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Friday, December 11, 2009

On Hockey

PC, BC to cross mirroring paths

How ironically fitting that, in parallel with the climactic academic avalanche about to hit most every college campus by way of semester exams, the Providence and Boston College women’s hockey team’s will engage in one of their toughest and weightiest games of the year right before they can settle in to a much-needed respite.

To brush off the obvious points first, tonight’s engagement at the Conte Forum (7:00 p.m. face-off) pits two statistical underachievers showing hints that their groove has returned and naturally poised to earn themselves a stocking-stuffing statement before the December deceleration takes effect.

“I kind of wish the break wasn’t coming because I think we’re starting to really catch our stride,” said Friars head coach Bob Deraney, his team hoping to prop up the momentum they garnered from last Saturday’s groundbreaking road triumph over New Hampshire, a win that stopped the residual bleeding from an iffy 1-3-4 November.

“The added rest will be good,” Deraney granted. “But before that, we’ve got a terrific Boston College team to play with two more valuable points in the league at stake.”

Actually, there is a little extra cream packed into those two valuable points. With BC’s 4-0 loss Tuesday to the Wildcats –indubitably a partial product of New Hampshire’s frustration from Saturday and, in turn, a surefire motivator for the Eagles going forward– a full or partial claim to first place in Hockey East is at stake tonight.

This shall be the last meeting between any two Hockey East cohabitants until UNH and Northeastern meet up at Fenway Park on January 8. And right now, the Huskies are alone atop the standings with 15 points. The Eagles follow with 14 and the Friars, along with the now-idled Wildcats and BU Terriers, are within hooking distance with 13.

So that means, a win for BC pole-vaults them over Northeastern for sole possession of the top seed until everyone returns to action. A regulation win for Providence will knot the Friars and Huskies, whereas a PC shootout triumph would result in a three-way knot.

Whatever the upshot, tonight’s prevailing party will welcome the refreshing swig of victory and hit the break with the comfortable assurance of being in one of the first-round bye slots to start the more intense phase of the Hockey East pennant race.

Adding to the prospective pleasure, the Friars and Eagles alike have gotten by on a diet comprised heavily of table scraps in the first half of their respective campaigns. They have each won four league games in regulation and tied another three –BC winning all three subsequent shootouts, PC winning two. Meanwhile they have struggled, at best, to tip the scale their way during interleague action, each with only one nonconference win to speak of and the Friars currently bearing a few honorable mention votes in the national polls.

And for all of the home ice they have been allotted early and often, both teams have failed to build easy collateral. The Friars are 4-5-3 at Schneider Arena, the Eagles 4-6-3 at Conte Forum.

But beneath all that is the perfectly logical explanation that both teams are still waiting for the glue to freeze on their repaired rosters and for consistency to follow without any further interruption.

The Eagles, with only 17 skaters available even in times of perfect health, have subsisted primarily on the work of senior striker Allie Thunstrom the same way the Friars have had but one standout in Ashley Cottrell. Thunstrom is the lone Eagle with double-digit points (13) through 18 games while Cottrell, in the same time frame, leads her mates with 20 points, doubling the output of the three runners-up in Nicole Anderson, Jean O’Neill, and Alyse Ruff.

In terms of making up ground, BC is a few strides behind Providence. In particular, they currently rank dead-last in league offense with a 1.72 goals-per-game median. Likewise, their power play needs more sprucing up given its 8.7 percent success rate.

Still, assessing his opponent in terms that he could just as easily apply to his own pupils, Deraney said, “One thing I know for sure is they’re much better than their record shows. They’re very talented.

“Allie Thunstrom has tremendous speed and can be a real game-breaker, and we’re going to have our hands full with (Mary Restuccia and Danielle Welch) who did a terrific job last year as freshmen, now sophomores with a year of experience under their belt. Corinne Boyles has played extremely well for them in goal. So they pose a lot of challenges and a lot of obstacles that we’re going to have to overcome.”

The Eagles have indeed flaunted a little flare here and there, most notably a week ago when they bumped Northeastern in overtime, 3-2. But that aside, since mid-November, they have been a vinegary 1-4-1, all four of those losses coming against nationally ranked teams.

That sounds a little like somebody you would know from the around here, does it not? Before the Lake Whittemore Revolution, the Friars went 1-3-2 in an endless string of engagements with national heavyweights last month. Many of those contests were tied or, at worst, lost in passably dignified fashion.

“Obviously, we want to put a winning streak together” said Deraney. “We’re going to have an opportunity to put up back-to-back wins for the first time since opening weekend (home sweep of Maine).

“We’ve been playing very good hockey,” he continued, citing all of the close shaves from recent weeks. “(Last) Saturday we were very consistent and that’s we’re looking for on Friday. We’re looking to put together another sound, strong 60 minutes offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com