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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Women's Hockey 3, Northeastern 2 (OT)

Dramatic defiance
Friars disregard early unpleasantness in win

On the night designated for observance of the Skating Strides Against Breast Cancer charity, the Friars and Northeastern Huskies mischievously collaborated to spontaneously prompt a need to raise cardiac health awareness.

But ultimately, the game earned the festive, spur-of-the-moment distinction of International Night at Schneider Arena.

Contesting goaltenders Genevieve Lacasse and Florence Schelling, the respective collegiate descendents of Olympic heroes Sara Decosta and Chanda Gunn, upheld a 2-2 knot that was scraped out before regulation was even half over long enough to roll things into overtime. Though Schelling worked up more than twice the sweat (56 shots faced versus 24 against Lacasse), NU’s Swiss phenom and PC’s celestial Canadian may have offered a preview of things to come both on the Hockey East and IIHF platforms.

And when there was precisely a minute to spare in the bonus round, Finnish Flare Mari Pehkonen –already a seasoned Olympian herself- tipped the scale for the Friars, cementing a 3-2 victory before a euphoric home mass of 417.

All that coming after the Huskies had initially wrested a 2-0 lead, then virtually turned everything over to Schelling, who withstood 30 consecutive shots between Jean O’Neill’s equalizer at 9:43 of the second period and Pehkonen’s walk-off strike.

“It was a pretty gutsy performance by our girls, there’s no doubt about that,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “Sometimes you beat the gods, and I think tonight we really beat the hockey gods.

“It was an unbelievable turnover created by (Abby) Gauthier. She gets the puck and made one savvy pass right over to Pehkonen, and she put it under the crossbar. Great teams find a way to win games like that.”

Before the Friars asserted their capstone clutch capabilities, though, Northeastern usurped the spotlight by playing just like the scrappy, salivating underdog that they are, gratefully pouncing on any bounce they can get towards sealing the last vacant playoff passport in Hockey East.

Throughout the opening frame, and spilling into the wee moments of the second period, PC was openly flustered by a handful of quirky roadblocks that amounted to an early deficit plus 90 seconds worth of 5-on-3 penalty killing.

Meantime, the Huskies, boasting the nose of a bloodhound, struck at 7:01 of the first when Ali Bielawski’s up close, fluttering bid circumvented Lacasse’s trapper mitt and plopped vulnerably into the crease, where Annie Hogan approached to rake home an easy rebound.

Over the next eight-and-a-half minutes, Northeastern authoritatively killed their first penalty, granting the Friars one power play shot while clearing the zone three times, and proceeded to draw tripping and checking penalties to defenders Leigh Riley and Jennifer Friedman, respectively at the 14:59 and 15:29 mark.

Friedman’s infraction, in particular, triggered Deraney’s vocal volcano –as did a uncompromising no-goal signal at 3:15 of the second when Alyse Ruff insisted she had buried the remnants of Kate Bacon’s wrap-around stab.

Another 95 seconds after that, NU’s top gun Kristi Kehoe strolled a neutral zone shipment from Lindsey Berman down the near alley and leveled a wrister that again beat Lacasse’s catching glove for the 2-0 lead.

“There were a lot of things going against us,” Deraney acknowledged. “We kept our composure, even though I didn’t do it at times. I think the team calmed me down and just stayed the course, found a way to finish, and they didn’t let the bad breaks get to them. They just kept having conviction and belief and kept chipping away and chipping away and then made a couple of great plays to win the hockey game.”

The U-turn made its first twist only about two minutes after Kehoe’s connection. Upon ambushing an ineptly executed Husky breakout, O’Neill cut square to the net and drew a slashing penalty against Lori Antflick in the process.

Three power play shots didn’t cut it just yet. But 20 seconds after Anflick’s jailbreak, Hogan was flagged for holding and the Friars, having now explicitly transplanted their vengeful energy from their mouths to their twigs, pulled even with stimulating swiftness.

One draw and a dozen ticks after Hogan was called, Brittany Simpson set up point partner Erin Normore, who scorched a high-flying slapper over Schelling at 9:21.

The details on that goal were hardly ready for PA distribution when O’Neill blindly tilted Gauthier’s shot from deep within the near circle to send it sliding home to the left of Schelling, who still made quick to restore her standard form.

That was, until Gauthier (2 assists) clamped down the nightlong Whack-A-Mole puck in the slot and lateralled it left to Pehkonen (8 shots) for the fatal tip-in.

“We saw her at her place earlier in the year and she put on the same kind of performance,” Deraney recalled. “The great thing is, we beat her tonight. We won’t forget that, she won’t forget that. We’ll always know that we can come back against her. It had a lot of psychological benefit to us.”

As did the timing of this Homeric performance, seeing as the Friars had spent the whole week trying to rinse out the vinegar of a 2-1 OT falter at Connecticut last Sunday.

“The fact that this team can find a way to win after learning from last week, that’s the most important thing,” said Deraney. “You learn from your mistakes and you become better, so this is an example of that in the win tonight.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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