these Black Bears by authorizing an overload of opposing shots at their net.

The difference: Genevieve Lacasse, unlike Genevieve Turgeon –whom she will likely confront in the cages tonight- has not made a habit of defaulting and relinquishing the game in the shadow of the buzzer. Tonight’s principal talking point, therefore, should be PC’s ambition to exploit that distinction in an OK Corral-like gathering and to buck the tying-Maine trend whilst prolonging the exhilaration trend.

“We find ways to win games,” said Deraney. “That’s what great hockey teams do. They find ways to win games, whether it’s 1-0 or 5-4. And the fact that we feel we can come from behind, or feel comfortable with a one-goal lead or when we’re down by a goal, those are all valuable things we need to draw on.”

Quick Feeds: Among all eight Hockey East tenants, Maine currently tops the chart in overall power play proficiency, converting at a 20.5% rate. But they are inversely inept on the PK, currently boasting a dead-last 74.1% in that category. A cumulative threesome of shorthanded goals on the opposition’s part doesn’t help the Bears’ cause either. They also rank eighth in the league’s special teams net…Turgeon’s -17 rating is the worst on the Black Bears’ stats sheet while her associate goaltender Candace Currier’s +6 rating is the program’s best…PC senior Mari Pehkonen, who has combated mononucleosis for the last month, was not skating full throttle or in full gear this practice week, a safe indicator that she will take a few more precautionary nights off this weekend…Part II of this weekend series is slated to commence tomorrow at 2:00.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On Hockey

Lacasse is the runaway nucleus now
PC’s doing something right, and it’s largely in net

The time may have come for hockey to institute a set of criteria for a goaltender’s answer to the Gordie Howe Hat Trick, an unofficial accolade bestowed upon any multifaceted skater who brushes the scoresheet in the form of at least one goal, one assist, and one fighting major.

Let’s call it, say, the Patrick Roy Hat Trick. The core requirements: a shutout, an assist, and a two-minute minor.

For PC’s radiant rookie Genevieve Lacasse, it appears high time she received recognition of such a degree. Last Saturday, she neutralized the whole of a 21-shot firestorm at the hands of Brown University -14 of those shots spaced over five power plays, one of which was her doing through a tripping infraction at 3:54- then proceeded to push away 16 more stabs and assist on Katy Beach’s goal towards a 1-0 triumph at Meehan Auditorium.

Lacasse can be absolved, if not acclaimed, for blissful ignorance. Having only labored in the Friars crease for three months now, she likely didn’t feel the same trend-bucking task pressure that her elder teammates were. If the early Brown barrage signified ominous reminders of the notion that the Mayor’s Cup uncompromisingly switches recipients each year, Lacasse dismissed it with the same poise she has demonstrated en route to six wins and four tough-to-blame-for losses.

“She’s played terrific for us and that covers a lot of weaknesses,” said head coach Bob Deraney.

It was only eight evenings and one start prior that Lacasse confronted another brimful bushel of opposing ammo, when mighty Mercyhurst discharged 25 shots in the second period alone. And the two sandwiching frames that night were only facile by fanciful comparison. By the time the horn solidified a 3-0 defeat, Lacasse had done her part in the form of a 51 save dolphin show.

And this coming only five days after she had swallowed 30 bids by Connecticut to prop up a chronic zilch-nada deadlock until her praetorian guards gave her a break in the third, ultimately stamping a cathartic 2-0 win for Lacasse’s first career shutout.

A fraternal step-by-step twin of that game unfolded in the tip-over of Brown last Saturday. And by night’s end, Lacasse’s overall save percentage of .950 and GAA of 1.72 both rated second in Hockey East only to another early bloomer –Florence Schelling of Northeastern. (Incidentally, the Friars and Huskies alike are still getting reliable output from their incumbent crease custodians –Danielle Ciarletta and Leah Sulyma, respectively.)

Though Deraney was apt to commend his PK quartet –or, in a few brief cases, trinity- for doing their part in the initial tempest last Saturday, Lacasse was, by sheer nature, the last judge when the biscuit hovered within the net’s tasting range. This has been the case perhaps a tad too frequently for comfort since Lacasse’s debut two months ago. Over ten total appearances, she has yet to confront any fewer than 27 shots on a given night.

Yet, at the same time, she has yet to authorize more than three goals or nail fewer than 25 saves on a given night.

One dollop of trivial gravy to add to the budding Lacasse-Jana Bugden parallels: by setting up Beach’s decider, Lacasse is the first PC netminder to charge up a helper since Bugden collaborated with Erin Normore to set up Kathleen Smith in the 2006 Hockey East semifinal.

But even without her teammates fluffing her pillows –or, in the latest case, her helping herself- Lacasse has upheld the Friars’ viability and granted them the chance to regularly rework tension into exhilaration. Providence finished the month of November with a brittle GF-GA difference of 16-11 over seven games. But the more vital transcript reads 4-1-2, amounting to an improved 7-6-2 overall record on the year.

“The things you learn from playing tight games are invaluable,” said Deraney. “The fact that you can beat a terrific UConn team, 2-0, beat Brown, 1-0, and get comfortable playing in such small margin games like that pays dividends down the road.

“You win championships with defense, and the fact that we’re getting comfortable with that shows the mental toughness that you need to go into the playoffs. And I’m not just talking about the Hockey East playoffs. I’m talking about the NCAA tournament.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Ponds of ink bear various fish
Distinguishing the breeds of bloggers

Through the young, nearly fourteen-month existence of the Friartown Free Press, its founder and thus far only reporter has admittedly detested the label of “blogger” for its generally amateur, nonchalant connotations. Strictly spreaking, the purpose of the Free Press is to function as convenient, laborious training grounds for aspirant sports reporters attending Providence College.

But, on the whole, and for reasons that will be elaborated as this week’s column rolls along, we’ll let it slide. This is, strictly speaking, a blog, grounded and fueled by the appreciable services of an establishment entitled blogger.com.

Still, it is comments like those out of Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia, caught on record and lacquered online by the tireless Denver Pioneer hockey blogger –also a satellite of blogger.com- that warrants a record-straightening response.

According to the “Lets Go DU” inkslinger, last weekend, prior to Part I of the Gophers two-night visit to the WCHA-rival Pioneers, Lucia had fervently warned against the influence of the new media in a chat with the Minnesota television broadcast crew.

"The internet has probably had the biggest impact,” he said of the last decade’s transformation in exposure, “because it is a sounding board for people. They want the instant gratification. Maybe they think they understand what is going on and they really don't."The internet is a way for people to get together and say how great our program is or how bad our program is. I always say it’s never as great as you think our program is or as bad as you think it is."I think you need to not get caught up with what people say on a talk radio show. Not what somebody's saying in a newspaper. Not what somebody's saying on a blog."

From Lucia’s implicit viewpoint, anybody and everybody who disseminates facts, analysis, and speculations beyond their own walls constitute the media. This means encompassing all of the seasoned, credentialed talkers and typists as well as the loiterers from fan forums, and, yes, bloggers.

To be fair, Lucia likely yearned for nothing out of his remarks beyond a reiteration of the don’t-dwell-on-what-you-don’t-control homily to his players. But now is the time to bat away the excess ice chips and, in the classic spirit of old time journalism, deliver the other side of the story.

Following a trusty goaltender brandishing the number 1 and the name “Amendment” on its back, the puckheaded citizens of the blogosphere exercise their right and ability to communicate their observations of the game through whatever approach they please. Much like your compact neighborhood rink, the Internet is designed to operate around the clock and to accommodate skaters of of all ages, shapes, skill levels, and ambitions.

Right on the Divine Campus, Schneider Arena strikes a peak, professionalistic atmosphere roughly 17 nights a year when the PC men throw on their game attire and management breaks out the turnstiles. When the program’s female counterpart conducts a home contest, all the actions at ice level are professional enough, though a spectator’s experience of attendance is often more reminiscent of high school.

And then, when the campus ice house is wholly without the public eye, its tenants will range from local youth novices, to student intramural icers, to title-hungry high school powerhouses, to beer leaguers.

Ditto ciberespacio; and nowhere is this more boldly underscored than collegehockeynews.com, which provides distinctive stables and headings for articles coming out of official media websites, professional media blogs, and amateur blogs. (Once again, the Free Press isn’t 100% satisfied with being classified as a “fan blog” on account of its nonpartisanship vow, but we’ll take what we can get.)

With an immeasurably copious supply of metaphorical rinks and ice time, you’ll inevitably find everybody partaking. The most detectable distinction in the blogger caste system, though, is that professional scribes have let their websites branch out to make blogs their equivalent of a practice facility. The rest of us, like all recreational or aspirant NHLers icers, are confined to the same sheet for both practices and games.

This is where the supposed contemptuous veil prying the formally credited reporters from the full-time bloggers lies. In the Hockey East media guild, the scribes –especially student scribes- who put in the energy of a veteran pro within the smaller barns can’t help but suspect belittlement from the Dave Hendricksons, Jeff Howes, and Larry Mahoneys just for our label and location. From where this author sits, you have to start somewhere. Just like men and women we chronicle had to start in cold, compact ice boxes in those before-dawn skating seminars.

But then, there are those who blog for blogging’s sake, which is equally acceptable. They may carry the mindset of a beer league journalist (hence Lucia’s “instant gratification” notion) or they may simply be assuaging their appetite to have a widespread say on the program they bleed for.

Regardless, let the ink flow. You need to not get caught up with what somebody is saying about your occupation. What somebody is saying about your credibility. What somebody is saying about your blog.

Beefy arms engage in poll-wrestling
This week’s USCHO poll readmitted the same six Hockey East inhabitants from the previous week –Northeastern, BC, BU, Vermont, UNH, UMass- while the sudden arrival of Alaska-Anchorage in the #19 slot helped the WCHA equate that pool.

Going into the weekend the HEA had a stilt-sized leg-up in head-to-head tangles, its teams aggregating a 5-2-1 record against the WCHA. And, if you froze everyone in their tracks and based the March selections on the 1-16 string, five HEA satellites would have a passport to regionals versus four out of the WCHA.

But if you formulate the sum of all the positions occupied by the two leagues, keeping in mind that the goal is to make like a golfer and keep one’s numbers shallow, the western conference holds a narrow 62-60 advantage.

Perhaps most tellingly, though, are simply the individual assignments. Minnesota overwhelmingly withheld the throne this week with 41 of the 50 first place votes, followed immediately by the CCHA’s Notre Dame and Colorado College. As if proud easterners need a Spring 2007-like reminder that filling up the bracket on HEA schools won’t guarantee long-lasting breakage of the western championship hegemony.

Quick Feeds: The red scare if officially genuine. Boston University women, who are idle all weekend, relinquished an overall ten-game unbeaten tear at Yale on Tuesday, but remain the last of the unblemished in Hockey East play at 5-0-0, coupled with the league’s best GF-GA differential of 20-9, a top-rate power play (25.6%), and a few can’t-hurt games in hand on all of their cohabitants but Vermont…On the whole, the PC men have rapidly come to look more PC men-like in the way of laudable discipline. But as should be expected out of any smattering of mere humans, spurts of dysfunction still come up, none more evident than senior captain Kyle Laughlin taking a tripping penalty before a single second had hopped off the clock in Friday’s loss to Dartmouth. That breaks the known world record of Mighty Ducks II enforcer Dean Portman, whose antics once warranted ejection after three seconds of play…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: inseparable rivals Michigan and Michigan State conduct a home-and-home series. Meanwhile, the Harvard and New Hampshire women, both continuing to jealously guard their membership in the Top 10 leaderboard, rekindle their healthy nonconference rivalry at Lake Whittemore this Friday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com