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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hockey Log

Lacasse still keeping the crease clean
PC women’s goalie keeping mates afloat like usual

If Genevieve Lacasse will not say that she has been the single most heavily taxed Friar in the opening phase of her sophomore season, her 2009-2010 transcript will.

The defending Hockey East Itech Goaltending Champion, Lacasse came to training camp having to deal with the offseason departure of two of her creasemates (Danielle Ciarletta to graduation and Jen Smith to transfer). Since the first face-off, while consuming all but seven minutes of the total game action, she has dealt with a smattering of injuries that inevitably drain extra energy from her trusty skaters.

And amidst the Friars’ nearly month-old winless pothole (0-3-4 overall), Lacasse has somewhat lagged behind on the league leaderboard in every goaltending category. Entering Sunday’s confrontation with Northeastern and Florence Schelling, the runaway threat to usurp her claim to the annual goaltending laurel, she ranked fourth amongst all stoppers in terms of both goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.920).

But after one clean, crisp, and classic 65-minute bout –which ended in a 1-1 draw and was followed by an epic, 13-round shootout- Lacasse ascended to second place upon pushing away 28 Husky shots and upping her save percentage to a .924 success rate.

Perhaps most fittingly, as of yesterday, she and Schelling split the weekly honor as the league’s top defensive performer.

But they and their teams couldn’t split the third point on Sunday. Someone had to be outdueled. And Lacasse ultimately prevailed, 12-11, on the strength of several straightforward saves, a few assists from the post, and even a couple of cough-ups by Northeastern bidders who never got their shot off.

“Last shootout against Maine, I lost, so I didn’t want to lose two shootouts in one weekend. That would just be brutal,” Lacasse said in a deep day-after reflection yesterday. “And with our rivalry, I didn’t want to lose to (Schelling), especially since I’m playing with her in the All-Star Game in a couple of weeks. So it felt good to win.”

Dating back to last February, when the Friars grabbed a vital extra point in the regular season finale versus Boston College to salvage home ice for the postseason quarterfinal, Lacasse has won three out of four meaningful shootouts. The last three have all fallen in uninterrupted succession and have all been decided by a single goal.

Until Sunday, though, none of them required a single sudden death inning, never mind 10 of them. But Lacasse insists she was too busy tracking the mischievous biscuit to tally up her shots-faced or to measure the barometer of intensity.

“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “Because while I was on the bench before the shootout started, (head coach Bob Deraney) was asking ‘Do we want to shoot first or second?’ and I said ‘Let’s shoot second’ so there’s a little less pressure on me and more on the shooters, I guess.

“And it went by really fast. When someone said afterward that there were 13 shooters, it didn’t feel like there were that many.

“There wasn’t much pressure. It was fun more than anything.”

One critical stat, however, was plain to discern in the middle of the seventh round. When Northeastern’s Danielle Kerr let a low-riding bid trickle home to the right of a sprawling Lacasse, it was all on PC forward Alyse Ruff to salvage any shot at a home victory.

Without hesitation, Ruff cut with a stallion’s stride down the Broadway lane and let a soft ice-kisser similar to Kerr’s squirt through Schelling’s five-hole.

It was on to Round Eight.

“I was super relieved,” Lacasse admitted. “I didn’t even think it went in at first, because the ref kind of waved it off, but then it was signaled a goal. None of us are really even sure how she scored. But we’re just all really happy it went in. It gave us a little boost.”

Of the remaining six shots she confronted, Lacasse only needed to act on two of them, stoning Stephanie Gavronsky in Round 11 and subsequently getting her right boot on Rachel Llanes’ attempted wrapper. Two other shots (Annie Hogan and Casie Fields) scampered wide and another two (Katy Applin and Kasey Cedorchuk) dinked off the bar before Christie Jensen ended the game in the Friars’ favor.

For what Sunday’s shootout and some of its predecessors are worth, it was a pleasant reminder of the characteristics Lacasse established throughout her sparkling rookie campaign. She is, once again, regularly anchoring her team’s half of a New Jersey Devils’ intrasquad scrimmage and convincing a yet-to-thaw offense to withhold the white flag.

Then again, her supporters are gradually stepping up their performance, having decisively outshot the opposition their last two games and minimized their trips to the penalty box.

So far, it’s been enough to draw a three-way knot for first place in the Hockey East standings. And Lacasse is not afraid to acknowledge that little more than an offensive upgrade will be needed to bolster the cushion.

“It’s really doable,” she said. “We just have to win both games this weekend and keep going from there focusing on one weekend at a time, one game at a time.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com