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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hockey Log

PC women plagued by power glitches
Not enough special teams bounces going their way

Save for Kate Bacon’s hitting from behind minor, caught at 3:21 of a draining third period, the Friars’ disciplinary record was seamless beyond one fleeting fit of infractions around the halfway mark of Sunday’s fall-from-ahead, 5-2 falter before Vermont at Schneider Arena.

But wouldn’t you know it? That sullied string was the clear-cut turning point.

The hurried, hostile turnaround in thorough summation: Arianna Rigano goes off for tripping at 9:34. Alyse Ruff is flagged for interference –and only seconds after she had won a vital face-off- at 10:49. Vermont pounces promptly to draw a 2-2 knot, merely four seconds before Rigano was due out. With Ruff still incarcerated, Colleen Martin endures a two-minute citation for body-checking. Suddenly ahead by two bodies once more, the Catamounts bust the 28-second-old tie.

So it merely took Vermont two-and-a-half minutes to outright exploit the fidgeting Friars, who had been fostering a brittle 2-1 advantage despite capitalizing on but one of their first four unanswered power plays. By day’s end, PC had gone 1-for-6 with the extra body, coupled with an aggregate eight shots in those segments. In two of those full-length PP segments, plus a shortened one (1 minute, 14 seconds) that they earned on the latter end of a brief 4-on-4 sequence, they left Catamount goaltender Kristen Olychuck completely untested.

Granted, Vermont was itself stifled during Bacon’s sin bin sentence, a time when they may otherwise have built upon a now 4-2 advantage –made possible by Chelsea Furlani’s strike late in the second. But the foundation of that lead was a matter of responding attentively when the invitation was in plain sight. It was a matter of the Catamounts alertly collaborating with the old brief-but-fatal menace.

If anything, the Bacon penalty dealt a crucial nick to the Friars’ tanks, salting their shot at any timely take-back swarm around Olychuck –which they already appeared to have had brewing. The reinvigorated UVM backstop pushed away four quick unanswered stabs to start the closing frame in defense of her newfangled 4-2 lead until Bacon was whistled.

PC would not charge up another shot for the next eight minutes. “Opportunity missed” was callously switched to “opportunity lost.”

They did have one more chance to, at the very least, apply a light layer of extra dignity to this acrid lemon cake. Still down, 4-2, within the final four minutes, they heaved three more shots while Vermont’s Kyleigh Palmer served a two-minute hooking sentence. But Olychuck coolly slammed the door and would hand things over to Friar-turned-Catamount Brittany Nelson for a shorthanded empty netter.

In each of their four latest losing efforts, the Friars have decisively out-disciplined their adversaries. Yet in seven total post-holiday ventures, a 3-4 stretch on their permanent transcript, they have converted a mere six of 38 power play offerings. Meantime, they have allotted the opposition an equal six conversions on 28 chances.

One immediate byproduct to that is only a negligible dip in their overall special teams’ proficiency, a 17.2% power play conversion rate morphing to 16.9% and the PK from 86.1% to 84.6%.

Yet still, Sunday was a troubling regression to the slightly more frequent case of skates-in-the-mouth. The more pressing result for the host was an emotionally puncturing loss to one of the certified welterweights in Hockey East.

Only twice since New Year’s –once as part of the 5-0 thrill ride over rival New Hampshire a week prior and once in a 3-0 knockout in Part I of the Vermont series- have the Friars’ player-up brigade outscore that of the opposition. They have, in spurts, been the ones making the timely, decisive investments. In Saturday’s win, for instance, Ashley Cottrell slugged home the eventual clincher on the team’s last of merely two power plays with 3:46 gone in the second period.

But there has been a substantially costly element of inconsistency to that habit; one which, in an alternate PC hockey universe, might whiten the full hair of men’s head coach Tim Army in the speed of a slap shot.

And one which, on Sunday, made waste of an otherwise cover-to-cover upper hand in the scorebook: namely in terms of shots (28-20), face-off wins (42-24), and, yes, discipline.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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