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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Hockey

Schelling’s grand theft won’t deflate Friars

PC women’s hockey coach Bob Deraney opted, about midday yesterday, to scrub out the originally slated practice session in favor of a half-hour team meeting, yet one more blunt indication that the superficial consequences of Saturday’s 3-2 falter at Northeastern aren’t poisoning his outlook so easily.

Throwing everything –kitchen sink included- at a Swiss phenom in the opposing cage is simply not the same as loosening the lever on your game brain against a mediocre band of Norwegian pucksters a la the eventual Miracle on Ice team.

By weekend’s end, the Friars had split their home-and-home card with the Huskies by a cumulative 5-5 score. But elsewhere on the two-night stats sheet, they had dictated the shooting gallery, 100-39. They had won a percentage of face-offs (85-45) that, under Senatorial regulations, would fall just short of immunity to a Presidential veto.

And perhaps most admirably, they out-disciplined Northeastern, taking three Friday penalties to the Huskies’ four and only one versus seven on Saturday.

“Don’t let the score fool you as to how well we played on Saturday. That was Florence Schelling’s night,” Deraney assessed frankly. “We had an awesome attack, developed so many different concepts to almost perfection.”

He spoke those words shortly after the team meeting had adjourned and spoke them with a fairly proud, paternal tone laced in his voice.

“I’d have to say that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” he added. “And I never thought that (Schelling) would be able to duplicate the performance she had here on Friday.

“What can I say? We had a few pucks hit the crossbar, or some shots that looked like they were going in, but she got a body on or it hit the knob of her stick. I’m not disappointed that we scored only two goals on 44 shots. Sometimes they bounce for you, sometimes they bounce against you.”

PC’s feverish, unbreakable resolve –flexed as late as a last-ditch power play on Saturday- was too little to salvage a pair of precious points in the Hockey East standings. With Boston College having finished a sweep of lowly Maine on Sunday, the Friars are forlorn in fourth place when they may otherwise have been knotted for second.

And, because the USCHO pollsters are about as superficially stimulated as Glenn Quagmire, the Friars lost their visibility in Monday’s refreshed poll. The same slighting gesture will likely be in store today when USA Today revises its chosen leaderboard.

But Deraney has a fast-churning, fast-gelling gang of grinders at his disposal. They verified that over the weekend against a program with even more to prove than they have.

“It is very close in the standings, so it’s really tough this year” conceded senior Erin Normore, who nailed two of her team’s five goals against Schelling. “But we had our chances this weekend. We just didn’t capitalize and their goalie obviously played really well.

“But I think we make our own luck, so if we just keep pushing it and pushing it, pucks are going to start going in at some point.”

Nobody is making that push quite like Normore and her ring-starved classmates. The two-way connoisseur amassed five shots on net over the weekend, followed by fellow A-captain Katy Beach’s 10 (including seven in Friday’s win), 10 by Brittany Simpson, and 17 by Mari Pehkonen.

“We’ve been around here for four years, we know what it takes to get to the playoffs and come out on top,” said Normore, not inclined to say much beyond the simplest. “We’ve fallen short each time since I’ve been here, and we don’t want to let that happen again. So we’re pushing it now, and hopefully we’ll make it to back to the finals and come out on top this time.”

“It’s really important to keep everything in perspective,” summed up Deraney. “We played extremely well. We were fast, we were diligent. I think, in the whole game, we made five mistakes.

“Two, early on, that our goalie made great saves on, two that ended up in our net, and one on a great backcheck that negated the situation. And a couple of the goals they scored weren’t even on mistakes. They were just weird plays. So if we keep playing like that, we’re going to win a lot of games here down the stretch.”

What’s left in that stretch? A home-and-home set with New Hampshire this weekend followed by a two-gamer with BC, the exact same layout the Friars had before them at this time last year, at which point they were 15-12-3 overall, 10-5-2 in Hockey East, and still only within tasting distance of a playoff berth.

They would dramatize the drive to near-catastrophic breakage, going 0-3-1 in that span and not stamping that playoff passport until the final buzzer of a tie with BC.

That said, most anything they can scrape out this time around will signify something of a refreshing upturn.

Or, from the Friars’ own poised perspective, it can reiterate their uniquely exhibited improvement.

“I like our team, and I think we match up well against them,” said Deraney in reference to both forthcoming adversaries. “Right now, in Hockey East, there’s no one playing at the pace we’re playing at. And if we continue to play at that pace, it’ll be a very tough thing for UNH to overcome.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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