O’Neill back on top
Wings a starting line featuring two established scorers
For the moment anyway, PC women’s junior Jean O’Neill is renewing the old sense of her days on the PRO Line opposite classmate Alyse Ruff and recent graduate Mari Pehkonen, a unit that famously came together for the stretch drive in 2007-08 and combined for 15 goals and 33 points in the last 14 games.
All through the first official week of practice and for Saturday night’s preseason bout with McGill University, O’Neill assumed the left wing on the top line, supplementing Laura Veharanta and Ashley Cottrell, the top two returning point-getters in the program.
And for what it’s worth, persuasive hints of chemistry would show up on the scoresheet. The top trinity combined for eight of the Friars’ 25 total shots and aggregated six points. O’Neill left her mark on the night when she hustled through neutral ice as Veharanta’s breakout feed sent Cottrell flying down the far alley for a two-on-one rush. O’Neill absorbed a crisp cross-ice pass and wristed it home over the blocker of McGill goaltender Gabrielle Smith, spawning a 3-0 lead with 3:41 remaining in the second period.
Just like that, all three linemates had statistically conspired on the same scoring play. And for the rest of the night, O’Neill, like the majority of her active colleagues, garnered substantial amounts of ice time in all situations, including both ends of the special teams’ spectrum.
Everyone was needed chiefly for the fact that a hefty handful of injuries confined Providence to a mere 15 skaters –nine forwards and six defenders- and that two of the four ailing forwards included nascent scorers Kate Bacon and Abby Gauthier, who like O’Neill before them are temporarily sidetracked in terms of building on their freshman foundations.
Depending on everyone’s return, the line combinations could be largely tweaked as time goes along. But for the moment, far as head coach Bob Deraney would offer, all five of the timetables for return are indefinite. “We’ve got some nicks and bruises, and it’s too early in the season to rush anybody,” he said. “They’re going to take a while, but we’re hoping to eventually get everybody back, and that’ll make us a much better team.”
A year ago at this time, it was O’Neill’s preseason ailment creating one of the voids in the depth chart. She would miss the preseason game and five of the first 10 regular season ventures before she paced herself in thawing out her game once she had returned to stay.
Her high point last season, which was defined by her grinder-type role on a line with Gauthier and Katy Beach, was a five-point-in-six-game stretch between January 25 and February 13, which upped her scoring transcript from a 1-2-3 to an eventual final of 3-5-8, a far cry from a smooth rookie ride highlighted by a 7-10-17 log and five two-point performances.
But with a stable bill of health the top gun Veharanta and the proficient playmaker Cottrell, the more ideal scenario has every reason to return for O’Neill this season.
In the first half of Saturday’s second period, freshman center Nicole Anderson –who logged three shots on net and four penalty minutes- drew two power plays in a matter of two minutes and 14 seconds. She first went down via a hook by McGill’s Caroline Hill, effectively setting up Ruff’s icebreaker. Only 41 seconds after Ruff converted, Anderson drew an interference minor at the expense of Cathy Chartland.
Quick feeds: Ruff, having her first go-around as a center rather than a winger, led the team with 13 face-off wins and five shots on net Saturday…Through the pregame warmup session prior to the McGill scrimmage, sophomore Bre Schwarz paired up with junior Leigh Riley as a defensive tandem while Lauren Covell winged the third forward line. However, for the better part of the game itself, the two switched those positions…Defenders Colleen Martin and Amber Yung each picked up an assist Saturday….Individual game tickets for all 18 regular season home games go on sale starting today at 9:00 a.m. at a price of $5 for adults and $2 for both kids 15 and under and seniors 60 or older…Seven of the Friars' first nine regular season games, all in the coming month of October, will be at home, starting with this weekend’s two-night drop-in from Maine.
Al Daniel can be reached at email@example.com