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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Old Western theme
Women’s WCHA giants could coast to national home ice

The NCAA Women’s Frozen Four as we know it was born and has subsequently lived side-by-side with all of the still-young third millennium A.D. As of this week –and most officially as of March 22- it has barely outlived the second George Bush presidency.

So, too, has the WCHA’s banner hegemony, split strictly between Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Wisconsin. And so long as the conglomeration of pundits from USCHO, USA Today, and like outlets give their supreme approval to the perennial bigwigs of the Midwest, cathartic change for long-disgruntled easterners will be lodged onto the collective twigs of the tournament ambassadors from challenging conferences.

The nation’s lone three ring-bearing programs have split the top three slots in the polls for the last four weeks. Thee three queens have earned such enduring trust that USCHO has most recently asked its viewers to weigh in on “Who is the best team outside of the WCHA this season?”

Top-ranked Minnesota came into the weekend on a 12-0-0 thrill ride launched immediately after a 2-1 falter on October 26 before whom? The Badgers: a program that suffered its first blemish two weeks ago, resulting in their discharge from the regal perch in the polls.

And that altogether negligible statistical legion was inflicted by whom? The very Minnesota-Duluth program that directly usurped their national title in last year’s championship game.

Who has proudly laid claim to half of the defending champion Bulldogs six regulation losses whilst wresting away a would-be extra point in a shootout showdown? The ladies brandishing either a golden, upside-down “W” or a red, rightside-up “W.”

Yes, six regulation losses; one more than each of their four immediate trailers on both of the principal leaderboards. Yet in the eyes of a majority of judges, UMD is just more roundly braced.

With everyone settling down to their conference pennant races, it’s likely bound to be all bigwig-on-bigwig affliction from here on out. Barring an overflow of effective outbursts by any of the less-than-heavyweights of the WCHA, the Big Three are inclined to split those first three poll positions for the rest of the ride. The time for everyone to assert themselves nationally before the decisive dance has long passed, and the Badgers sealed an interleague record of 6-0-0, the Gophers and Bulldogs 5-1-0 each.

By the time this write-up is open to public viewing, two more editions to the State of Hockey’s paramount collegiate rivalry will have been completed. And the so-termed “Border Battle” pitting Minnesota and Wisconsin will be carried out in two weeks.

Some –if not all- zealous easterners feel the anguish all the more when they are reminded of, say, Northeastern transfer Chelsey Jones, now laboring with the Gophers less than a half hour away from her hometown of Stillwater, Minn.

Jones, last year’s radiant rookie on an otherwise shallow Hub Husky scoring chart, pounced at an offer to go home and assume the position of a smaller fish in the embarrassingly deep pond that is Ridder Arena. (Jones had but two goals and six points to speak of through 20 games played after she ran up a 13-9-22 transcript at NU last year).

But at least New England made the initial swipe on that take-then-give-back transaction. The same cannot be said in Wisconsin, where born-and-raised coastal girls have settled for studies and skating and bear no logical signs of succumbing to homesickness.

There is a trinity of New Englanders only raring to hit their peak at Mark Johnson’s capstone project in Madison. Cushing alumnae Meghan Duggan and Erika Lawler rode into the weekend with respective transcripts of 9-19-28 and 9-23-32. Duggan was slated to play her 100th career game on Friday, already with 123 cumulative points to her credit. New Hampshire native Hilary Knight tops the Badgers charts altogether with 23 goals and 41 points.

Just a reminder that, come March, they’ll all be vying for a passport to none other than Boston’s Agganis Arena.

In a nod to the current edition of The Hockey News (press date: February 2) wherein “NHL Team Reports examine the best story so far this season for each of the 30 franchises,” the Free Press offers the same scoop concerning PC:

Women’s: Before her advent to a stable already to the brim with three incumbent goaltenders, Genevieve Lacasse’s last visible preview was an 0-2 showing coupled with nine goals admitted for Little Caesar’s in USA Hockey’s U19 national tournament. She would end up monitoring the bench door while associate Brittany Ott monitored the blue paint in their championship shortcoming to the Chicago Mission.

Ott has since pursued a roster spot for Division-III St. Anselm –answering to former Friar Kerstin Matthews- but has yet to take in a sliver of game action behind a trinity of other Hawks goaltenders. Lacasse, conversely, has pole-vaulted the trio of veterans in the PC Goalies’ Guild and entered this weekend with a 10-7 record, 2.05 GAA, and .934 save percentage.

Her long-paranormal proficiency has tapered off a touch in recent weeks, but Lacasse remains a nucleus to the obsessive-defensive Friars and is still a no-duh nominee for team MVP and league Rookie of the Year accolades.

Men’s: There is no time like the present to indulge in the bare normalcy the Friars have ostensibly recovered since returning from a sorely needed month’s hibernation. Most every game –certainly all nine intraleague contests- prior to the holiday only struck an additional underline beneath the obvious: PC was psychologically mutilated and pining for a momentum decelerator that is more commonly chronicled when it takes a negative toll on high-flying programs (Air Force, anybody?).

Those who stuck with it have returned to kindle a 3-0-1 start to the New Year, rapidly replenishing their genuine membership in the Hockey East playoff push. So long as they keep the not-too-distant past buried in ice shavings, the worst of its afterthought will be a gentle reminder not to take regular victories for granted.

Big Bear blow
Rookie Mike Griffin –the most sizeable offensive body for Brown University at 6-4, 200 lbs. and second only to 6-6 Mike Stuart in the program as a whole- bailed after scraping out a mere two assists over eight credited games played. Griffin had last suited up for the Bears’ 6-2 bow before host Minnesota on Day 1 of the Dodge Holiday Classic, then witnessed the next five games externally before he turned in his withdrawal slip Tuesday. So while the Bears and neighboring Friars have sprung off the upshot of last month’s Mayor’s Cup in consistently polar directions –riding into the weekend on 0-4-2 and 3-0-1 strings respectively- Brown can at least point to its parallel to the jagged Joe Lavin saga.

Barto’s hat in the five rings
Former PC women’s player and coach Jackie Barto has been termed one of the finalists for Team USA’s Vancouver Olympic whistle –reportedly set for bestowment this Tuesday on either Barto, Harvard’s Katy Stone, or former Lake Placid scoring beacon and current ring-bearing Wisconsin skipper Mark Johnson. Barto, whose Ohio State Buckeyes have spun out on a 2-13-2 tumble since the end of a 4-3 October, bears the underdog resume, but her hypothetical appointment could ostensibly propitiate zealous Friar Fanatics. After all, she is taking aim at a seat awkwardly relinquished by Ben Smith in 2006, not long after he had discharged the program’s chosen heart-and-soul, Cammi Granato.

Quick Feeds: Naturally, all who claim a stake in U.S. college athletic affairs –be it as participants, rooters, or wordsmiths- ought to reserve a prayer for NCAA president Myles Brand, who has divulged his bout with pancreatic cancer…He has about a Toronto Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup shot at taking this the full distance, to be sure. Nevertheless, PC junior captain John Cavanagh is officially in the running for the 2009 Hobey Baker Award –opposite 18 fellow Hockey Easterners. Then again, the dubiously democratic fan voting system that penned four Montreal Canadiens to the NHL All-Star starting card is open till the end of March. Then again –again- a press release notes that the people’s will uncompromisingly amounts to 1% of the nomination. Kind of brings the point into question either way, does it not?…UNH Wildcats senior defenseman Joe Charlebois –a co-captain who was on the cusp of a career-high 10 points- has had the rest of his season zapped due to academic ineligibility. Little too much time devoted to the Sparkle Twins? (Sorry. Couldn’t resist)…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: the Yale men’s team, within tasting distance of membership in the Top 20 national rankings hosts #9 Princeton on Friday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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