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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Hockey

Rookie Cohen raised on real winning homestead

Amongst all of the active personnel within the Providence College women’s hockey program, only head coach Bob Deraney and ageless goaltending tutor Bob Bellemore can attest firsthand to the backside boot that comes with relinquishing a jealously-guarded title and the resultant fervor to regain it. After all, PC is now well into its fifth year –or more than one full collegiate generation- of renewing that drive, having last laid claim to a conference banner and/or NCAA tourney passport in 2005.

Although, newly arrived forward Jess Cohen ought to help make the annual relation process a touch easier. One year ago, Cohen was caught up with the inevitably untamed urge to redeem the almighty Shattuck-St. Mary’s U19 program after it had whiffed on a would-be fourth consecutive USA Hockey championship in 2008.

As it happened, and in part under Cohen’s leadership, the Cyclopean Minnesota-based prep program swiftly restored its sovereignty, effectively granting her three rings in four seasons and arguably the most enticing big game resume anybody is bringing to the Divine Campus this year.

Cohen’s SSM tenure –which for its first two years overlapped with this author’s own stint at the School of Hockey- followed a relatively smooth, coming-of-age pattern. A late addition to the team roster her freshman year, she presented herself as a grinder –at least by comparison to some of her acetylene teammates- in compiling 29 points in 49 appearances.

Her college prep turning point arguably fell the subsequent autumn, though, when the supernatural twins Jocelyne Lamoureux and Monique Lamoureux –both of whom are now on Team USA’s Qwest Tour- took temporary leave to take part in the Four Nations Cup. In their absence, Cohen, among others stepped up their game as needed and did not regress even when the roster was full again.

Result: Cohen spiked her productivity rate to 62 points in 50 ventures en route to her second national crown. She stayed roughly along that average throughout 2007-08 (54 points in 45 games) before she surged once more as a senior captain last year with a flush two-point-per-game mean (108 in 54).

Based on that rigorous brand of youth hockey upbringing, and the way she handled it, Cohen can rationally strive to make a first impression in Providence along the lines of, say, a Jean O’Neill. Two years back, O’Neill came bearing a game well-tuned by a series of similar September-to-March grinds with the Princeton Tiger Lilies and, despite taking a few weeks to thaw out, proceeded to charge up 17 points in her first 36 NCAA ventures.

And if anybody is to defend PC’s claim to the Hockey East Rookie of the Year laurel on behalf of Genevieve Lacasse, Cohen will likely be the one to do it.

Beyond that, though, is the habitual appetite for victory, which is to be expected most anywhere, but rarely in such extremities as Shattuck. All SSM Sabre teams have all but adopted the perennial New York Yankee-like perception that losing is a plain abomination. And while that might not quite be case in Friartown, fastidious hunger would not be an unwelcome trait and probably a fine starting point for someone who is still acclimating to a new campus, a new level, and a new itinerary.

From certain angles, Cohen’s transition requires one or two backward turns of the knob. When she was a newbie at Shattuck, her team was in the midst of defending its first title –the glory of which was shared by former PC stopper Danielle Ciarletta- and raring to cement the already believable notion that they were the new team to beat. From there on in, it was all about retaining a team-of-destiny mentality for the duration of the seven-month odyssey.

Now she has joined in on a six-month trek with the intent to, after repeat shortcomings, counter the critics, discredit the doubters, and prop up the Friars’ national posture.

It is, to sum up, a shift from craving status quo to pursuing progression. It is the rough competitive athletics’ equivalent of a rigid Republican switching to more Democratic values.

Yet there is still, above all else, the no-duh common element of an incentive to win, and there is no indication that Cohen has had fits squaring away that part of her adjustment.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com