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Monday, November 9, 2009

On Hockey

Working overtime begins to pay off

Out of 56 total Women’s Hockey East contests this season, 21 have required overtime. Six of those occasions have involved the Friars, who at the sound of yesterday’s third period buzzer stamped their sixth regulation tie (1-1 final) in a dozen total swirls.

And in another five scoreless minutes of clock action morphed their overall record to a peculiar 3-4-5. That’s right. More brother-smooches than either wins or defeats.

PC proceeded to partake in a concentrated, 13-round shootout marathon that only the goaltending card of Genevieve Lacasse and Northeastern’s Florence Schelling can enforce. Ultimately, recent experience won out by an ice chip as the Friars, on the heels of two other shootouts at Connecticut and Maine last week, walked off 2-1 winners on sophomore defender Christie Jensen’s rooftop conversion in the bottom half of the 13th round.

These three consecutive ties will likely keep their national outlook in limbo, but the extra points they earned last week at UConn and again yesterday have tied them with the Hub Huskies and New Hampshire for tops in the league standings with nine points apiece.

Just a reminder for the sake of reminding: the Friars have done all of their autumn apple picking with no fewer than one, but more often two vacancies in their injury-riddled depth chart.

“With the roster that we have and the lineup we’ve been putting out there, I think it’s an unbelievable testament to our kids’ willpower and commitment,” granted head coach Bob Deraney. “Most nights we’re going out there with three lines and five defenders and the other teams have full complements. And yet we’re still finding a way to hang around and give ourselves a chance to win.

“When we get our bodies back and start matching everyone personnel-to-personnel, I’m pretty excited about our chances.”

Deraney would add that all four of the long-missing skaters –namely Kate Bacon, Jackie Duncan, Emily Groth, and Jessie Vella- are all primed for practice this week and, depending on their performance, will have every opportunity to become the long-absent Skaters No. 17 and 18 come Saturday’s excursion to Boston University.

But in the meantime, the shorthanded Friars have been frugal about their energy and, most nights, about their points. And lately, the circumstantial conditioning that comes with a short bench has statistically surfaced in what has been –take your pick- a three-game tying streak or a 2-0-1 Hockey East unbeaten streak.

In the wee days of November, Providence has out-disciplined its collective opposition, 13 minor penalties to six. It has outshot them, 105-87, including a favorable 38-29 differential yesterday against a normally laser-beamed Northeastern defensive force. Yesterday was the first time Schelling had to deal with more than 30 opposing stabs in a single game all season.

And, Deraney opined, “We missed a lot of great opportunities to score. I thought there were some pucks in the crease where we had chances to put it in and just whiffed, muffed, whatever you want to call it. The puck didn’t bounce our way, but we didn’t let that get to us.”

Fittingly, Lacasse and Schelling alike were put to the ultimate test in front of each other’s eyes when overtime expired and so brought on the first meaningful Hockey East shootout to ever take place at Schneider Arena.

And in the one-on-one derby, Friday’s falter in Maine aside, the Friars have rapidly evolved into a class of clutch capstones even while they have yet to polish off a regulation win in their last seven chances. Counting a sheer exhibition shootout with Yale, PC has won three out of four this year by a cumulative 7-5 score.

Naturally, the runaway top dog in the WHEA goaltending ranks wasn’t going to make this one easy. Schelling, Lacasse, and at times their red iron backups, retained a 0-0 draw through the standard three-round shootout, and then duplicated their perfection for the first three sudden death rounds.

In the top half of the seventh, though, Danielle Kerr –one of the last few Huskies yet to notch a point on the year- beat Lacasse low to nudge the Friars halfway over the cliff.

Enter a redemption-thirsty Alyse Ruff. Not only had Ruffed been foiled by Maine’s Brittany Ott in the exact same must-score situation two nights prior, but a delayed penalty against her midway through yesterday’s third period was nullified only because Kristi Kehoe converted on the play, pulling the 1-1 draw and effectively necessitating the extra action.

Ruff recompensed everything when she stepped up and inserted her first strike of any kind against Schelling right through the five-hole. And in another six rounds, Jensen –generally a stay-at-home defender with nothing but three assists in her first 44 career games- lifted the puck and the Friartown spirits high, beating Schelling glove-side.

“We’re looking for difference-makers, gamebreakers, playmakers under pressure,” said Deraney. “And I don’t think there’s any more pressure than when they score and we have to score to keep it going. Alyse made a great play with a tremendous amount of confidence. I think that epitomized it.

“I think our goalie at that point realized she had to keep pace save-to-save and we had (Jensen) step up who really is kind of an unsung hero for us. She plays a lot of minutes and a lot of quality minutes for us and she comes in and wins the game for us. That was exciting for her. She deserves the limelight.”

For at least one day, patience and poise rewarded the unfamiliar individuals with heroism. And it charitably gave the dogged team a wholesome winning taste –even if it was an artificial shootout flavor.

“Needless to say, it’s a gritty, gutsy effort by our kids,” said Deraney. “And I think it’s something that’ll leap us forward here."

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com