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Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Hockey

Technically, they’re close enough for comfort

Canton, N.Y.- This will mean nothing to NCAA legislators, but Friartownies can appreciate the fact that, through four games, their women’s hockey team technically has yet to lose in regulation.

With a 3-2 overtime slip at No. 7-ranked Clarkson Friday night and a 3-3 draw versus No. 5 St. Lawrence yesterday, PC (2-1-1) returns home today from the oft-treacherous locale of upstate New York with a generous dish of intangible gains to go with the invisible nonconference point.

The first and foremost item was a good psychological cleansing. Yesterday’s engagement was in Appleton Arena, a bane of a building for the Friars in a way similar to New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center. In the program’s two previous visits here, they had bowed reverently and handed their hosts an exquisite 8-0 decision in 2007 and a 6-1 triumph in 2005.

Initial jitters that came with reentering the Saints’ barn –assuming there really were any- proved a pressing issue only in the penalty section of the scoresheet. The Friars paid a toe-curling four trips to the sin bin in the opening frame and fell behind on their second kill at 11:03.

Other than that, sophomore stopper Genevieve Lacasse blanketed all the blemishes, kicking out another six St. Lawrence power play bids, and froze the 1-0 difference through intermission.

From there, Providence continued the same basic pattern from Friday’s half-full outing at Clarkson, repeatedly falling behind, though never authorizing a multi-goal gap. Second-line left winger Arianna Rigano, the first booming candidate for Pleasant Surprise of the Year, issued five shots on net to extend her team lead to 18.

And she slugged home two of them with five seconds to spare in the middle frame and again with 5:34 gone in the third, drawing 1-1 and 2-2 knots, respectively. Already, the transfer out of Division-III St. Anselm has bagged one more goal (3) than she did all last year as a junior still acclimating to a new level.

The Saints’ Jamie Goldsmith was nearly Saturday’s answer to Clarkson sizzler Juana Baribeau when her second strike of the day equaled a 3-2 lead with 3:22 left in regulation. But none other than Ashley Cottrell, who a year ago in this matchup was denied her would-be first collegiate goal on a penalty shot, avenged her robbery by beating Brittony Chartier with precisely 90 seconds to work with. Cottrell is now tops on the team with four firsthand points and two game deciders –one clincher and one equalizer.

Technically, this all could have ended a dollop better, and it would have required only one or two flicks of a stick to do so. Technically, the Friars are still letting the likes of ranked and nonconference adversaries bar them from invaluable Ws. At 0-1-1 in nonconference games, they thus have a winning percentage of .250 and will have 11 more opportunities to spike that well above .500, all but a core requirement for March bracket membership.

But the way they put forth two heated arm wrestling bouts against one roaring Golden Knight team (which dismantled Connecticut 4-0 yesterday) and a seven-time NCAA tourney attendee, no lack of victory ought to dock them many votes in the polls this week.

More vitally, though, the Friars got to know themselves during this northern excursion. They know that the requisite resolve is there for whenever they choose to pluck it off the shelf. And they know what they will need to add, going forward, to tip the scale all the way in their direction next time around.

What they really need in that regard is a productive pick-up from roughly half of their active roster. Of the 17 skaters to have dressed so far, nine have at least one point to their credit, seven have at least two. Three designated defenders in Amber Yung, Lauren Covell, and Colleen Martin have combined for a 2-3-5 scoring log out of a team total 11-13-24.

It is the nominal bottom half of the offensive brigade and the other three defenders who still need to thaw out and round out the Friars’ depth chart. Heavier, vaster wealth can go a long way towards terminating an overtime frame the right way, or better yet, ending overtime before it begins.

No time like the present to start on all this, for the upcoming five-game homestand will include four interleague affairs and promises even more intriguingly rigid competition. This coming weekend’s visitors from Colgate and Syracuse, especially the latter, have made similar statements in recent days, laying claim to moral victories against theoretically stronger opponents.

One should be especially wary of the Orange, a second-year program founded by ex-St. Lawrence skipper Paul Flanagan two summers ago. To date, Syracuse has restricted almighty Minnesota to four goals in each of two visits to Ridder Arena last week, deleted a 3-0 deficit to tie Boston College on Friday, and taken a 1-0 lead into yesterday’s third period against New Hampshire before the Wildcats mustered a rally on the strength of two power play goals.

Just so long as the Friars know what they’re confronting, and this weekend implies that they’re pretty good and professional about that already, October can finally go down as a technical winning month, and as the seasonal springboard they have been long lacking.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com