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Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Hockey

Cats still have role model look
Muddle thickens for PC women, others

Report based on live stats

Durham, N.H.- Only one constituent in the Women’s Hockey East Association can so much as challenge New Hampshire’s shrill plea for silence concerning the repeated emphasis on deploying a maximum roster size of 18 skaters.

That party happens to be the harrowingly disassembling Providence College Friars, who bowed before their nemesis, 4-1, before 633 at the treacherous Whittemore Center last night. With the loss, PC has duplicated a season-high three-game pointless skid, submitting all of those losses to numerically challenged adversaries.

Such head-scratching, eye-screening, and head-hanging occurrences are hardly new to the Friars this season. In eight of their last 15 games, the opposition has sported at least two cavities in their depth chart (Yale, Cornell, UNH, Northeastern).

PC’s record in that ostensibly advantageous scenario: 3-5-0. In that 15-game space as a whole, they are 7-8 and losing grip on a favorable stature in the Hockey East playoff bracket.

Conversely, the Wildcats –stuck with but 15 skaters per night for the duration of their campaign- are 19-5-5 overall after an iffy 8-4-3 start in the first two months of the season. Last night’s win amounted to a 10-game thrill ride that commenced without hesitation after they had spilled a 5-0 final to these Friars five weeks ago.

Additionally, UNH has sealed yet another regular season championship, still a spacious four points up on second-place Boston College, whom they stomped in their season series with two wins and a regulation tie. And they entered the weekend a season-high fifth in every major national leaderboard to begin with.

They even have a certified tandem of go-to goalkeepers, as evidenced by freshman Lindsey Minton nailing both victories this weekend to give workhorse Kayley Herman a worthwhile respite.

Kind of tempting to just relinquish the league’s Coach of the Year crown and let it take its magnetic trek to the hands of Brian McCloskey –which would make him a fourth-time recipient- is it not?

Everywhere in the Cats’ downward viewing point, there lies a quartet of upper-middle class chasers who are multitasking between compressing their wounds, assessing damages, and looting (or trying to loot) their competitors.

Only BC –now brandishing a 20-7-4 record after yesterday’s shootout win over Boston University- is feasibly not in dire need of the automatic bid to the NCAAs that would come with the Hockey East playoff banner. But that viability could melt next weekend if the Friars have their way. And regardless, given the unchanged priority posed by the bigwigs of the WCHA and ECAC, a likely maximum of two Hockey Easterners can stretch their seasons beyond the first week of March.

Now how’s this for anarchy and full-scope collateral damage? Because yesterday’s technical 3-3 decision at Chestnut Hill goes down as a tie in national terms, neither the Eagles nor Terriers did much to advance their causes in the polls.

But by each claiming at least one Hockey East point, they both distanced themselves from the Friars –who with Connecticut’s triumph over Maine have slipped into fifth place. Freeze that whole arrangement place for a week and the Huskies will again host Providence to commence the post-season. And they’d be sniffing and salivating like a bloodhound-bulldog hybrid for redemption from last season.

Beyond trying to seal home ice, UConn’s insurance for national selection in case they don’t land the conference crown is also in need of replenishing. They are one slip away from breaking 10 under the “L” heading, which the Terriers and Friars have long done already. For the three of them, it’s the cigarette theory in action. Every loss is to one’s NCAA candidacy what a smoke is to one’s lungs.

Over this despondent weekend, Friday the 13th ominously saw that star-crossed digit emerge in the Providence loss column. As of this morning, they are up to 14.

The fettering wager only gets tighter. The coming weekend will offer PC a chance to rally and wrest a 2-1-0 decision in their season series with the Eagles. But apart from scholastic bragging rights, raking home the four points is now a dire necessity if they are to earn the second and last-remaining bye into the semifinals. BC is carrying 27 league points, the Friars 23, and head-to-head results are the first criterion for tiebreaking.

Then there’s the momentum factor. Lightning may have struck down the short-bench scoffing that certain aspiring pundits have done, but it’ll be hard pressed to debunk the straight fact that stability and self-assurance can decide who has the upper hand even prior to puck-drop.

On the whole, the Friars have the least of the momentum at this very moment. BU arguably has a better-than-nothing morsel of it. The Beanpot champion Eagles are not to have their confidence questioned as they retain a five-game unbeaten streak. And in their sweep of Maine –still the only team out of the playoff picture- Connecticut is steadily restoring order, though they have the regal Wildcats to look forward to in the finale weekend.

Regardless of anybody’s active direction, there is molecular apprehension everywhere from Seeds 2-5 in Hockey East, and it’s not inclined to give in until the last ice chips settle a week from today.

The Granite State Goddesses look down and laugh.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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