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Sunday, November 8, 2009

On Hockey

About to fight through the ranks
PC women to close semester with succession of stiff opponents

It’s almost amusing the way Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney took off on Friday’s excursion to Maine with a humble, no-easy-task proclamation, then voiced a plain element of disappointment in the aftermath of the 2-2 tie/2-1 shootout loss up there.

For Friartownies, that would be funny if it were not so serious. But the point should be taken even better than the single Hockey East point PC fished out of the Alfond Pond: Deraney is responsible enough not to overtly denigrate the opposition. But at the same time he must have known, deep down, that his pupils should have nailed a good two- or three-goal knockout of the WHEA’s distinctive bottom feeders.

Reaction-wise, Friday was practically a rerun of the Mayor’s Cup malfunction two weeks to date. After all, the Friars did heave 43 registered shots at Maine goaltender Brittany Ott, including 16 in a span of seven power play segments, but with a mere two strikes, their connectivity rate on the night was only 4.65 percent.

“Whenever you put up 43 shots, you expect to score more than two goals,” Deraney told the Maine Campus. “We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”

He would add, “Penalty killing has been good for us, but we just have to find a way to score on the power play,” Deraney said. “We’ve got to take advantage of them. We’re not right now.”

There you are again. The weaker the adversary, the sharper the coach’s critique if the job is left undone.

Now contrast that with the Friars’ routine response to heavyweight programs. One month ago, they pushed the likes of Clarkson and St. Lawrence beyond regulation, scoring on two of 18 and three of 19 tries, respectively, those two nights. Those make for a nightly accuracy of about 11.1 percent and 15.8 percent.

And last Saturday, the 3-1 falter to Boston University aside, Deraney gave his pupils a free pass, granting that they had only just recovered their incentive and put forth enough mass and acceleration to force a relatively even affair.

From that angle, the forthcoming schedule should be anything but disconcerting. Starting with this afternoon’s visit from Northeastern and running through the December deceleration that will round out the first half of the season, the Friars will have eight consecutive games against current or recent members of the national Top 10 polls.

The hot Hub Huskies, second in the league standings and newly promoted to the No. 9 slot on both relevant leaderboards, are here today and again a week from Friday. The Terriers, who have hovered anywhere between No. 8 and No. 10 since the preseason polls, will be raring for a quick rematch in the form of a home-and-home card next weekend.

After Thanksgiving, none other than the defending national champions from Wisconsin shall drop in for a two-night stay. And then, in December, the Friars will make a one-time stop to New Hampshire –where the Wildcats have refused to cool off and have sat as high as No. 3 in the country this season- and to Boston College –where the elastic Eagles are gradually recovering their groove after a shaky start thwacked them off the radar after Week One.

Chances are, especially with BU's sudden slide this past week and the 5-3-0 Badgers’ mild inconsistency, not everyone will be ranked precisely when they lock twigs with the Friars. But they ought to be more often than not, which equals a luminous invitation for PC to spruce up its current 0-2-1 record against Top 10 teams.

And in any case, everyone on the slate for the rest of the semester is a certified threat. Therefore, at least four wins and certainly no more than three regulation losses in their next eight outings ought to perch the Friars in a snug stocking before they break for the holidays.

But first, they will need to accept a loss of many luxuries that they have largely squandered on some nights. Today, they will have a hard time outdrawing the opposition for the seventh consecutive game for Northeastern is the only WHEA tenant more disciplined than they are, boasting a virtuous mean of 7.8 penalty minutes per game.

Not to mention, the Huskies’ cornerstone, sophomore savior Florence Schelling, has allowed but six goals in her first eight starts on the year, including three shutouts.

Gee, perfect timing for an offense that just mustered its second multi-goal performance in six tries and, in those same six games, has accumulated merely eight strikes after scoring 15 in the previous five.

“That’s why I’m hoping to get our scoring touch back,” Deraney said recently. “They’re a formidable foe. They’re very difficult. (Schelling) takes up a lot of net and she’s not going to let in easy goals, so our margin of error is going to be very small.”

But that was also the case against BU, which ultimately tied the Friars in the shooting gallery, 25-25, and won on a somewhat freak wraparound connection last Saturday. And it was the case against Clarkson, when a cruel overtime strike cost Providence an invisible nonconference point. And it was the case at St. Lawrence, where they repeatedly fell a step behind but never let the deficit expand beyond one goal.

Essentially, they have done all the right things against ranked teams save for tipping the scale their way. Ahead lies a savory chain of opportunities to spruce that up, but the Friars need to embrace it.

After all, PC’s margin of error for the whole season is slightly shriveling every time they fail to stamp a W, which has now officially happened in six straight games (0-3-3). At 3-4-4 overall, and without so much as an honorable mention in the past two weekly polls, they could make valuable pills out of poison if they approach the next month correctly.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com