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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hockey Log

Short list of feel-good specks
Individuals break out for PC men before break

On the whole, the next 30 days worth of psychological house cleaning is still atop the list of preferences for the lacerated Friars –now 3-12-1 overall and still tantalized by a menacing winless showing in Hockey East action.

But with the series of savory individual sprinklings that decorated their scoresheet in Tuesday night’s 4-3 Mayor’s Cup triumph, a free dollop of material optimism may accompany the recovery regimen.

The top line of Ian O’Connor, John Cavanagh, and Matt Bergland, reunited after brief experimental separation, composed a combined 15 of the 46 shots PC heaved at Brown goaltender Mark Sibbald. And Bergland, the lone specimen of scoring stability since the Nightmare on Huxley Ave. commenced, pitched in two points with his familiarized power play brigade, extending his scoring streak to three games and freezing his first half totals to a point-per-game 5-11-16.

One other three-game hot streak to carry over into January: that of conventionally professed bouncer Mark Fayne. The burliest Friar on paper chipped in four SOG and collaborated with associate defenseman Matt Taormina to set up Bergland’s third period power play strike.

The “bottom” line stood out with a +2 rating apiece, two-pointers for sophomores Jordan Kremyr and Matt Germain, and junior Chris Eppich’s second career goal –and only on the heels of hatching that three-year-old goose egg when he singed Quinnipiac’s Nick Pisellini last Friday.

By picking up a goal-assist value pack, Kremyr, an apparent regular having been iced for the last five games after playing merely three of the team’s first 11, splashed a personal scoring drought dating back to his two-striker against Boston College last February 29. Germain likewise cultivated his second and third points –all helpers- in the light December schedule, enhancing his season transcript to 1-5-6.

Freshman forward Shawn Tingley, complete with his promising EJHL resume and an overdue clean bill of health after he sprained his ankle in a preseason run through, took his first slurp of NCAA game action, anchoring the third line with classmates Andy Balysky and Rob Maloney. Tingley, Balysky, and Austin Mayer were the lone three Friar skaters not to whip up at least one registered shot at Sibbald.

Discount the last seven chippy minutes of the closing frame, wherein the contesting parties aggregated seven infractions and 22 PIM, and the Friars substantially out-disciplined the Bears, claiming only four citations from the conservative officiating quartet while drawing eight penalties against Brown.

Long time coming
Friars foreman Tim Army only needed to take two stabs before he successfully wrested the Cup from the Bears on Meehan Auditorium ice in his own right. But Tuesday night’s win marked his first share of triumph across town since November 20, 1990, when he was a sidekick to Mike McShane and PC throttled the Bears, 7-1. It would be the broadest scoring discrepancy in the modern era of the Mayor’s Cup until last year’s 8-0 breeze here.

Prior to this year’s twig-lock, Army had openly noted that the Friar Puck program was initially slow to equate Brown’s competitiveness in the pre-Lamoriello, pre-Schneider Arena, pre-Hockey East days. But with the latest win, Providence has pulled even in the all-time series, standing jaw-to-jaw at 43-43-2 with their neighbors.

Quick Feeds: PC has struck on at least one power play –rolling up a combined total of 12 conversions- in each of its last eight meetings with Brown…With Tingley’s debut, 28 out of 31 rostered Friars have seen game action. Only the still-healing Matt Tommasiello, Ryan Simpson, and Chad Johnson have yet to put in an appearance. Meanwhile, only Bergland, Cavanagh, O’Connor, and Taormina have withstood the rapid, populous carousel well enough to dress for all 16 games up to this point…Overall, Bergland leads all Hockey East freshmen scorers with the only perfect point-per-game median to speak of. Maine’s Gustav Nyquist trails with 13 points over 14 games…The Friars will wake back up for a one-night weekend, hosting Lowell on Saturday, January 10, then will visit three conference cohabitants over a space of six nights –Boston University on Jan. 13, UMass-Amherst Jan. 16, and Maine Jan. 18…Ten of PC’s 18 remaining games –all within Hockey East boundaries- will be on the road. They will visit each opposing venue except Lowell, where they’ve twice been thrashed by a cumulative 10-2 score this autumn.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On Hockey

A peasant-like playoff
2008 Mayor’s Cup more about ego salvation

Providence College, whose packet of royal rooters is malignantly rotting and threatening to disintegrate, carried its “Failure to Launch” theme clear through November and well into last Friday’s 5-2 falter at Quinnipiac.

Brown University, whose laptop loiterers in the USCHO fan forum have dubbed their approach to this season, “Nowhere to go but up,” only hatched the goose egg in its win column that same evening, edging Union at home, 5-4.

Tonight’s Mayor’s Cup get-together at Meehan Auditorium will pit a PC program brandishing a 2-12-1 overall record and negative GF-GA difference of 31-64 against a Brown program subsisting on a 1-7-2 transcript together with a 21-40 scoring discrepancy. Hardly a heavyweight card that’s likely to give local events like Trinity Rep’s A Christmas Carol or Holiday on Hope –which will be on the exact same street as the game- a competitive marketing derby.

Yet the fraying Friars and battered Bears alike are expressly more than happy to take leave of their respective ruts and enjoy a somewhat serious pre-holiday friendly.

After all, somebody is literally going to have a Cup of cheer after the final buzzer. That dollop of cheer may by all means function as ointment to soothe the series of psychological lesions these teams have accumulated for the first half of the season.

Whoever doesn’t lay claim to that minipack of relief will have to accept yet another clip to the chin and let it run its own course until after New Year’s. Tonight will round out the Friars nonconference schedule and commence a full month off from game action, not to end until a home bout with UMass-Lowell January 10. After this, the Bears have their break followed by a little Christmastime fostering for the Minnesota-hosted Dodge Holiday Classic over the first weekend of January.

Looking at their respective conditions, the contesting clubs have mutually modest wishes to deck their struggling neighbor and get something genuinely substantial to nibble on while they retool for Part II of the season. That is how, if nowhere else in the building, the typical implications of the Mayor’s Cup will be well-preserved at ice level.

“It’s a rivalry for sure,” said Brown skipper Roger Grillo in a Providence Journal multimedia snippet. “It’s just a different one. It’s instate, it’s bragging rights, there’s hardware involved…There is a little extra bite to that game than a normal nonleague game for us, for sure.”

Simply put, a quote that general on its own doesn’t indicate whether the Bears are 9th in the ECAC –which they are- or 9th in the nation. They just want to assert themselves as the civic superiors and then get on with the rest of their agenda.

Ditto the Friars. In the same ProJo online featurette, head coach Tim Army only reeled back to his first and, to date, only business trip across town two years ago, when his pupils swallowed a 21-shot, two-goal firestorm in the first period and never recovered en route to a 2-1 Brown triumph.

He said it last year prior to a retaliatory 8-0 lashing of the Bears at Schneider Arena, and he said it again to rev up for this year. Brown’s win back on November 26, 2006, was far more facile than met the scoreboard.

“The only thing I remember is that we got beat over there two years ago, and they really came at us,” said Army. “We gotta really be ready to get at it.”

Friar Fanatics can see the smudge on that CD lens. The Friars have now absorbed eight straight Ls, regularly inviting the opposition to sculpt a quick multi-goal lead and letting the remainder of the game pan out on that pace. Some nights, like in the latest loss to Quinnipiac, they hiccupped without hesitation. Other nights, they have stalled to capitalize while the getting was good and ultimately spilled everything on a fleeting opposing outburst –as was seen the last time they were in town against Dartmouth two weeks ago.

The last of their all-out concessions, saturated with uncalled-for penalty minutes and gaping margins of defeat, appear to have subsided. But the fundamental fact is they have not concocted a formula sufficient to be on the victorious side since the week before Halloween, when Brown was just getting its game schedule off to a belated start.

Tonight’s choice as to the end result for the Friars is simply as follows: hit the hiatus on a smiling note, or staple two consecutive calendar months without a win.

The bragging rights affixed to the Mayor’s Cup are immoveable, as the contesting coaches say. But this particular year, it looks more like a charity kettle. And only one needy party will get the goods.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Less crime, less time (and sprints)
PC cuts back on penalties

Last week, PC women’s head coach Bob Deraney was repeatedly prodded, but never budged, with the inquiry as to an offense that was only a few ice chips less shallow than that of his collective opposition.

The arithmetic in the top layer of the scoreboard is what matters most to him on that front. And the fact is, the Friars have deftly stretched their dollar-a-day scoring to outdo or drawn a knot with the opposition in nine of their last 10 ventures.

OK. But what about the lower layers of the scoreboard?

Deraney kickstarted last week’s itinerary with the customary skate-for-every-penalty drill. He sent the whole team on six full-length sprints in accordance with six penalties taken against Brown University the preceding Saturday, then let the guilty individuals build their legs a tad extra.

And this was on the heels of a close shave first period when the Friars paid five trips to the bin in the first period alone, though they warded off Brown’s power play brigade to ultimately pave a 1-0 PC victory.

Even that, the typically optimistic skipper would have to confess, needed to discontinue. The odds of juggling too many PK torches coming back to singe rigid goaltender Genevieve Lacasse are harrowingly greater than those of insufficient goal support boosting the opposition.

It is uncertain whether there was a sharp difference in Deraney’s intensity last week when he cited the weekly damage report from the discipline detonator. But if there was, its effect surfaced on the two scoresheets in last weekend’s authoritative sweep of Maine.

Last Friday night’s 4-1 win saw PC’s single lowest penalty accumulation of the season (3). Saturday’s tally was the second-lowest (4). The Friars had previously been tagged for at least six minor infractions in all but three of their 15 games in October and November.

Granted, the Black Bears kept pace and endured an infinitesimal two penalty kills on Friday, two on Saturday. And their lone goal on each day was bolstered by a power play.

But after Providence abolished an initial 1-0 deficit in Friday’s first period, they offered up little, if anything, that could have been translated as a written invitation for Maine to usurp a point or two. Instead, the Friars kicked the nail-biter habit and posted their first three-goal triumph in a month.

Still stuck in second
Lacasse boosted her overall GAA to 1.60, but her save percentage stayed right where it was last week at .950 (the light bushel of 11 shots faced Saturday did her in there) and she still sits behind Northeastern’s own radiant rookie, Florence Schelling, in both categories.

Although, in strictly conference statistics, Lacasse tops the chart in terms of her GAA (1.20) and winning percentage (.800, record: 4-1-0).

For when they get back
The Friars will take the lengthiest respite from Hockey East amongst any of the league’s eight programs (off until they host New Hampshire on Saturday, January 10). In the 33 days between now and then, everybody else save for Maine will tangle with a conference cohabitant at least once, and by time the Wildcats –who currently knot the Friars for third place with 11 points apiece- drop in, PC will have at least one game in hand on everybody.

Quick Feeds: Saturday’s reported elapsed time of 1 hour, 57 minutes, was the first PC game to take less than two hours this season…All four centers –Ashley Cottrell, Erin Normore, Katy Beach, and Pam McDevitt- picked up an assist in Saturday’s win…With Jen Smith unable to make the weekend trip for undisclosed reasons, fellow sophomore Christina England suited up as PC’s third on-duty goaltender for the first time this season…Maine’s Vanessa Vani, as has been the case more frequently than she cares for, was a lone ranger of achievement on her bench, cultivating the only goal and winning 16 of her 20 face-offs while her mates dropped 22 out of 40 draws with the Friars…The latest USCHO poll, released Monday evening, had the Friars receiving one vote for its first inclusion in the honorable mention slot this season.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Women's Hockey 4, Maine 1

Road whoas
PC muzzles Maine once more

Report based on Gametracker

Orono, Maine- On the heels of her team killing a carry-over penalty, one that may have otherwise invited the host Maine Black Bears to kindle an epic comeback, Friars’ two-way connoisseur Erin Normore improvised a dazzling, silent soliloquy to set the tone for yesterday’s third period.

Implanted at the center of a line with freshman Kate Bacon and equally crafty classmate Mari Pehkonen for even strength play, Normore spotted two consecutive shots on net before drawing a body-checking minor on Kaitlyn Zeek right at the 2:00 mark. From there, upon being reassigned to patrol the points with Brittany Simpson for the power play, she carried right along with another three lashes at goaltender Genevieve Turgeon (27 saves).

Nothing of that singlehanded rubber blizzard did anything to alter the scoreboard. But, off a draw forced by Turgeon when she closed down Normore’s fifth shot, the PC’s alternate captain turned things over to her superior C-bearer Simpson, who nimbly leveled the conversion at 2:53, augmenting the lead to 3-1.

From there, the Friars took a reasonably comfy ride to their second 4-1 knockoff at Alfond Arena in as many days. They thus swept their two-night visit to, and entire regular season series, with the Black Bears and can walk into their 23-day December deceleration with the notion that they are unbeaten (6-0-1) in seven of eight away games this season, the exception being their first road trip to Northeastern in mid-October.

Their incomprehensible command of hostile ice houses hit a climax yesterday, as was best reflected in goaltender Genevieve Lacasse’s unusually light workload of 11 total shots faced. Lacasse only needed to handle one stab –from Dawn Sullivan- in the early half of a scoreless first period, and then assumed an in-depth spectator role as her teammates eventually came to make their own goal count exceed the Black Bears’ collection of shots late in the second.

During that agonizing interval of inactivity, the Maine offense saw all of its ten sparsely distributed attempts blocked or telepathically guided wide of the cage.

To their credit, the Black Bears similarly filtered a majority of what the Friars discharged, forcing Turgeon to confront a personally shallow 21 shots before the 40-minute buzzer. But PC simply mollified Maine to a breakable state and finally broke through on their fourteenth registered try at the 8:19 mark, top gun Laura Veharanta making good of a feed from Ashley Cottrell.

Pam McDevitt, rotated back into the active depth chart after taking Friday off in favor of Stephanie Morris and Lauren Covell, collaborated with defender Jennifer Friedman at 15:32, to set up fourth-line associate Jean O’Neill’s backdoor conversion, rounding out the protracted tempest of 17 unanswered shots with a slightly more assertive 2-0 edge.

However, the frostbitten Lacasse sustained a reflective dent when Maine finally refurbished its stick rack moments after Gauthier’s goal when PC defender Amber Yung was flagged for holding at 17:04. In a matter of 24 seconds, the Bears’ pleasantly fruitful power play brigade splashed the team’s SOG drought on a lashing by Lexi Hoffmeyer, then cut the deficit to 2-1 courtesy Jenna Ouellette on the rebound.

But Maine’s twigs went numb once more to commence the closing frame, not to resuscitate until after the halfway mark, when they laid out three power play shots and two more immediately after Leigh Riley’s release from a two-minute body-checking sentence.

The Friars would cement the 4-1 tally through Arianna Rigano’s quick empty netter with 1:16 to spare, a mere four seconds after Turgeon had vacated her crease to make space for the desperate six-pack attack.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Poll Cats till when?
Shorthanded UNH women symptomatic of slow waning

The numerical distribution on their bench is about the same as what you would find in any hockey movie of a less-than-All-Star budget –i.e. any flick that isn’t Miracle. By the Cyclopean standards she set as a rookie, goaltender Kayley Herman is in a bit of a sophomore slide, having authorized the exact same number of goals (36) in the team’s first 15 outings than she did in all of 34 appearances last year.

Likewise, as a whole, the New Hampshire Wildcats have already scratched four grudging tally marks under the “L” heading. They contrarily had four losses to speak of at the closure of last season, and the year before. In 2005-06, the year they wrested the sign of Hockey East supremacy that they still technically own rights to, the Cats dropped merely three games, none by more than one solitary goal.

The way their regally rich roster eroded over the summer to the point where they had but a maximum of 15 skaters and two stoppers to work with this season, the Wildcats all but emitted grounds for speculation that biblical justice was catching up to the excessively wealthy. (Fatalistic theories of that sort, though, ought to be debunked by the continuous WCHA hegemony that has oppressed UNH in all of their stabs at national glory.)

So far, their persona of invincibility within the WHEA landscape is indubitably invalid. But New Hampshire’s overt trustworthiness has yet to be drained. Even after an egregious 0-2 showing versus still-unbeaten Wisconsin in a getaway to Fort Myers, Fla. two weeks back and a 5-4 nipping at the hands of mediocre Colgate a week ago, they have retained their membership in USCHO’s Top 10 national leaderboard.

For how long, though? For what it’s worth, the Wildcats’ most recent positional shifts equal a hint of steady slippage.

In light of the Wisconsin series –which was lost by a cumulative 10-2 goal differential- they descended from #3 –extraordinary in itself if you measured up their record and stats with other bigwigs- to #5. Upon returning to the Durham campus from the Colgate clipping, they were docked another two slots to #7.

Remarkably, their assignment to the seventh slot is a season low. But an understandable rationale swaying the pollsters is that UNH has dug up and dispensed the resolve to stuff up what should have been some surefire catastrophes.

Take, for instance, the weekend when October morphed to November and top gun Jenn Wakefield was off assuming a Team Canada obligation at the Four Nations Cup. That Thursday, October 30, the Cats iced a grand total of eight strikers and four defenders for a home bout with Boston University. Ditto the subsequent Saturday when a surely salivating, upset-minded Vermont team dropped in.

But UNH kept respectable pace with the Terriers, only snuffing out in a shootout and in turn claiming a single point, and lassoed the Catamounts, 4-1, with special thanks to heat gun Sam Faber’s 1-2-3 scoring output. The defensive quartet, meanwhile, was stiff enough to limit BU to 18 shots at Herman, Vermont to 12, and Maine to eight in a 7-1 thrashing the following weekend.

Then again, BU aside, those were the perennial peasants the Wildcats had dealt with. Their shallow bench had merely invited the opposition to make the game a genuine contest, for once.

It’s a different story with the likes of the Badgers, who have only filed a passport to the national championship game in each of the last three seasons. And as of this write-up, the Cats were sharpening up for a confrontation with tenth-ranked Harvard, which around this time last season was a bid to be the last undefeated program standing. This season, it’s a matter of who avoids their fifth loss –and perhaps, in effect, spares themselves removal from the poll.

Much like the Patriots, bottomless resolve aside, the Wildcats have no feasible way of circumventing reality. They can –and, for lack of a better option, will- make continue to make the best fervent use of what they have.

But with their sharply shallow allotment of bodies and depth, self-explanatory essentials in today’s game, their chances of another routine deep-season quest to tasting distance of a title are accordingly brittle.

Buds appreciate Burkeian philosophy
Friar Fanatics who were privileged and attentive enough to tune in to the NHL Network circa 2:00 last Saturday afternoon caught a full puck bucket of assent-worthy statements out of proud 1977 graduate Brian Burke in his introductory press conference with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Delivering an inaugural address a few seconds shy of 10 minutes, the new GM smoothly passed a series of talking points with a diction and tone fit for the alumni magazine. Among them:

1. Consideration for his own family: “This’ll be the first time in eleven years that all of our kids have been in the same time zone and we’re excited about that,” said Burke, who split the last decade on the Left Coast between the Canucks and Ducks. “The decision to leave Anaheim was based on family. Just the notion that we were gonna get our family in the same time zone no matter what it took.”

2. Just to ensure Point #1 was genuine, consideration for his pad-clad employees and their families: Burke noted that he has always instituted the customary holiday roster freeze ten days before the NHL mandates. For the Leafs, this means no threats of Christmas mortgage paperwork from this Tuesday until the aftermath of Boxing Day.

3. Consideration for the fans in a distant relationship with their heroes: “We play an entertaining style,” he asserted We want to justify the price of the ticket every night whether the team is successful that night or not…At the end of the day, it’s the fans’ money and the sponsors money. We try to spend it intelligently. It’s not my money.”

4. Consideration for the fans in an up-close relationship with their heroes: Under his watch, “Community service is not optional. If you want to play in a great city like Toronto, you’re gonna give back to this community or we’ll find you somewhere else to play. Players are going to be more active (in the community) than they’ve ever been before.”

5. Every word he spoke was delivered in a smooth, serene, business-like tone. Even the barely publishable remarks on formulating a team of “pugnacity, truculence, testosterone, and belligerence.”

Light load in the early spree
With the early NLI street-sweeper ready to turn the corner of Huxley Avenue and Admiral Street, the men’s and women’s sects of the Friar Puck program can be expected to confirm the commitments of four and two newbies respectively in the coming days/weeks:

Jessica Cohen, forward, Shattuck-St. Mary’s U19: Primarily a grinder, an a decent playmaking one at that, in her initial high school years, Cohen has since evolved to top the nationally revered Sabres’ scoring chart with a 21-42-63 transcript (second only to Wisconsin pick-up Brianna Decker) through 26 games.

Jessica Vella, forward, Durham West Lightning: A Team Ontario U18 veteran who also saturates her student-athlete credentials with “Honour Roll status.”

Jamie Ferullo, forward, New Hampshire Junior Monarchs (EJHL): Tim Army & Staff reportedly offered the pint-sized Ferullo a scholarship early last May, though there is a chance he might not come aboard until 2010. Regardless, he has demonstrated hints of playmaking proficiency in his first EJHL season, letting 11 of his first dozen points come in the form of assists –two of those helpers on the power play.

Tyler Landman, forward, Rouseau High School (Minn.): Drafted by USHL’s Chicago Steel last spring, Landman nonetheless opted to play his senior season with the Rams and charged up the game winner in the high school season opener last Tuesday.

Chris Rooney, forward, Bridgewater Bandits (EJHL): The offspring of mid-1980s PC scoring flare Steve Rooney, Chris keeps this recruit list’s playmaker motif rolling with a 6-17-23 log through his first 18 games this season.

Alex Velischek, forward, New Jersey Colonials (AYHL): Like Landman, Velischek spurned an offer to ascend the college prep hockey hierarchy when he elected to stay home with the Colonials versus signing on with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers. Regardless, the hefty (6-0, 200 lb.) frontliner has racked up a couple of 3-point nights and a grand total of 13 points in 14 games.

Quick Feeds: Learning of Maine alumnus Paul Kariya’s distinction as Hockey East’s top all-time playmaker, then tuning in to see the Bruins combat a Tampa Bay Lightning team featuring Martin St. Louis –another pint-sized flare formerly of the ECAC Vermont Catamounts- revived quite the “What if?” whirlwind in this author’s head… Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Armstrong made the case for Boston College puck professor Jerry York in the debate for the illustrious “Sportsman of the Year” honor, highlighting the skipper’s “purity in winning and teaching.” The stub’s two bulkiest paragraphs addressed York’s overt evidence of clutch consistency –i.e. eight Frozen Fours, six title games, two banners in the last 11 seasons- and his lesser known triumph over prostate cancer in the summer of 2005. “Cancer has left his system as well as his vocabulary,” assesses Armstrong…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: still remarkably successful and still remarkably obscure, Minnesota State-Mankato entertains a two-night visit from certified powerhouse Denver.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com