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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Women's Hockey 2, Wisconsin 2

Friars tame, tie mighty Badgers

Given that it has now happened in each of three consecutive games, the idealized attacking style coproduced by Nicole Anderson, Ashley Cottrell, and Laura Veharanta has cemented its position as a trademark technique for the Friars’ power play.

And the magnitude of every goal they polish off is only escalating its magnitude by the night. Last night, whilst glared upon by a 2-1 deficit, the crafty threesome were deployed the moment Wisconsin forward Breann Frykas was jailed for bodychecking Kate Bacon with 5:46 to spare in the third period.

Within 17 seconds of the subsequent face-off, Veharanta and Cottrell –yet again- cycled the puck deep in the far alley of the offensive zone while Anderson, inexplicably drawing next-to-no attention in spite of her superior six-foot stature, halted right in front of the opposite post. It was there that she absorbed Cottrell’s feed, lassoed her own rebound, and beat Badger stopper Becca Ruegsegger on an assertive, in-your-face wrister.

“If you’re going to be a good team, you need to score on the power play,” said Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney. “That’s really what it comes down to. It’s not so much that one play that we do. It’s the terrific reads that they’re making, taking what the penalty killers are giving us. That’s why we’re being successful right now.

“And, hey, that was the same play on the first goal where it went when they took the down-low away and (Jessie) Vella found Jean (O’Neill) on the backdoor that way.

“I’m encouraged by our power play for sure. It gives you a chance every night, just like it did tonight.”

With their two conversions, the resurgent PC power play has now pounced eight times over their last four games (22 cumulative opportunities) after connecting but seven times in their first 12 outings. And it ultimately spelled the difference last night as they stamped a 2-2 tie against the defending NCAA champions, who in the game’s latter stretches had created a major imbalance in ice shavings between the attacking zones but could not run off on the scoreboard.

Leading up to Frykas’ fatal infraction, the Badgers had run up a 15-3 lead in the third period shooting gallery alone. In the game as a whole, they finished with a 36-15 advantage, including all four registered stabs in the five-minute bonus round.

The point was, though, that they could only sculpt a one-goal lead out of all that fell from their rubber blizzard. Other than Mallory Deluce’s go-ahead strike at 9:27, which she carried out by thrusting a low-rider out of the far corner and in off of goaltender Genevieve Lacasse’s leg, the Scarborough Save-ior saw everything and handled everything.

Not to mention, her skating mates pitched in to chalk up five blocked shots and guide another five Badger bids wide of the net during the closing frame. By night’s end, Wisconsin had seen 37 of its 73 attempted shots never even reach Lacasse’s estate.

“I thought we did a great job in front of the net,” Deraney said. “Our D-zone coverage was extremely good tonight.”

It needed to be. The Friars had received a written invitation to really bust the doors on the dusk of Black Friday, receiving the game’s first three power plays within the first 15 minutes of the opening frame, followed by a shorthanded penalty shot awarded to Arianna Rigano at 18:17 (she would be foiled).

But apart from O’Neill’s connection at the 2:20 mark, they could not keep up the ignition and ultimately took the modest 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

“We scored the first goal and I thought we sat back again,” said Deraney. “We need to work on trying to create some separation instead of being happy with one-goal leads. That’s not good enough at this level, especially against a team like Wisconsin.”

The Badgers knotted things up, 1-1, at 4:24 of the second during a delayed Providence penalty when blueliner Geena Prough –a junior transfer out of Mercyhurst College- thrust home a backhander from the near circle-top and through a forest of red and white bodies. And after the Friars failed to pull back ahead on another power play around the halfway mark –even with five attempted shots, one of which hit the pipe- all of the whistles soon began to sing sweet melodies for the Madisonites.

In particular, in the seventh minute of the third period, Veharanta (tripping) and Jennifer Friedman (interference) went off in a matter of 33 seconds, granting a goal-starved Wisconsin power play an 87-second 5-on-3 segment.

But within that taxing stretch, Lacasse blocked three shots, her teammates blocked another three, and the net felt nothing.

“Bend, don’t break,” Deraney said with contentment. “I thought we played terrific defense. Yeah, they got some shots, but really when it came to quality shots, we kept them to the perimeter. They can get as many shots as they want. Our goalie is good enough at stopping perimeter shots.”

Tonight’s rematch at Schneider Arena thus promises a pair of teams insisting on unfinished business.

“They’re going to dial it up a notch, and we’re going to have to elevate our game too,” Deraney predicts. “It’s an exciting test for us.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com