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Monday, February 16, 2009

Hockey Log

Plus signs went blank
PC women Cat-scratched on special teams

Granted, there were spurts of convincing, genuine incentive feeding the Friars’ power play brigade as they pushed through the tricky depths of New Hampshire’s Lake Whittemore last Saturday night.

After a protracted habit of procrastinating with the puck had amounted to but one conversion in their previous 20 PP offerings, they literally cut to the chase to draw a stimulating 1-1 knot near the dusk of the first period. The Wildcats were but two full minutes removed from facilely Raylen Dziengelewski’s two-minute tripping sentence when Kelly Cahill was caged for hooking at 14:08.

A mere 16 seconds and one shot later, Kate Bacon converted a feed from Alyse Ruff for the second straight evening. And yet again, she did it by disregarding any imminent, punishing hostilities on goaltender Lindsey Minton’s porch.

Like that, PC’s power play drought was splashed after 13 straight missed opportunities –four of which were shotless.

And when the Cats’ discipline detonated in the closing frame –a bench minor at 5:34 and Maggie Joyce’s checking felony amounting to an 88-second 5-on-3 segment- the Friars switched from valiant stealth to refreshingly tireless, unhesitant bombardment. They weren’t rewarded on the scoresheet, but conceivably planted something to build on in the final week of the regular season.

Before Cahill –serving the too-many-players term- could be released and alter the set-up to 5-on-4, Laura Veharanta and Ashley Cottrell had seen two stabs blocked. Veharanta, Ruff, and Bacon combined for four bids that reached touching distance of Minton. And Veharanta tossed in another registered try before even strength was restored.

The natural drawback –apart from Minton’s poised, simplistic, Genevieve Lacasse-like responsiveness- was that PC’s impulse was immediately recovered when they had already landed in harrowing holes. The first period conversion deleted a deficit spotted some nine minutes earlier when UNH connected on its first power play with a mere 4:48 gone.

For the first forty minutes on Saturday, the Friars had misplaced their primary source of solace in a trying stretch that has seen them go 1-4-0 in their last five outings only after they had kickstarted the homestretch on a three-game winning streak. They took merely eight strides to the sin bin over their previous four games, including just one the prior weekend in a 3-2 falter at Northeastern and again when they submitted the same score to the Wildcats at Schneider Arena last Friday.

UNH was only afforded fast, free breathing room when the long-idled Providence PK force was called upon twice within the first ten minutes of action. And Kelly Paton’s icebreaker came as a tipping point after she and her mates mollified Lacasse with three power play shots to initially rev up the shooting gallery.

Paton would connect for the eventual decider at 13:58 of the middle frame, effectively terminating the Friars’ fourth and final kill on the night. New Hampshire had stocked up just enough collateral in the form of a 2-for-4 connectivity rate and an aggregate bushel of 10 power play shots –exactly half of their game total of 20.

Similarly, though not quite up to the same par, the Friars went 1-for-6 and discharged seven of their 17 shots when at least one player up. And with the raging regional epidemic of New Jersey Devils’ intrasquad contests at its peak, that is a telling ratio as to their newfound power play drive. They at least relearned to lunge out when the getting was good.

Still, they blinked in the way of discipline at inopportune moments to bolster New Hampshire’s nightlong upper hand. And top gun Jenn Wakefield had inserted two unanswered strikes to grant the Wildcats a gaping 4-1 edge well before they daringly decided to start juggling acetylene torches and bait PC’s rabid, famished strike force.

When that happened, PC’s youthful, budding giants awoke. Bacon’s two stabs during the 5-on-3 salvo amounted to an individual count of five on the night, again making her the busiest puckslinger of the game after she took six swings on Friday. Top line associates Ruff and Veharanta combined for three SOG in that space and six in the whole game. And a fast-thawing Abby Gauthier –with four points in the last three weekends, though none Saturday- saw a last ditch attempt go wide in the 14th minute while Courtney Birchard did time for high-sticking.

It was arguably a morally fruitful change of pace after Friday’s malady, to be sure. Yet by that point, UNH was rewarded for its patience in watching the spirits seep out of their rivals through another series of mental lesions and spent the bulk of a six minute anticlimax humming through Lacasse’s neighborhood. They had struck early on both ends of the special teams’ spectrum and adeptly waited out the draining process.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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