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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Women's Hockey 5, Connecticut 1

A Conn-descending message
Friars break out in second, flatten Huskies

With her team trailing, 3-1, and having painstakingly fended off two Friar power plays within the first nine minutes of the third period, flustered Connecticut forward Brittany Murphy unleashed a little too much of the Milan Lucic within, thunderously thrusting opponent Christie Jensen into the near boards along the Husky hash marks.

While a temporarily ailing Jensen pulled herself together and was escorted off the ice by trainer Amanda Bowman, Murphy was caged for a five-minute body-checking major. And though a good 11:01 remained on the clock, PC coach Bob Deraney opted to utilize his one allotted timeout.

Why do it then?

“That can be a double whammy. When you draw a five-minute major, you can get sloppy, you can think the game’s over,” explained the skipper, who back in the second was hollering in vain for a major sentence to Brianna Uliasz for similarly slamming Erin Normore.

“It’s five minutes to play smart. And as you saw, UConn tried to capitalize and tried to score offensively. I think I’d do the same thing, because they had nothing to lose. So I wanted to make sure we didn’t let down our guard and get caught up trying to play offense when I thought we had enough goals to win. I didn’t want us to risk beating ourselves for getting too greedy.”

Indeed, coupled with Deraney’s self-imposed restraint, the Huskies stalled the Friars’ progress in the all-you-can-score buffet, outshooting PC, 3-1, over the first four minutes of the kill.

But with 39 seconds still to work with, the Providence power play brigade finally snagged a little can’t-hurt indulgence. Alyse Ruff, withholding the puck in the far corner off a feed from linemate Laura Veharanta, thrust it out to the slot where it caught up with an incoming Normore. The two-way connoisseur slugged home a one-timer for a gaping 4-1 edge with 6:40 remaining.

A subsequent empty netter via Mari Pehkonen would solidify a 5-1 final before 229 rabid rooters at Schneider Arena –PC’s third consecutive win and 10th out of 14 Hockey East contests.

“They threw everything they could at us,” Deraney insisted in a credit to the Huskies, who had come in having wrested 11 wins out of their last 12 offerings. “They tried to out-skill us, we met that challenge. They were trying to out-tough us, we met that challenge. They tried to wear us down mentally, and we met that challenge.

“It was a good indication of where we are right now, and we’re getting better in all areas of the game.”

The first area of strength they needed to flex was staying power. A ho-hum, tensely dead-heated first period passed with the likes of Genevieve Lacasse (34 saves) and Brittany Wilson (29 saves) pushing away 10 shots apiece and mutually unwavering disciplines for all of the first seventeen-and-a-half minutes.

Then, with 2:30 till intermission, Veharanta was flagged for body-checking. But Connecticut likewise blinked in another 72 seconds as Monique Weber pinned Normore as the Friars were swinging into PK breakout mode.

Ultimately granted 42 seconds of 5-on-4 on the new sheet, the Friars triggered a divergent flood of ink on all areas of the scoresheet for the middle frame. Only one second before Weber’s due jailbreak, Brittany Simpson churned forward with Normore’s cross-ice shipment in the neutral zone and handed it off to Ashley Cottrell in the far upper alley of UConn territory.

Cottrell’s nimble, deceptively harmless-looking snapper –the first shot of the period- fluttered home within the opposite post, granting the Friars the icebreaker.

“You may have thought it was a fluke, but I thought it was a great shot,” said Deraney. “That’s a goal-scorers’ shot, blocker-side, coming down the off-wing. That’s what good goal-scorers do, put it underneath the crossbar.”

Regardless, Cottrell’s connection spun the Friars on a decisive throttle for the next seven minutes, during which they outshot the Huskies, 11-1, and enhanced their lead to 3-0.

At 2:44, amidst a claustrophobic grinding session in the Connecticut crease, Steph Morris clamped down and raked in a fugitive biscuit for the eventual game-winner.

Five minutes later, linemates Katy Beach, Abby Gauthier, and Jean O’Neill converged along the near wall to avert an offside, sending the puck-carrier Beach on a counterclockwise swoop to the cage. O’Neill, meanwhile, cut to the porch, where she waited to lace Beach’s rebound behind the unsuspecting Wilson.

Near back-to-back power plays allowed the Huskies to make an incision on the scoreboard before the tempestuous period was up. Only five seconds after Pehkonen was through serving a two-minute interference sentence, PC was whistled once more for too many players.

And within 79 seconds, Amy Hollstein drilled a low-riding slapper through a forest of bodies to the right of Lacasse.

But penalties to Nicole Tritter at 0:30 and Jody Sydor at 2:45 of the third hampered UConn’s bid to wrinkle the gap much further, though they would substantially outshoot the Friars, 13-7 over that final stanza.

When Beach went off for tripping at 13:33, terminating PC’s seventh power play prematurely, Husky coach Heather Linstad elected to deploy the six-pack attack remarkably early. But Pehkonen’s would reel home the dagger at 15:39, six seconds after Beach’s release and after the UConn strike force was muzzled for the duration of their power play.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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