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Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Hockey

Syracuse sting leaves the Friars orange-red

There was every indication of it coming in, but just their puck-luck, the PC women’s hockey team had to verify, in the most vinegary fashion, that the sophomore Syracuse program is anything but your easy-going Halloween cupcake with Orange icing.

Minnesota, Boston College, New Hampshire, and Connecticut have all learned as much themselves this month, but none of them would have to spill a full two-point package in the process.

Yesterday afternoon, the Friars did as they dropped a numb 3-1 decision at Schneider Arena. It amounted to their first regulation falter in six ventures and an untimely drawback to an otherwise irreproachable start to their season.

Now at 3-2-1 overall, PC has also endured its first regulation loss and first home loss on the year. Perhaps more tellingly, though, they acted as their own strict tutors in learning the value of tuning out any Vegas-like odds, which frankly would have favored them on all four home dates so far.

“There are no easy games,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “Even new teams are not really new teams because we don’t have a transfer rule. So kids can go from one program to another and make a second-year program really good. They’ve got some great players. (Julia) Marty’s a good player, (Talia) Menard’s a good player, and (Lucy) Schoedel has some experience in the net. There’s a lot of parity (in NCAA women’s hockey).”

Syracuse departed the ice yesterday looking, feeling, and sounding a lot like the Friars of years past. That is, after repeatedly rebounding from a handful of clips to the teeth, they could indulge in persistence finally paying off.

Yet even for the mini packet of Orange buffs on hand, this was hardly an excitingly flavorful way to pull off that much-anticipated first W. On the whole, it was ho-hum hockey from start to finish. A noticeable smattering of would-be icing calls died before they reached the goal line, the two defensive garrisons took on a laser-beamed look to bar effective net crashes, and both contesting stoppers summoned whistles at every chance they could get.

For their part, PC would command a final shooting gallery by a count of 29-20, but didn’t lay down many prolonged stays in the attacking zone. They took a mere two penalties and killed them both with reasonable facility, but similarly mustered little ignition on any of their four power plays. Save for one early opportunity in the second, during which they leveled five shots on net, they failed to test Schoedel at any time with the numerical advantage.

In fact, some of the Orange’s best threats were on shorthanded rushes, including a three-on-one heroically snuffed by the quick-thinking defender Amber Yung and goaltender Genevieve Lacasse in the sixth minute of a first period that saw a mere 5-4 shot count, Providence favor.

But then the once-blessed second period turned its back on the Friars, who had outscored the opposition, 9-1, in the first five middle frames of the young season. And it was probably no accident that Deraney singled out the likes of Marty and Mendel when he highlighted Syracuse’s gems.

Marty, a transfer out of PC’s Enemy Epitome in New Hampshire, struck twice in the second to ultimately spell the difference. She first broke the ice at the 9:28 mark when she lassoed a loose puck on the porch, turned a full 360, and roofed it home. The Orange didn’t even record another shot on net until Marty slugged home another one at 12:14, which effectively granted her linemate Mendel her second helper on the day.

Meanwhile, throughout the latter two periods, several spontaneous shuffles rippled through the Friars’ barren offensive corps, though Deraney explained that was more a product of circumstantial chaos than a presage of full-scale realignment during the forthcoming practice week.

“I wasn’t tweaking the lines,” he said. “We were just trying to play a high-tempo type of game. They were playing it pretty fast and we had to make sure we used our personnel appropriately. Power plays can kind of wear you down when you’re not effective on those. Then we took a couple of penalties, and that didn’t help.”

Neither, ultimately, did freshman Jess Cohen sawing the deficit to 2-1 at 2:18 of the third. There would be no riveting reversal a la the previous weekend’s visit to St. Lawrence. Just an empty netter via Janelle Malcolm and one ear-battering beep of a wake-up call.

“I thought we were awful today,” Deraney bluntly concluded. “It had nothing to do with the other team either. We just didn’t play the way we were capable of playing. They deserved to have the breaks because they worked harder.”

Sounds sort of like Deraney wants to rhetorically ask what an exact opposite outcome yesterday could have done for his program going forward. That may be the motivational “what if?” he will need to toss out over the next few practices.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com