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Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Hockey

They can now say they’re getting it done

A somewhat proud and quite paradoxical mantra ought to be churning in the PC women’s hockey locker room on the heels of their opening weekend sweep over Maine.

At least there is no more sighing and uttering “At least…” Or, more specifically, there is at least nothing along the lines of “At least we played well,” which was the most pleasant resort they could afford around this time a year ago.

If anything, one who is armed with a first aid kit and scoping insistently for a strategic lesion, can say, “At least we held on” after the Friars abolished one penalty after another to finalize yesterday afternoon’s 2-1 victory at Schneider Arena in Part II of the series.

“Maine played extremely well, and you knew they would after what happened yesterday,” said Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney. “That didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was that we took some of what I think were uncharacteristic, lazy penalties, and made it real difficult on ourselves. We were just fortunate that a real good Maine team wasn’t able to take advantage of it.

On a total of seven partial or full-length opportunities, including three in the third and two five-on-three segments, Maine’s power play brigade nabbed an early 1-0 within the first four minutes of the game, but thereafter whiffed on a cumulative seven shots.

“They’re the players of the game for us,” Deraney said in commendation of any given PK quartet (or trinity). “We had everyone kill. We needed to because we took so many penalties, and everyone stepped up, made plays where we needed, our goaltending has been terrific, and I think the penalty kill starts there.”

Maybe so, but technically, Providence stopper Genevieve Lacasse did not have to toil as much as she could have. Clinging to their 2-1 lead to commence the third period, the Friars would detonate their discipline beginning at the 7:09 mark and would be shorthanded for the next three minutes and 34 seconds, including their third 5-on-3 deficit of the weekend for 26 ticks.

But in that stretch, Lacasse only had one shot reach her immediate area while PC mustered two shorthanded bids. And her praetorian guards would keep her idle over the next two-minute kills between 14:05 and 16:05, while Arianna Rigano thrust another shorthanded shot at Maine’s Brittany Ott.

And to both kindle and quickly snuff their own dramatic flame, the Friars took one more citation with 44 seconds to spare, only to have Jean O’Neill draw a subsequent tripping call on Myriam Crousette, forcing the Black Bears to revoke their extra attacker and take last face-off in their end before a brief 4-on-4 sequence.

Ott, Lacasse’s former associate on the Detroit Little Caesar’s U19 team, did not exactly have the same luxuries as the Scarborough Save-ior. Though her team only granted Providence four power plays over the course of the day, she had to face 15 shots in those stretches.

And she stopped every single one of them. The Friars were thus left utterly empty on the power play for the whole weekend.

Then again, unlike in Friday’s 4-0 win, they were at least piling on the attempts (42 total compared to Maine’s 15). And they dented Ott just enough for a favorable difference. And they had a diverse array of contributors, particularly junior defender Amber Yung, who recorded a whopping nine SOG, and senior captain Colleen Martin, who notched six. In all, designated defenders, many of whom took turns imitating Erin Normore by shoving their nose deep into the corners, accounted for 19 PC shots.

It was Yung whose late first period bullet from the far circle top capped a stimulating end-to-end transition, drew a 1-1 knot, and splashed a personal scoring drought dating back to February 17, 2008. Counting the McGill exhibition one week prior, Yung now has a point in each of her first three games this season.

“That’s an integral part of the way we play,” said Deraney. “We expect more production from all five players when they’re on the ice. It’s not just three forwards and two defensemen. It’s five players going out there for a common goal, and that’s to score.”

The Friars had authorized the game’s first five shots, the first four over two Maine power plays, but were seething afterward. For the remaining dozen minutes of the first period, they owned the shooting gallery, 10-2, and over the course of the second, they ran up a 23-4 count in that category.

Ott was responsive on a majority of those, including six on PC’s own 5-on-3 advantage to start the middle frame. But one exception fell at the 7:06 mark when another ex-U19 teammate of hers, Ashley Cottrell, parked herself on the porch, vacuumed a careless Maine clearing attempt, and nimbly lifted it home, spelling the 2-1 difference.

And the way the Friars menacingly threatened in several other visits to the Bears’ zone, it could have been a more gaping differential. In any case, they are officially 2-0, given that a handful of programs currently ranked in USA Today’s Top 10 –Boston College, Boston University, and even Wisconsin- have all taken some actual clips to the chin this weekend, there’s a theoretical chance PC could ascend when that poll is revised tomorrow, or at least garner more honorable mention votes.

“To be honest with you, it really doesn’t matter right now,” said Deraney. “We’ve got play a lot better than we played (this weekend). The fact that we won two games is the most important thing. We don’t really care about polls right now. Really, polls matter come second semester, when things really start to take shape. Nothing’s taking shape right now.”

But at least now they have been afforded a learning experience that has not cost them valuable points.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com