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Friday, February 13, 2009

On Hockey

University of No Halfway
Condition of Wildcats, PC rivalry wholly unruffled

The 2008-09 edition of the New Hampshire women’s hockey program is just the right size to field the protagonist cast of a gender-reversed Slap Shot, Mighty Ducks, or Mystery, Alaska. Knowing that, and the upshot of their most recent visit here a month ago, they must be pining for permission to make like the Syracuse Bulldogs and enlist a few legends of the past for tonight’s reconvention at Schneider Arena.

Or are they? Reality check: ever since they allowed the Friars to exorcise a horde of blue-and-white demons by a 5-0 difference on January 10, they have torn full-steam on an eight-game winning streak, never allowing more than two goals nor scoring fewer than three of their own in any of their last seven ventures.

Seven of those wins have been against conference cohabitants, amounting to a 12-2-3 league record and sole possession of first place. The other was an 8-3 laceration of Dartmouth –and only three nights after the Big Green battered the Friars, 7-3, which was in turn three nights after PC had stomped the Cats.

With a makeup road tilt with Harvard looming on Tuesday, UNH stands at 5-3-2 in interleague action, enough to have sustained their Top 10 membership throughout the year (#5 on both major leaderboards this week).

They have paranormally strung all this out of a numerically shallow 17-woman roster, featuring eight full-time forwards, five designated defenders, one two-way player in freshman Sarah Cuthbert, and two goaltenders.

But, after a summer of unusually tempestuous transfer winds that should have made a post-Category 5 vista out of the shores of Lake Whittemore, the Wildcats emerged with an abundance of leftover depth. Up to this point, that has amounted to a league-best offensive output of 3.44 goals per game and the likes of Jenn Wakefield (26) and Kelly Paton (17) gracing the WHEA’s top five individual goal-getter’s list.

Granted, sophomore goaltender Kayley Herman has seen a rapid decline in her data after a near-seamless freshman season. But like they have every night, her praetorian guards pitied her when the Friars gave her a rare flash of red light blindness, heaving 43 shots at Genevieve Lacasse.

With salsa-based rubber in remarkably short stock of late, UNH has still scraped out a game-to-game median of roughly 31.1 shots on net, tying them for second with Connecticut and mere ice chips behind PC, which has thrust about 31.8 stabs at the opposing net over its first 30 ventures.

All restrictive blue line priorities aside, another OK Corral confrontation may be all but imminent tonight, and again tomorrow evening up in Durham.

“I’m expecting them to bring the same game,” said PC’s puckslinging defender Erin Normore, who in her colorful career owns a 3-2-5 scoring transcript in 12 encounters with the Wildcats, thus factoring into five out of 13 Providence goals in that space.

“They’re obviously a good team, but I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle. As long as we play like we can, we should be able to beat them again.”

Even after it took your class 11 whiffs to finally wrest its first two-point package from them? Even when that soul-replenishing triumph five weeks back has indubitably resurged New Hampshire’s impulse? Even when these Wildcats have assertively defied the stamina-based laws of hockey the same way Grendel’s species withstood Beowulf’s sabers?

“I don’t see it being a problem at all,” Normore insisted, more casually than conceitedly.

Nor should she want to take such a limited approach. The prospective rewards in this weekend are too aromatic to overlook. If the Friars were to pull off the ultimate reversal and rake in the entire four-point package, they would potentially draw a knot in the regal perch of the standings.

And right after this, they will round out their 21-game regular season itinerary with Boston College –another Top 10 fixture currently laying claim to one of the two coveted first-round bye slots in the playoff bracket.

It’s the same basic band of contenders salivating over the same old stakes. And, as would be verified by the smudged CD lens carrying head coach Bob Deraney’s album of assessment, the past doesn’t sway the present.

Perhaps not, but in terms of the pregame playbill, the past effectively clones itself to produce the present.

It’s still Providence-New Hampshire. And it is now plain that neither a recently splashed victory drought on one side –a la the Red Sox-Yankees card prior 2004- or a taxing case of bodily famine on the other bench has the means of thinning this rivalry out.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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