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Friday, February 27, 2009

Hockey Log

First-year Friars jumping at second chances

The PC women’s radiant rookie corps –provider of 43.9% of the team’s goals, 38.9% of the assists, 82.2% of the saves, and 87.5% of the wins over the regular season- frightfully lost some of its immunity to inexperience in the climax of its first collegiate campaign.

For the last three-plus weeks of game action, acetylene stick carriers Laura Veharanta and Ashley Cottrell have been stuck in the 20-point range after they were originally on pace for facile point-per-game finishes or better. Defender Jennifer Friedman rapidly receded to her stay-at-home focus after a head-turning six points over seven games in January. Blue line associate Christie Jensen is still kicking ice chips over the memories of a head injury that barred her from playing in six games to start February.

And goaltender Genevieve Lacasse has, on the whole, propped up her consistent reliability, though she has had her stats slighted a little in three losses over her last five decisions.

Yet head coach Bob Deraney has let the speed bumps slide on two key terms: the adjustment to a recent first-time skate in the icy canyon that is New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center and a protracted period of virtual postseason hockey.

Deraney had dressed all eight of his active rookies –seven true freshmen plus junior transfer Arianna Rigano- for PC’s lone regular season visit to the Wildcats on February 14. He made special note of that in the somewhat distant aftermath of an eventual 4-1 slip –one where, to their respective credits, Kate Bacon (five shots) potted the lone goal and Veharanta pitched in another four of the team’s 17 shots on net.

But, he added, the Friars have an enticing chance to pay another visit to Lake Whittemore before the curtains drop on the 2008-09 season. And, maybe then, the notorious depths of that rink won’t be quite so arduous to the newbies.

To create that opening, though, PC will have to cultivate something out of the voluntary playoff mindset Deraney has instituted for at least the last 10 regular season games.

“That’s been happening all along,” he reiterated. “We’ve been talking about playing playoff games for at least a month now.”

And in hindsight, for the frosh and their elders alike, there is a cornucopia of nonfatal growing pains to consider. Through their first 10 out of Hockey East games, the Friars were 7-2-1, a thought-provoking pace for some 31 or 32 points, at least 14 of those cultivated via victory.

Instead, they sank into the dense lottery ball-like derby, going an iffy 5-6-0 in the stretch drive. And they sequentially bid agonizing adieu to the prospect of hosting next week’s semifinal and championship rounds, ditto the second-place bye and the extra week of uninterrupted practice that comes with it.

“When you look back at the standings, we ended up with 25 points,” said Deraney. “We lost to Northeastern twice (1-0 on October 18, 3-2 on February 7) and we lost to Vermont (5-2 on January 18). Give us those six points and we get the bye. So we’d been talking about whether we were going to make these games easier for us or harder for us.”

They might have hit at their hardest in the finale weekend versus Boston College, who last Friday really just needed to deal a flick of the fingertip to dash PC’s by now brittle hope for the bye.

But the following day at BC’s Conte Forum, Lacasse put forth a 22-save performance worthy of third star of the game accolades –her first appearance on the three-star leaderboard in four appearances and her 14th overall out of 22 chances this season.

Veharanta, still acclimating to some late line chart tweaks, discharged a jutting five shots on goal, Friedman two. Veharanta’s new associate winger, Bacon, notched a +1 rating.

And following a 65-minute, 1-1 draw, Cottrell came through in the shootout, salvaging the Friars’ right to host tomorrow’s preliminary round bout with Connecticut (1:00 p.m. face-off).

Timely, vividly influential perk-ups like that were not lost on Deraney.

“They were actually playoff games,” he said. “They had implications, so I think we’re already prepared for that.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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