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Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Hockey

Cottrell hardly hampered
Gutsy forward’s effort helps salvage a point

Chestnut Hill, Mass.- Alarmingly confined to crutches for the first half of the week after a bang-bang succession of blocked shots yanked her out of action in last Saturday’s visit to New Hampshire, Ashley Cottrell clouded any remnants of bruises in last night’s 2-2 tie/1-0 shootout loss to Boston College.

By night’s end, the sophomore center’s transcript read mostly like the conventional Cottrell who has anchored most every plus sign in the first half of the Friars’ 2009-10 campaign. For starters, she along with linemates Laura Veharanta and Nicole Anderson collaborated on yet another power play goal –the fourth time that entire trinity has had a hand in the same scoring play since they were assembled six games ago.

That goal, potted at 9:03 of the first period, drew first blood in the game and granted Cottrell point No. 21 on the year, thus equating her total output in 36 games as a frosh. At this rate, by the close of the regular season, she figures to charge up at least 37 points.

Later on, in midst of a third period power play with a 2-1 advantage at hand, Cottrell thrust three successive shots at BC stopper Corrine Boyles without letting the goalie summon a whistle at any point in between. The only little thing missing there, of course, was a conversion that might have wrested the game entirely from the Eagles’ reach.

Which brings us to the other moderate drawback. After BC knotted things up and spilled the game over to a shootout, Cottrell could not come through the way she ordinarily does –like, for instance, when she salvaged home ice for the 2009 playoffs by scorching Molly Schaus last February during the Friars’ previous visit to Conte Forum.

Last night, the radiant rookie Boyles snuffed Cottrell, and then did likewise to Veharanta and Alyse Ruff, enough for Allie Thunstrom’s one-on-one netter to grant Boston the extra point and full claim to first place in the Hockey East standings for Christmas break.

If Friartownies are still looking for a little more positive perspective, it may as well be noted that Boyles and Co. have mastered the shootout even more than PC, which is now a decent 4-2 in the lightning round this season when you combine conference and interleague action. The Eagles, meanwhile, have played in four league shootouts this season and have grabbed the bonus booty every time. Their last three shootout wins have been 1-0 decisions and Boyles has blocked all six attempts she has dealt with.

That aside, it would not be so precarious to bet that the Friars got the invaluable single point last night, in part, because their most consistent player was available and did not submit to any sores in her legs. Cottrell totaled four shots on net in regulation, all of them on power plays, and won 14 out of her 27 face-offs. Her line combined for 11 of PC’s 23 regulation stabs at Boyles.

With the assist on Anderson’s icebreaker, she appeared on the scoresheet for the sixteenth time in 19 opportunities and the eighth in her last nine. The only time she has been held pointless in that stretch was last week, when she missed roughly half of the game in the aftermath of the Courtney Birchard mini-bombardment.

Theoretically, the no-excuse Friars could have gotten along just as fine last night had Cottrell been advised to sit out and/or opted to take precautionary leave and miss a full game for the first time in her college career. But given the sequence of last night’s outcome, there would have been no guarantees.

A mere 33 seconds after Anderson’s goal –which was, after all, executed in a way only Anderson, Cottrell, and Veharanta seem to know how to do together- PC swiftly augmented its lead to 2-0 courtesy of Kate Bacon (assists: Colleen Martin and Jessie Vella). The Eagles gave nothing up afterward and ultimately deleted the deficit en route to their virtual victory after the five-on-five ice chips settled.

Under other circumstances, Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney would have taken no discomfort in simply summoning someone along the lines of Ruff or O’Neill or even Vella to plug the void on his top power play unit. But what if the new threesome didn’t gel fast enough? What if they didn’t get that momentum-swinging conversion? What if PC didn’t have that point-salvaging cushion at hand when the Eagles perked up in the third period?

Besides, Cottrell’s output on the year is still twice what any of her mates have kindled. Well, not technically, seeing as Anderson upped her point total to 11 last night, but the point is still explanatory.

Likewise, last night’s shootout point should be well taken on the Friars’ part. They will now hit their three-week respite with a 5-7-7 overall record, concomitant with a 4-3-4 conference transcript and 14 points for third place on the WHEA leaderboard.

Maybe they would have had the same result without Cottrell –in which case the obvious sentiment would have been, “Well, at least it was just one game, and she has a good three weeks to recover.” Or, maybe they would not have.

But, for lack of a fresher sine qua non, what’s done is done for Part I of the season. Cottrell is pretty well the team’s first half MVP for her peerless consistency and, as was displayed last night, her determination.

And as a whole, the Friars will have a welcome fresh sheet awaiting them 21 days from now.

And maybe by then, as has already been hinted in recent weeks, the reliable likes of Cottrell will be more prominent in the Andersons, Bacons, Ruffs, Veharantas, Vellas, etc.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com