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Friday, October 30, 2009

On Hockey

The case of the missing A-game
Friars vie to reignite this weekend

Bob Deraney had to stretch some second-rate truths in order to subtly acknowledge the more pressing truths in the aftermath of last Sunday’s Mayor’s Cup mayhem.

Theoretically, the PC women’s head coach could have offered Brown goaltender Katie Jamieson at least a dollop of credit for performing her fundamental duties amidst the Friars’ 19-shot tempest in the first period. And he would not rightly be blamed if he at least minimally faulted the injury-induced depth chart chaos that has complicated the continuity in his line combinations.

But there’s something equally obvious about the Friars’ latest results, especially Sunday’s 5-1 falter and a 3-1 slip before Syracuse a week prior. Deraney saw much better from his pupils –full bench or not- against certified national heavyweights in the opening month of this season. Of their five “non-wins,” as it were, the only two that didn’t go to overtime, didn’t see more than one PC goal, and didn’t see the Friars bite back once they were down, were against two ostensibly softer adversaries.

Conversely, two weeks ago, Providence flaunted a rabid appetite to ascend the national ladder when they faced a pair of ranked programs in Clarkson and St. Lawrence, ultimately posting a 0-1-1 transcript and a combined 6-5 deficit, but still picking up votes for a bigger bolder, honorable mention.

Overall, in their first five games, the Friars were an irreproachable 3-1-1 coupled with a decent 15-8 scoring differential. Since then, they have slipped and slid on an 0-2-1 run and an aggregate 10-4 scoring deficit.

What’s happened? Did that first half of October just fetter them with excess confidence?

“I think it could have been a factor in that,” conceded junior A-captain Jean O’Neill. “It’s one thing we have to be aware of and not let it get to our heads in future games. The results are always unfavorable when things get to our head like that.”

If that is the root of this recession, then there is not really much for Friartownies to fret about. It can’t be much more than a matter of replenishing the approach that amounted to the aforementioned 3-1-1 start.

Then again, the first step is proving they can follow through on a bold pledge, which is now a prerequisite to regaining what they have already proven.

O’Neill made the boldest pledge yet when asked about the coming weekend action, which features a visit from Boston University tomorrow afternoon followed by a Sunday day trip over to Connecticut.

“I expect two wins this weekend,” she said. “Plain and simple, four points. We match up really well with both these teams. They’re both going to be huge battles. We just need to capitalize on our chances and put the puck in the net.”

Presumably, O’Neill derived her mini Mark Messier-like assertion from hunger to restore order and not, say, the Friars recent history with the Terriers and Huskies, which has been favorable enough to carry one away. Last year, PC wrested their season series from BU at 2-0-1 and from UConn at 3-1-0, those two losses requiring more than regulation to occur.

But at the moment, their two upcoming adversaries have a little more national credibility. The Terriers, a bizarre 2-1-4 thus far with a whopping five overtime decisions, have nonetheless retained their Top 10 membership all season. They enter the weekend in the No. 10 slot in all relevant surveys.

Meanwhile, UConn has finally cracked out of its offensive chrysalis and, with two wins last week by an aggregate 12-2, nabbed two honorable mention votes in the US College Hockey Online poll.

Their name gone completely missing from all polls for the first time this year, the Friars have a cordial invitation to simultaneously regain the job-well-done sensation they sorely need and a dollop of can’t-hurt recognition. Furthermore, with the next seven games all within Hockey East boundaries, it’s their chance to build on a current tie for first place with Northeastern and to follow up on the anonymous preseason opinion of two league coaches who think they are most fit to win the WHEA pennant.

Beyond that, it will be a chance for unanimous All-Rookie selection Laura Veharanta to really thaw out her twig. It will be a chance for another nine individual skaters to snap a scoreless streak two games of age or older, which would inevitably bump up the offense from the No. 7 slot in the league rankings.

In recent years, the chief reason the Friars have been little more than a .500 performer is a shortage of goals to complement their watertight defense. Lo and behold, that is again why they are a level 3-3-2 going into this weekend.

Expectably, Deraney had addressed his team’s topmost need prior to the season. But so far, especially in the recent hiccup, it’s been as though the opposing stoppers are way ahead of the plan. The Friars have leveled a reasonable 98 shots on net their last three games, though a mere four have tuned the mesh.

The solution is within hooking distance, though. They just need to keep hacking, act like they want it, and act like they know what they’re doing.

“Goalies on other teams are always going to come out big,” said O’Neill. “We just need to shoot for under the crossbar, through the five-hole, just spots where we’re more likely to score goals. We just have to capitalize on the opportunities we have.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com