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Friday, October 23, 2009

On Hockey

Ready for redemption
Friars poised to pick their game back up

With the natural passage of time as their prime cooling agent, the PC women’s hockey team has long cast off the psychological remnants of their first forgettable outing in 2009-10, which, as it happens, was but six days and one game ago.

When it happened last Saturday, ultimately kneading itself into a 3-1 home falter before Syracuse, the patently bad news was that they had, by their own admission, not boasted their best stuff.

But since about Sunday, considering it was one out of six total games played, the good news was that they had not boasted their best stuff –whereas on other meaningful occasions, they have. And overall, it’s been good enough for a satisfactory 3-2-1 record.

“We played two strong teams already early on in the season in Clarkson and St. Lawrence,” junior forward Alyse Ruff recently said, referring to a northern excursion two weeks ago that saw the Friars tangle with two national Top 10 staples, push them both to overtime, and emerge with at least a morally digestible 0-1-1 transcript.

“It just goes to show that we have a strong team this year and we can certainly do well as long as we come to play every day,” said Ruff.

Apart from the three aforementioned contests, Providence has scraped out three home wins, sweeping Maine on opening weekend by a cumulative 6-1 and lashing Colgate, 4-1, a week ago tonight.

Three more home dates are right on tap to round out this critical tone-setting month of October, beginning tonight with a visit from Yale.

“It’s just a chance to move forward and a chance to improve and to continue working on what we do best,” said Ruff. “We’re a fast team, we have a lot of skilled players, and obviously we have a strong goalie in Genevieve (Lacasse). I always look forward to every game we have.”

Working on what they do best? One of those already evident elements lies in their overall two-way game. Out of each defensive pair, one member –namely Colleen Martin, Amber Yung, and Lauren Covell- has made a healthy habit of touring the puck herself from the blue line to the depths of the attacking zone.

It is unmistakably a healthy habit because it seems any given forward is both flexible and attentive enough to plug that void on the point whenever it happens. It’s an occurrence vaguely reminiscent of when a lacrosse long-pole hustles the ball across the center line, impelling a midfielder to hang back. And it has already amounted to two goals, nine points, and 51 shots by designated defenders.

Additionally, the Friars have kept a solid grip on their spirits even when they haven’t had the upper hand. They have authorized the first goal in four out of six swirls and trailed during a total of seven individual stretches, but only once have they trailed by multiple goals and only twice have they failed to pull even. Furthermore, they have owned the latter two periods by an aggregate score of 15-8.

Move forward? That kind of speaks for itself at this point.

Improve? Hey, this team doesn’t seem like it would shy away from cracking open the playbook and doing a thorough, honest inspection for glitches.

Three jutting wrinkles that could still stand to be ironed out: first, the fact that they are tops in the league in penalty frequency, racking up a median of 13.3 penalty minutes per game.

Second, while the Friars have more often than not benefited from letting the ice sharpen their skates as the night progresses, it couldn’t hurt to make more ripples in the opening period, where they have been outscored 3-1 over six games thus far.

The third fissure is, to be fair, beyond their control, but the Friars must be yearning for their first opportunity to dress a hearty pack of 18 skaters. They have already subsisted through one game with a mere 15, then reincorporated sophomore strikers Kate Bacon and Abby Gauthier, who with new linemate Nicole Anderson are making passable headway with their game of catch-up.

“I’m pretty excited about our lineup,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “We’re not even close to being as good as we can be, but we are getting better. That’s a real positive sign.”

Rookie defender Emily Groth and forwards Jackie Duncan and Jessie Vella are still out of the game frame, though all three have been physically active of late. There is no real telling how they will each be integrated once they are pronounced ready for action. On the whole, though, the three full forward lines are all hinting at a smooth gelling process, so look for Duncan and Vella to rotate with Pam McDevitt and Bre Schwarz, who just might need little more than a constant third linemate to get their mills churning.

Just the same, while Ruff and starting center Ashley Cottrell have both nobly stepped up to double-shift and supplement that line as needed, they could stand to get a little break and focus solely on their respective full-time lines.

All that will take is one more healthy body.

“If we can all get healthy and add those people to our lineup, it’s just going to add some more depth to a lineup that I think is pretty good right now,” said Deraney. “Our future’s bright.”

So, too, can be their present. It will be up to them tonight to exploit a Yale Bulldogs team that is finally breaking in its game schedule and, if only for good measure, to refresh everyone’s memory of the pre-Syracuse Friars.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com