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Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Hockey

Exhibition loss a much lesser evil

At least for about the first half-hour of clock time, last night’s fixture presented vintage Providence-McGill women’s hockey, if such a thing can even be identified. By the time Jean O’Neill had converted a stimulating two-on-one rush with Ashley Cottrell with 3:41 to spare in the second period, the Friars –who between three meetings in 1981, 1985, and 2003, had run up the Montreal-based program by a 24-0 aggregate- were up 3-0 and well on a path to rerunning old patterns in this matchup.

The illusion would be literally gone in 60 seconds, when with 2:41 remaining, Rebecca Martindale pumped home the Martlets first goal at PC’s expense in team history. From that point forward, an array of vinegary realities settled into the Friars’ water bottles as their guests proceeded to chalk up a 6-1 run in the third period, amounting to a 7-4 decision at Schneider Arena.

They were thus enlightened to the fact that this is a new era on both sides. PC is no longer the urban legend whose coach has to advise players to make X-number of passes to avoid running up the score.

Meanwhile, McGill, the two-time defending Canadian Interuniversity champion, could easily be wearing a Wisconsin Badgers “W” or a Golden Gophers “M” with a tiny maple leaf stamped in the middle of it, denoting them as a Canadian chapter of college hockey excellence.

They, like the Badgers, will even be missing their head coach, Peter Smith, for the duration of the 2009-10 campaign as he attends to Olympic duties.

All that just made it an enticing recipe for the Friars’ annual preseason extramural scrimmage. The old practice of facing a Provincial Women’s League team was clearly not giving them the launch pad they needed to ignite their NCAA run, hence the drastic change in select Canadian invitee of the year.

“McGill’s a very good team, and if you did the research on our record against them, it’s a much different team than they’ve ever had before,” said Friars’ skipper Bob Deraney. “They’ve got a terrific coaching staff that’s attracted a lot of great players. That was a really good test for us and that was the idea. I wanted to see what our weaknesses were.

“I think it told us a lot and now we’ve got some concrete things to work on. I know we can play a lot better, but we had some spurts where we played really well and executed the way we wanted to.”

To start, those spurts came primarily in the form of sophomore stopper Genevieve Lacasse playing as if she had never been on break. She thwarted all of 15 McGill stabs to retain a scoreless knot through the opening frame.

Later on, the Friars’ strike force –which charged up 25 shots on net between 12 individual skaters- perked up to sculpt a 3-0 edge, starting with junior Alyse Ruff’s backdoor connection at 6:46 of the second. Within another 10 minutes, returning top gun Laura Veharanta (two goals, three points total on the night) and O’Neill augmented the edge. And Cottrell, last year’s established resident playmaker, was also on her normal par with two helpers.

But in a subsequent hurry, a short supply of bodies and patience prevailed. PC had a grand total of four skaters –Kate Bacon, Jackie Duncan, Abby Gauthier, Emily Groth, and Jessie Vella- all watching from the stands as they recuperate from offseason afflictions, reducing the line chart to only three forward lines.

As the score devolved from a 3-1 lead to a 6-3 deficit within the first dozen minutes of the third period, the frayed Friars paid four consecutive trips to the penalty box and authorized three power play goals.

“It’s a big factor, especially at this time of year,” said Deraney of the short bench. “But you have what you have, you get out there, and I think it adds to our conditioning, our mental toughness, and stamina. You’ve got to learn how to play when you’re fatigued.”

Meanwhile, backup goaltender Christina England had a forgettable return to game action –her first lick of it since the preseason exhibition of two seasons ago. Deployed in relief of Lacasse to commence the third, her transcript for the night would ultimately read 9:27 worth of playing time, four saves, four goals-against, and unwelcome credit for the loss.

By the time Ann-Sophie Bettez snuck in her second strike and fourth point on the night for a 5-3 difference, a conspicuously disconcerted England was reassigned to the pine.

But this was, after all, just a puck-based PSAT for everybody concerned. Record-wise, it will all stick like a fallen snowflake in above-freezing temperatures.

“Believe me, I’m not very happy with the result, but I’m proud of the effort,” Deraney concluded.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com