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Monday, November 16, 2009

On Hockey

Right on target
PC women reignite offense, halt winless spell

Yesterday afternoon, Leigh Riley donned formal game day attire for the 75th time in her career, and for nearly the full breadth of her tenure with the Friars, she has accepted the role of a publicity peasant that so often comes with being a defensive specialist.

Her scoring transcript through 74 games: zero firsthand strikes and four helpers, none of those having fallen at any point this season.

Meanwhile, PC was at best tantalizing its followers having just notched a three-goal game for the first time in eight tries in Saturday’s 5-3 loss at Boston University. Prior to the weekend action, they were riding a 0-3-4 slump with a cumulative nine goals to speak of in those seven games.

Then, with yesterday’s match deadlocked at 1-1 in the wee stages of the second period, Riley stood unguarded along the near point, all but clamoring for a feed from Arianna Rigano. Rigano let her shipment zip out of the far corner with relative ease to Riley, who nimbly leveled a one-timer past the trapper of BU goaltender Alissa Fromkin at the 2:45 mark.

“It’s just nice to see her shoot the puck and not just dump it into the corner,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “It’s confidence and working hard at her game. I think that’s fruits of her labor in her three years of being committed to becoming the best player she can be, and I think she saw some results today, so I’m really happy for her.”

In retrospect, one could take Riley’s milestone play as the Friars’ second offensive foreshock, the first being their two-goal third period effort to at least compress the abysmal bleeding of Saturday’s loss. But a cathartic avalanche was yet to come.

It happened between the fifth and eighth minute of the closing frame. Only 12 ticks after Melissa Tetreau retied everything at two-apiece, Nicole Anderson restored the advantage on her second strike of the day.

Thirty-six additional seconds and suddenly Providence was on a power play, BU striker Jillian Kirchner having been cited for cross-checking Jean O’Neill to the right of Fromkin’s cage.

Ten more seconds and the towering rookie Anderson had rounded out her first collegiate hat trick. And so, in a matter of 58 seconds, the Friars had spilled a brittle 2-1 edge, only to hurriedly push ahead by two –their first multi-goal advantage since they topped Colgate, 4-1, one month ago to this date.

By day’s end, they were 6-2 victors, having piled on four unanswered goals to spell the difference and only requiring a modest seven shots on net to pull it off. By the time of the game’s semi-climax, the Terriers were feverishly piling a rubber blizzard on Genevieve Lacasse, only to see their shots grated to manageable morsels by the PC defense and to have the Scarborough Save-ior slow them down by summoning whistle after whistle.

In the latter 40 minutes yesterday, BU owned the shooting gallery, 37-15, but were outscored, 5-1, in that space. In other words, they inherited the Friars’ old skates for at least one day.

Uncannily, PC had run up an identical 19-7 shooting advantage in Saturday’s third period. It was the last of 12 periods during their eight-game winless hex where they charged up at least 10 registered stabs, but never scored more than one goal at a time.

“You don’t get instantaneous gratification,” Deraney said. “I think our kids have worked extremely hard at becoming better shooters and smarter shooters. Yesterday and today is just a dividend of how hard you have to work in front of the net, but also how smart you have to be in front of the net.”

Anderson ultimately personified the attacking zone street smarts better than anyone yesterday, when she connected on three of her four shots (translation: 75 percent connectivity) and, with a 3-1-4 scoring transcript, doubled her totals on the year to 6-2-8.

Less than five minutes after the Friars fell behind, 1-0, around the halfway mark of the first period, she cut down the near alley while linemate Ashley Cottrell toured the puck along the other lane and convinced Fromkin to nudge all the way around the far post. Parked right on the distracted Fromkin’s back porch, Anderson swatted Cottrell’s pass home for the equalizer.

Later, in the third, Anderson was again within brushing distance of Fromkin when she batted in another Cottrell set-up for the eventual winner. In another minute, she supplied an insurance strike –and her third power play connection on the year- simply by hovering around the near post while Cottrell and Laura Veharanta set things up on the other side and waiting to slug the puck in once it arrived.

“When you’ve got a young lady that size (six-foot-even), with that type of reach, you want her to be close to the net,” said Deraney. “As long as you stay off the goalie and in a good position in the slot, a big person like that is going to get a lot of terrific opportunities just from standing still because of that reach. I think she’s learning what it takes to score at this level.”

So, too, are countless other members of the PC Skating Sorority. In all, eight individual Friars touched yesterday’s scoresheet, with a four-point performance each for Anderson and Cottrell. And the points are being spread amongst all positions and all lines. Even Jackie Duncan, two games into her belated start after a prolonged injury, nabbed an assist on Alyse Ruff’s door-slammer with 1:18 to spare.

Between their two games on the weekend, the Friars lit it up nine times, matching their whole output in the previous seven games and improving their goals-per-game from a 2 to 2.29 median.

Not to mention, they finally polished off a regulation win and responsively salvaged their viability in the upper half of the Hockey East standings. This morning, they stand tied with Northeastern (11 points apiece) for first place.

“Obviously you love to win, but it really comes down to playing well,” said Deraney. “And (on Saturday), we didn’t play very well, especially in the first two periods, and then we really played well in the third. And what I’m excited about is that we put together four really good, quality periods.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com