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Saturday, February 14, 2009

New Hampshire 3, Women's Hockey 2

Rancid regression
Friars spill five power plays, take nipping from UNH

With an even 51 ticks to spare on the game clock, the New Hampshire Wildcats all but gave the fumbling Friars a peculiar, concerned glance of goodwill as if to ask if they were sure they were not in an irregular state of affairs.

The ostensible dagger in the form of an empty netter morphed into a near-written invitation to force overtime and a 180-degree swing of momentum as Kelly Cahill’s infraction for unsportsmanlike conduct granted Providence its fourth power play on the night.

Over their previous four chances, they had indulged in all of a mere two shots while authorizing a UNH shorthanded strike. But with the 3-2 deficit unchanged on the preceding official ruling, the Friars were afforded one last option at plowing away the remnants of 59 slushy minutes and salvaging invaluable credence on their 2008-09 season transcript.

Nothing doing. Two hasty stabs via Kate Bacon and Katy Beach aside, they sneezed once more and watched the downer go final before a noticeably bipartisan mass of 278 at Schneider Arena.

“It’s overconfidence,” said head coach Bob Deraney in pointing to the culprit behind his team’s first case of consecutive falters since the first half of October. “We don’t have the right to be confident. We have to keep proving that we’re good instead of thinking we’re good.”

As was the case in last weekend’s shortcoming at Northeastern of an identical 3-2 upshot but an effort much more saturated with solace, the Friars degraded their adversaries in the way of discipline, taking but a singular minor penalty on the night (Beach for body-checking at 12:48 of the third). But the power play brigade was again hushed on an entire cornucopia of chances.

The harrowing difference last night: they looked to be stickhandling through quicksand and engaged in a disorderly, two-way game of Minesweeper.

“They’re not doing what we ask them to do,” Deraney said with bitterly brisk delivery. “We’re not executing what we practiced all week. All of a sudden, game time comes, and we do something different.”

Many other elements deviated from the norm when Schneider Arena maximized its lighting usage for the WHEA’s most consistently intense rivalry last night. A rather unlikely goaltending card pitting Danielle Ciarletta against Lindsey Minton would see each party charge up a light bushel of 20 saves apiece –even with one of the league’s highest-shooting stick racks coming at them. And to start, they each handled a digestibly sparse eight stabs apiece through a conservative, clean, penalty-free first period.

Then, for near-lack of other jutting options, the Wildcats slickly pounced on a pair of serendipitous, fleeting rushes to plant a 2-0 lead by the 15:40 mark of the middle frame.

In the second minute, right on the heels of repressing one of Erin Normore’s trademark singlehanded drives into the UNH zone, Jenn Wakefield shipped the newly intercepted disc ahead to Raylen Dziengelewski along the far blue line wall. Dziengelewski was just as apt to reel a feed square ahead to Angela Taylor, who churned in deep to lace home the icebreaker to the left of Ciarletta at 1:41.

The Cats coolly went on to deal with two unanswered Providence power plays and augmented their edge with eight seconds left on the latter kill via Kelly Paton, whose execution bore visual fraternity to that of Taylor some fourteen minutes prior.

Less than two minutes later, though, the Friars sawed the deficit on a quick counter-incision through the dirty-nose zone. Puck-carrier Jean O’Neill cleared a collage of blue bodies in the high slot and handed things over to Abby Gauthier, who raked in her second career goal behind the back of an unsuspecting Minton.

But Sam Faber –the decider in last year’s Hockey East title tilt- got reacquainted with Ciarletta at 3:27 of the third, circumventing defender Amber Yung and thumping home a backhanded ice-kisser, ultimately spelling the difference in the game.

Bacon –who partook six of PC’s 22 registered stabs on the night- belatedly retorted for her team with 3:20 to spare. As sophomore Alyse Ruff strolled the puck down the near lane from end-to-end, Bacon accordingly took to the cage right along the near post and tilted Ruff’s feed through the roof.

But dogged, cast-iron demonstrations of that nature were in much too short supply for the better part of last night.

“I’m really disappointed with the way we played,” Deraney concluded. “We didn’t push the pace, we kind of allowed them to dictate the play and the type of play that went on out there, and you can’t play them with their game. You gotta play to your strengths, not to their strengths, and we allowed them to play to their strengths tonight.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

The last of this year’s hundreds
Martin on cusp of milestone, others in line for next year

Until this past November, junior Colleen Martin had dressed for all but one possible intercollegiate contest until a reckless blindside check via Robert Morris’ Megan Picinic at the conclusion of a 5-2 road win November 8 rendered her invalid for the next three ventures.

Apart from that, the ploddingly evolving stay-at-home defender has blazed a facile trek towards eyeing her 100th formal skate with the PC program tonight in Part II of this weekend’s home-and-home series with New Hampshire. The most readily accessible records thus have her filling the 66th slot in that club.

The 2008-09 Friars could play a maximum of only eight additional games –next weekend’s home-and-home with Boston College to round out the regular season, up to three WHEA playoff contests, and up to three engagements in the NCAA tournament- effectively making Martin last to crack triple digits under the career GP heading this season.

In the most distant scenario, classmate Pam McDevitt might beef up her resume to read as many as 99 appearances before Schneider Arena takes its long summer’s nap. But McDevitt, together with rising juniors Jean O’Neill, Alyse Ruff, and Amber Yung are on an auspicious pace to surpass the centurion plateau sometime next season. Soon-to-be senior Jackie Duncan and Leigh Riley –both with 55 games to their credit heading into the weekend- are still a bit of a long shot in the drive to this signpost.

Anything goes
Leading up to last night, the Friars had boasted a lead for at least a portion of each of their eight preceding ventures. They had trailed in one stretch or other during five of those games. They have scored first in three of their last fur losses, amounting to an 11-6-1 record in that case, while last Friday’s OT epic against Northeastern upped their transcript to 5-6-1 when the opposition gets the initial upper hand and 2-3-1 when they trail at the first intermission. When leading after 20 minutes, as they were the following night in the Hub, they are now 4-3-1.

Jensen rebooting
Rookie defender Christie Jensen –kept strictly to the sidelines for the last two weeks with a head injury- provided a spare body during last night’s warm-up session, then made quick to doff her gear and join her fellow scratches in the bleachers. “Just to help her kind of get her legs back under her,” explained head coach Bob Deraney, who did not offer a conclusive timetable for Jensen’s full resumption of the normal routine.

Defenders get helpful
PC sophomore blueliners Amber Yung and the aforementioned Riley claimed credit for the initial assists on their team’s two goals last night. Yung thus splashed a personal seven-game scoring drought and enhanced her scoring totals to six assists on the year while Riley whittled off her second point in three games.

On the other bench, sophomore Raylen Dziengelewski pitched in two assists for her second multi-point game as a Wildcat (she collected four second-hand points against Niagara on November 25, 2007). Veteran Maggie Joyce, meantime, gave aid to Kelly Paton’s goal late in the second period, as did forward Sam Faber, who would finish with a goal-assist value pack by inserting the game-clincher early in the third.

Copycat backfire
In the final minute of the second period, PC stopper Danielle Ciarletta tried to match the quick wit counterpart Lindsey Minton had enacted moments earlier by clamping down a fugitive puck right off a post-icing draw so as to let her teammates take off in favor of a fresh five-set of legs. It didn’t fly for the officials, seeing as Ciarletta lunged out a little too far out of the crease. Nonetheless, she stalled long enough to buy defender Jennifer Friedman time to clear and get that sorely desired line change on the fly.

Quick Feeds: For the 11th time overall this season and the fourth case out of the last nine games, the Friars and their adversaries strung out a scoreless first period. PC is 10-7-0 when knotted after 20 minutes…Insidious freshman sniper Kate Bacon upped her scoring totals to 7-4-11 and her cumulative shot collection to 101, second only to classmate Laura Veharanta (121) for the team lead…Top gun Jenn Wakefield of New Hampshire led all puckslingers with seven shots on net…With her first start in over a month –her 56th engagement while bearing the Skating Friar crest- Ciarletta finally nudged ahead of current assistant coach Amy Quinlan for fourth on the program goalie guild’s all-time games played list…The UNH freshman goaltender Minton improved to 6-0-0 in six full-length twirls on the year…The Friars edged the Wildcats at the dot last night, laying claim to 30 out of 24 face-off wins.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, February 13, 2009

On Hockey

University of No Halfway
Condition of Wildcats, PC rivalry wholly unruffled

The 2008-09 edition of the New Hampshire women’s hockey program is just the right size to field the protagonist cast of a gender-reversed Slap Shot, Mighty Ducks, or Mystery, Alaska. Knowing that, and the upshot of their most recent visit here a month ago, they must be pining for permission to make like the Syracuse Bulldogs and enlist a few legends of the past for tonight’s reconvention at Schneider Arena.

Or are they? Reality check: ever since they allowed the Friars to exorcise a horde of blue-and-white demons by a 5-0 difference on January 10, they have torn full-steam on an eight-game winning streak, never allowing more than two goals nor scoring fewer than three of their own in any of their last seven ventures.

Seven of those wins have been against conference cohabitants, amounting to a 12-2-3 league record and sole possession of first place. The other was an 8-3 laceration of Dartmouth –and only three nights after the Big Green battered the Friars, 7-3, which was in turn three nights after PC had stomped the Cats.

With a makeup road tilt with Harvard looming on Tuesday, UNH stands at 5-3-2 in interleague action, enough to have sustained their Top 10 membership throughout the year (#5 on both major leaderboards this week).

They have paranormally strung all this out of a numerically shallow 17-woman roster, featuring eight full-time forwards, five designated defenders, one two-way player in freshman Sarah Cuthbert, and two goaltenders.

But, after a summer of unusually tempestuous transfer winds that should have made a post-Category 5 vista out of the shores of Lake Whittemore, the Wildcats emerged with an abundance of leftover depth. Up to this point, that has amounted to a league-best offensive output of 3.44 goals per game and the likes of Jenn Wakefield (26) and Kelly Paton (17) gracing the WHEA’s top five individual goal-getter’s list.

Granted, sophomore goaltender Kayley Herman has seen a rapid decline in her data after a near-seamless freshman season. But like they have every night, her praetorian guards pitied her when the Friars gave her a rare flash of red light blindness, heaving 43 shots at Genevieve Lacasse.

With salsa-based rubber in remarkably short stock of late, UNH has still scraped out a game-to-game median of roughly 31.1 shots on net, tying them for second with Connecticut and mere ice chips behind PC, which has thrust about 31.8 stabs at the opposing net over its first 30 ventures.

All restrictive blue line priorities aside, another OK Corral confrontation may be all but imminent tonight, and again tomorrow evening up in Durham.

“I’m expecting them to bring the same game,” said PC’s puckslinging defender Erin Normore, who in her colorful career owns a 3-2-5 scoring transcript in 12 encounters with the Wildcats, thus factoring into five out of 13 Providence goals in that space.

“They’re obviously a good team, but I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle. As long as we play like we can, we should be able to beat them again.”

Even after it took your class 11 whiffs to finally wrest its first two-point package from them? Even when that soul-replenishing triumph five weeks back has indubitably resurged New Hampshire’s impulse? Even when these Wildcats have assertively defied the stamina-based laws of hockey the same way Grendel’s species withstood Beowulf’s sabers?

“I don’t see it being a problem at all,” Normore insisted, more casually than conceitedly.

Nor should she want to take such a limited approach. The prospective rewards in this weekend are too aromatic to overlook. If the Friars were to pull off the ultimate reversal and rake in the entire four-point package, they would potentially draw a knot in the regal perch of the standings.

And right after this, they will round out their 21-game regular season itinerary with Boston College –another Top 10 fixture currently laying claim to one of the two coveted first-round bye slots in the playoff bracket.

It’s the same basic band of contenders salivating over the same old stakes. And, as would be verified by the smudged CD lens carrying head coach Bob Deraney’s album of assessment, the past doesn’t sway the present.

Perhaps not, but in terms of the pregame playbill, the past effectively clones itself to produce the present.

It’s still Providence-New Hampshire. And it is now plain that neither a recently splashed victory drought on one side –a la the Red Sox-Yankees card prior 2004- or a taxing case of bodily famine on the other bench has the means of thinning this rivalry out.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hockey Log

Normore in race to Washington
PC women’s star included on Frozen Four skills ballot

Friars’ PR planner Matt Lee recently disclosed the ongoing fan ballot for the annual NCAA Frozen Four Skills Challenge, a seniors-only field that includes PC’s two-way connoisseur Erin Normore.

Trimmed from an original pool of 140, the list is now down to 68 candidates evenly split into four divisions: men’s east, men’s west, women’s east, and women’s west. Up to six entrants per group may be selected to receive a passport to Washington’s Verizon Center –site of this year’s Men’s Frozen Four- and take the limelight in the Friday, April 11 interim between the semifinal and championship games.

Normore is flanked in her faction by the likes of fellow Hockey Easterners Kacey Bellamy and Sam Faber of New Hampshire, Gina Kearns and Allyse Wilcox of Boston University, Maggie Taverna of Boston College, and Brittany Wilson of Connecticut. Six ECAC satellites, Gina Anorne of the independent Sacred Heart program, plus two Division-III pucksters round out the list of options –which will close to voters this coming Wednesday.

Enlightened to her spontaneous shot at a last hurrah in April, Normore –who stands a notch shy of a career year in the way of point-scoring (23) and already has a career-best eight goals this season- responded with little beyond the conventional hockey humility.

“It’s exciting,” she allowed. “It’d be nice to go, but it’s not really my main focus right now. But after the season, if that happens, it’d be great.”

And if it happens, she will have the privilege of being PC’s second ambassador to the showcase in as many years, following the skate tracks of former men’s captain Jon Rheault. Rheault dabbed a cherry on his dazzling days with the Tim Army Corps by venturing to Denver, where he outraced hometown hero Andrew Thomas in the fastest skater event.

Duncan back on her skates
Junior forward Jackie Duncan, stymied by a lower body ailment over the last three-plus weeks, has rejoined the team’s regular practice regimen. Donning a solitary light blue jersey, she chiefly traded shifts with the constituents of the “Dark Blue” line of Katy Beach, Abby Gauthier, and Jean O’Neill for most of yesterday’s drills.

Needing only minimal respites throughout the session –all things considered- Duncan even concocted a fun-sized highlight reel play, vacuuming a clearing attempt and proceeding to assertively lace the puck home around senior goaltender Danielle Ciarletta during end-to-end transition drills.

Meanwhile, rookie defender Christie Jensen kept the sideline as she continues to recover from a head-jarring hit via Connecticut forward Brittany Wilson two weekends ago. More than likely, neither of the still-healing Friars will be game-ready quite in time to dress for tomorrow night’s New Hampshire company. But, head coach Bob Deraney offered, both are “coming along nicely…I think they’re both getting better quickly.”

In the meantime, all signs point to Deraney adhering to the exact same depth chart configurations that he has used in each of the last three games.

Future watch in Groth
Emily Groth, a defensive player for the Madison Capitols’ U19 team, has committed to the Friars, according to beyondthedashers.com. Pending her formal confirmation no later than the next offseason signing period, she will become the third Friar-in-waiting for next autumn, opposite forwards Jessica Cohen and Jessica Vella.

Groth is already coming off a selection to the 2008 Midwest Elite Hockey League’s All-Academic scroll as well as receiving her team’s Justine Pellman Award, which by its own definition signifies “outstanding individual and team hockey skills, sportsmanship, academic excellence, performance in the clutch, personal character, competitiveness, civic and charitable involvement and a love of hockey.”

Additionally, Groth’s commitment lines her up to become the first Wisconsin-raised Friar since Mara Amrhein graduated in 2005.

Quick Feeds: PC and UNH will conduct a home-and-home set for both sectors of their respective programs this weekend, simply trading venues between tomorrow and Saturday. All four games shall commence at 7:00 p.m. Early last month, New Hampshire inexplicably opted to bump up the latter half of the women’s series from Sunday afternoon to Saturday evening…Tomorrow’s home tilt with the Wildcats will be broadcast through online video streaming…Tomorrow night will mark the Friars’ first known Friday the 13th contest on any immediately accessible records, dating as far back as the 1996-97 season.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hockey Log

Lines up
Deraney acclaims whole trinities over shining individuals

The frightfully reduced scoresheet frequency of Laura Veharanta, Ashley Cottrell, and Alyse Ruff –the constituents of the PC women’s youngest and still most productive forward line- hasn’t translated near so frightfully across the scoreboards and standings what with the steadily thickening depth on coach Bob Deraney’s 12-slot offensive line chart.

One component apiece from the nominal second and third units –senior Mari Pehkonen and sophomore Jean O’Neill- each nabbed two rare-find points apiece over the last weekend’s set of obsessive-defensive match-ups with Northeastern.

Incidentally, these two were supplemented by the likes of Ruff to comprise the short-lived but sweet-lived PRO Line in the homestretch of last season. And they both initially saw their encouraging output rate taper off with injuries and illness in the wee stages of this season.

Pehkonen went missing altogether for six games in November upon taking a business trip to the Four Nations Cup and subsequently returning with mononucleosis. And her scoring touch took time to revamp as she was reintegrated into the lineup.

But with last Friday’s OT clincher, Saturday’s would-be equalizer, and a few scraps of evidence to press larceny charges on Husky stopper Florence Schelling, Pehkonen has rekindled her long-missing Finnish Flare persona.

Pehkonen was on the path to repeat heroism late Saturday when she drew a 2-2 knot on PC’s 37th shot and her seventh stab at Schelling with 5:35 to spare in regulation. And even when Northeastern’s Ali Bielawski zapped those fuzzy thoughts before they could even mature, she retained her determination by heaving two more pucks at Schelling and another one wide during a last-ditch power play.

“I thought for sure that last shot was going in, but (Schelling) was just better that night,” she reflected.

Regardless, a 4-2-6 scoring transcript in her last six ventures has upped her season totals to 9-5-14 in 24 collegiate games. She currently stands tied with Ruff for second in the Friars’ G column while her point-per-game median of .583 ranks fourth behind only Veharanta, Cottrell, and Erin Normore.

Until a recent injury to Christie Jensen left an emergency void in the defensive six-pack, Pehkonen had been rebooting with fellow celestial senior Normore as her centerpiece and freshman Kate Bacon on the left wing.

Normore’s indefinite redeployment to the blue line has prompted Deraney to nudge Pehkonen to the center station. But with Bacon and Arianna Rigano flanking her, she has suddenly honed a nose for clutch callings and a fastidious avarice for unleashing biscuits from her blade.

“Her linemates really help her out because they take so much attention and create space for Mari,” said Deraney. “When she has space like that, she’s very effective, and she’s learning to play with her new linemates and how to take that space they create for her and that’s why she’s having so much success. It’s a testament not only to her skill, but also to that line.”

O’Neill has likewise let her data reflect her newly adventurous appetite. Before she had partnered with Ruff and Pehkonen at the halfway mark of her rookie season, she had scraped out seven points in 18 games. Then, after a few dry games of acclimation, she proceeded to run up a 4-6-10 tear in the final 13 games of 2007-08.

Up to this point, albeit under different elements, she has virtually rerun that escalation cycle. With an infinitesimal three points in her first 17 appearances –which were delayed by a lower body ailment sustained in training camp- she has since spiked back to her freshman form.

Her equalizer in last Friday’s come-from-behind win marked her third firsthand strike in four outings and granted associate forward Abby Gauthier her fourth helper since New Year’s.

Meantime, O’Neill’s helper on Normore’s first-period icebreaker on Saturday amounted to four points in her last five twirls.

In their first eight games as a line, O’Neill, Gauthier, and senior center Katy Beach have combined for a decent 12 points.

“Again, I think it’s a credit to her linemates,” Deraney said. “That line of Beach, O’Neill and Gauthier has really started to come together.”

“We’ve scored 15 goals in the last six games,” he continued. “Ten have been by seniors, three have been by sophomores, and two have been by freshmen. And the three goals by sophomores are all by Jean O’Neill, so she’s definitely contributing in a big way in a major part of the season.”

And thus, her impression looks just the way she had left it at the conclusion of her first winter here.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Hockey

Schelling’s grand theft won’t deflate Friars

PC women’s hockey coach Bob Deraney opted, about midday yesterday, to scrub out the originally slated practice session in favor of a half-hour team meeting, yet one more blunt indication that the superficial consequences of Saturday’s 3-2 falter at Northeastern aren’t poisoning his outlook so easily.

Throwing everything –kitchen sink included- at a Swiss phenom in the opposing cage is simply not the same as loosening the lever on your game brain against a mediocre band of Norwegian pucksters a la the eventual Miracle on Ice team.

By weekend’s end, the Friars had split their home-and-home card with the Huskies by a cumulative 5-5 score. But elsewhere on the two-night stats sheet, they had dictated the shooting gallery, 100-39. They had won a percentage of face-offs (85-45) that, under Senatorial regulations, would fall just short of immunity to a Presidential veto.

And perhaps most admirably, they out-disciplined Northeastern, taking three Friday penalties to the Huskies’ four and only one versus seven on Saturday.

“Don’t let the score fool you as to how well we played on Saturday. That was Florence Schelling’s night,” Deraney assessed frankly. “We had an awesome attack, developed so many different concepts to almost perfection.”

He spoke those words shortly after the team meeting had adjourned and spoke them with a fairly proud, paternal tone laced in his voice.

“I’d have to say that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” he added. “And I never thought that (Schelling) would be able to duplicate the performance she had here on Friday.

“What can I say? We had a few pucks hit the crossbar, or some shots that looked like they were going in, but she got a body on or it hit the knob of her stick. I’m not disappointed that we scored only two goals on 44 shots. Sometimes they bounce for you, sometimes they bounce against you.”

PC’s feverish, unbreakable resolve –flexed as late as a last-ditch power play on Saturday- was too little to salvage a pair of precious points in the Hockey East standings. With Boston College having finished a sweep of lowly Maine on Sunday, the Friars are forlorn in fourth place when they may otherwise have been knotted for second.

And, because the USCHO pollsters are about as superficially stimulated as Glenn Quagmire, the Friars lost their visibility in Monday’s refreshed poll. The same slighting gesture will likely be in store today when USA Today revises its chosen leaderboard.

But Deraney has a fast-churning, fast-gelling gang of grinders at his disposal. They verified that over the weekend against a program with even more to prove than they have.

“It is very close in the standings, so it’s really tough this year” conceded senior Erin Normore, who nailed two of her team’s five goals against Schelling. “But we had our chances this weekend. We just didn’t capitalize and their goalie obviously played really well.

“But I think we make our own luck, so if we just keep pushing it and pushing it, pucks are going to start going in at some point.”

Nobody is making that push quite like Normore and her ring-starved classmates. The two-way connoisseur amassed five shots on net over the weekend, followed by fellow A-captain Katy Beach’s 10 (including seven in Friday’s win), 10 by Brittany Simpson, and 17 by Mari Pehkonen.

“We’ve been around here for four years, we know what it takes to get to the playoffs and come out on top,” said Normore, not inclined to say much beyond the simplest. “We’ve fallen short each time since I’ve been here, and we don’t want to let that happen again. So we’re pushing it now, and hopefully we’ll make it to back to the finals and come out on top this time.”

“It’s really important to keep everything in perspective,” summed up Deraney. “We played extremely well. We were fast, we were diligent. I think, in the whole game, we made five mistakes.

“Two, early on, that our goalie made great saves on, two that ended up in our net, and one on a great backcheck that negated the situation. And a couple of the goals they scored weren’t even on mistakes. They were just weird plays. So if we keep playing like that, we’re going to win a lot of games here down the stretch.”

What’s left in that stretch? A home-and-home set with New Hampshire this weekend followed by a two-gamer with BC, the exact same layout the Friars had before them at this time last year, at which point they were 15-12-3 overall, 10-5-2 in Hockey East, and still only within tasting distance of a playoff berth.

They would dramatize the drive to near-catastrophic breakage, going 0-3-1 in that span and not stamping that playoff passport until the final buzzer of a tie with BC.

That said, most anything they can scrape out this time around will signify something of a refreshing upturn.

Or, from the Friars’ own poised perspective, it can reiterate their uniquely exhibited improvement.

“I like our team, and I think we match up well against them,” said Deraney in reference to both forthcoming adversaries. “Right now, in Hockey East, there’s no one playing at the pace we’re playing at. And if we continue to play at that pace, it’ll be a very tough thing for UNH to overcome.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Northeastern 3, Women's Hockey 2

Friars are Schell-lacked on power play
All goes well, save for the scoreboard

Report based on Live Stats

BOSTON- The Friars grudgingly assumed a puck-based parallel of Wile E. Coyote last night, hogging the screen time and the active dramatic upsurge in every capacity imaginable –only to plunge into vexing defeat.

They facilely outclassed the host Northeastern Huskies everywhere from shots on net (44-15), to face-offs (40-22), to opposing penalties (7-1).

But NU’s Roadrunner, principally held on standby with the celestial goaltending of Florence Schelling, made just one fleeting, productive cameo too many for Providence to handle, amounting to a 3-2 decision before 110 viewers at Matthews Arena.

Less than two minutes after she had restored her team’s lead with 3:41 to spare in the third, Northeastern senior Ali Bielawski harrowingly invited the Friars to redraw things on the board, taking a hooking penalty at 18:00. The remainder of regulation –barring a conversion- would be spent on the power play, on which PC had been wholly empty in its first six tries despite a cumulative 10 shots in that setup.

With goaltender Genevieve Lacasse (12 saves) perched on the bench in favor of a no-duh six-pack attack, the rabid likes of Jennifer Friedman, Erin Normore, Mari Pehkonen, Alyse Ruff, and Laura Veharanta all discharged at least one attempt or other in a two-minute, whistle-free swarm.

Nothing doing. Schelling (42 saves) and her indebted praetorian guards held out to serve spot-on eye-for-eye justice in the wake of the Friars’ come-from-behind overtime triumph on Friday.

Not unlike the latter two periods of the preceding get-together at Schneider Arena, Providence indulged in the utmost imbalance of ice shavings between zones, running up a 9-0 edge in the shooting gallery, fanning on eight additional attempts, whittling the icebreaker on the scoreboard, and garnering two power plays before Lacasse was summoned to any genuine action.

Normore planted the early lead at the 3:39 mark upon drilling home Jean O’Neill’s shipment on the team’s four shot of the game. The Friars proceeded to compress Northeastern’s initiation with a pair of power plays granted at 5:29 (Lindsey Berman, interference) and 9:31 (bench minor, too many players).

The Huskies would ultimately thaw out enough to land four pelts on Lacasse within the final eight minutes till intermission. And they drew an interference minor against Katy Beach at 19:11, thereby granting them a carry-over, 71-second power play segment on the new sheet.

But the Friars kept the command consistent, admitting nada to the NU brigade and charging up three shorthanded stabs. From there, they enhanced their shooting edge from 12-4 at the first buzzer to an eventual 25-5 at exactly 14:00 (27-8 at period’s end), sprinkling six of those over another three successive player-up advantages.

The stanch Schelling, though, pushed everything away and was finally rewarded four seconds after she had finished bolstering the fifth PK. Her Swiss countrywoman, Julia Marty, reeled home NU’s sixth test of Lacasse at 14:04, drawing a 1-1 knot that stuck through the conclusion of the period.

The muddling cycle fundamentally reran itself for the third, although Northeastern negligibly stepped up its shooting frequency and concocted a few entertaining, end-to-end, air hockey rushes.

But only 18 seconds after top gun Kristi Kehoe nudged them ahead, the Huskies broke out the juggling torches once more with defender Ginny Berg whistled for hooking at 10:08.

Another double-dose for Schelling to handle on the PK, plus a stab by Veharanta that wiped off the post, and another spilled opportunity for the Friars, though they elongated their livid gush to the cage well beyond Berg’s release and formed a 2-2 knot at 14:25.

Pehkonen, Friday’s hero back home, was at it again, solving Schelling after she had whiffed on six other registered stabs.

But Northeastern would need one more stealthy swing at Lacasse to finalize their triumph. And they hastily utilized it through Bielawski, whose strike –assisted by Berman and Marty- zapped the deadlock at the green age of 1:54.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Perky weekend for Pehkonen

BOSTON- As a team, the Friars recycled the same embittering, fall-from-ahead fashion to spill a would-be sweep of a home-and-home series last night. But senior forward Mari Pehkonen could hardly be held culpable in any fatal twists over this weekend.

Whether she acknowledged it at all or not, Pehkonen commenced the latest four-day practice week under the burdensome fact that she had taken a two-minute citation for tripping in the dusk of regulation at Connecticut last Sunday, and hopped back into the action only a heartbeat before UConn’s Nicole Tritter turned PC to stone.

On Friday, the Finnish Flare garnered the most tuneful brand of redemption, tipping the scale on a 3-2 overtime triumph after she had honed her twig all night with seven SOG in regulation. And toss in the fact that she had drawn the first penalty (Alyssa Wohlfeiler, holding) in the 13th minute of the opening frame as she routinely churned the puck along the wall in the far corner of the attacking zone.

In the rematch, for the second consecutive night, Pehkonen led all PC puckslingers under the SOG heading, adding nine to the salvo of eight she had thrust out on Friday while her linemate Kate Bacon fed off of her fastidious appetite with six bids of her own.

She took care of four of PC’s 12 first period shots, rounding out that sequence with a fleeting shorthanded break in the final minute. The Huskies would carry their lone power play over to the second, only to accept more of the same from Alyse Ruff and Brittany Simpson, who leveled four and five respective shots of their own on the night.

And if only for a few blinks, Pehkonen appeared entitled to the laudable label of clutch queen once more, tying things at 2-2 when only 5:35 remained in an altogether irksome third period. Even after Ali Bielawski swiftly renewed the upper hand for Northeastern, and ultimately cemented the decision, Pehkonen had two more tests up her twig for Schelling plus a wide-bound attempt within the remaining two minutes.

Calm after the storm
After forty minutes of unmistakable, equal-opportunity turbulence defined the initial phases of Friday’s 3-2 Friar overtime triumph, the scoresheet scribe was utterly idled throughout a third period wherein there was no scoring and no penalty calls. Leading up to that point, though, there were hints of mutual animosity beneath some of the three minor penalties attained by the Friars and four by the Huskies.

The last citation handed out on Friday was to PC’s Laura Veharanta (contact to the head), who traded a few post-whistle biffs with NU goaltender Florence Schelling after a power play net crash. Veharanta’s debatable solitary stride to the box effectively spelled 41 seconds of 4-on-4 play.

Try and see it my way
Contesting freshmen goaltenders Schelling and Genevieve Lacasse conducted a bit of a role reversal in this series. Lacasse, a tad more accustomed to limitless labor with 11 30-plus save counts and three bushels of 40-plus shots to her credit, dealt with an aggregate 39 NU stabs on the weekend (24 Friday, 15 last night).

Schelling, conversely, entered the weekend confronted less than 40 shots in each of her last 11 twirls. She would ultimately work up her two biggest collegiate sweats with 53 saves Friday and 42 last night, snapping a personal eight-game losing streak along the way.

Quick Feeds: Friday marked the third occasion this season where the Friars abolished a multi-goal deficit in enough time to avert defeat, if not scrape out a win. They had previously drawn an eleventh hour, 2-2 knot with Niagara prior Thanksgiving and morphed a 3-0 hole into a 4-3 triumph at Cornell to commence this calendar year. Additionally, Abby Gauthier’s two assists Friday matched a personal season-best set in that Cornell thriller…A human interest story on Schelling –composed by ex-Boston Globe writer Peter May- appeared in yesterday’s New York Times –updated online at the last minute to factor in a brief, fundamental mention of Friday’s upshot…Shortly after Deraney’s postgame lecture Friday, the six seniors returned to the ice for a full-gear class photo op along the home blue line…First line center Ashley Cottrell was retroactively credited with the second assist on Pehkonen’s OT clincher for a team-best 15 total helpers. Cottrell also thus joined Veharanta and Erin Normore in this year’s PC 20-point club.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Missing the point
College hockey must professionalize its OT approach

With an earnest pouring of unadulterated objectivity going into this week’s column, this author checks back at the upshot of last Sunday’s Providence College-Connecticut women’s get-together and offers Hockey East the same arms-out, silently gaping-mouth look that every coach offers a zebra on at least a semiannual basis.

Really? The Friars keep a stride ahead of the Huskies for virtually fifty smooth minutes, slip in the climax en route to an overtime loss, and have no partial credit in the standings for it?

Granted, the WHEA –together with the CCHA and the women’s sect of the WCHA- has refined its approach to dealing with deadlocks as far as making sure a full victor emerges from every settlement of tempestuous ice chips. If it comes down to a shootout, both clubs are compensated for most literally working overtime in the form of a single point.

Bravo. But they’re only halfway there, and the rest of the NCAA’s branches have not even started their evolution process.

Given the tougher-than-calculus jumbo that ensues every time one glances at the Women’s Hockey East standings this season, trying to pry apart “legitimate wins” (in the words of PC coach Bob Deraney) from shootout wins/ties –which are all different in the league and national classifications- it is certain the NCAA will collectively revisit this over the summer. More than likely, it will be agreed that each and every conference must give the pollsters a break and settle on one universal tiebreaking procedure.

Here’s a refreshingly straightforward tip: learn from the pros. Make a three-point purse out of every game requiring at least one nanosecond beyond sixty minutes of play.

The NHL and most every minor pro league have had the right idea even before The Show scrapped its black-and-orange shield in favor of its post-lockout black-and-silver makeover. Teams falling short at any time beyond regulation have rightfully earned a single point.

And most perplexingly, there is overwhelming opposition amongst the pundits in the pro game and next-to-no advocacy around the college game, where this well-founded format is still missing.

This sportswriter-in-training asks “Why?” The rationale is plainer than a practice puck. The key phrase is “regulation tie,” which by definition is the condition of being too good to defeat within the standard sixty-minute time frame.

When that happens, both teams have defied the longtime laws of the game. Three full-length periods were not enough to settle this tussle. More often than not –and it was certainly the case at UConn’s Freitas Ice Forum a week ago- the deadest of dead heat makes itself conspicuous at ice level. It should be similarly reflected in the standings.

And, of course, you could always do that the USA Hockey youth way: rev up the Zamboni and the showers as soon as that third period buzzer rings, leaving everyone to accept a lovely smooch from their siblings.

Or, in order to appeal to a climax-hungry audience, you can split the standard two-point package, then break out the spare and toss it out for grabs. Acknowledge that neither party is inclined to give an inch within the conventional time span and proceed to find out who has the ultra-appetite for victory.

The classic counterpoint to this notion: if teams are drawn near the dusk of regulation, and are mindful that they can extract a point if they melt the clock and fast, they’ll make haste to do just that and approach the bonus round indifferently.

Even if that is applicable at times, shame on those teams. Who really wants to compromise with their adversary –especially a divisional rival or conference cohabitant- like that? Regardless of who claims the third point, squandering an opportunity to finish things off in regulation could always come back to haunt either party; just the same as any regulation falter that could have tilted the other way.

Which is probably why, when Deraney was queried on the issue this past week, he dismissed the alternative format as an irrelevant hypothesis. Even if they were properly compensated for restraining UConn beyond regulation, the Friars would still have been stinging over the two points that could have/would have/should have been. Empty and half-empty bear no distinction in those fall-from-ahead crushers.

Come what may, lessons ought to be learned on both contesting sides of the puck when a game is dragged beyond regulation. And they usually are. While the losers cannot and do not lay claim to an automatic, wholesome “moral victory,” the true victors typically need a tool of minor self-nicking to ask, “Why couldn’t we have finished them off sooner?”

Look at the local major league pucksters, the radiant Bruins. They’re technically undefeated (6-0-2) in their last eight as of Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win in Ottawa. But half of those six wins required extra action and the consequently gave a three of their Eastern Conference chasers a tangible consolation prize.

The resultant new sense of parity is making the President’s Trophy nominees feel swiftly claustrophobic. Foreman Claude Julien and his understudies expressly stated after that come-from-behind effort that they didn’t flaunt their best. That fire-lighting philosophy is only strengthened by the reminder that they couldn’t deck the Senators flat, that they couldn’t cast them off empty-handed, and that there may be consequences for that later.

If that can’t spice up a molecular playoff push, what exactly can do it better?

Sweeping the nonconference wishbones
With only last night’s Brown-Merrimack tussle and tomorrow’s Beanpot consolation clash between BC and Harvard yet to be recorded, the Hockey East men’s league has secured a cumulative supra-.500 record against every other conference, leaving next-to-no realistic means of slippage come the NCAA tournament. Together, its inhabitants have gone 17-12-0 versus the ECAC, 8-4-2 against the CCHA, 6-4-2 over the WCHA, 3-2-0 against the now hospice-ridden College Hockey America, and 10-1-1 over Atlantic Hockey. Amongst individual programs, only the Friars and UMass-Lowell were bested in the majority of their seven interleague swings, each going 3-4-0. And the league’s current nonconference winning percentage of .646 is the best it has seen since achieving a .705 efficiency rate in 2002-03.

Near future should be set
Friar Puck has confirmed at least three of its four popularly proclaimed commitments, including second-generation PC skaters Chris Rooney and Alex Velischek. The respective sons of Tim Army’s ex-teammate Steve Rooney and Randy Velischek submitted their NLIs on Tuesday together with Tyler Landman –who with radiant rookies Matt Bergland and Rob Maloney will equal an icebreaking trinity of Minnesotans in the program. Meanwhile, winger Jamie Ferullo, slated to become the umpteenth constituent of the unofficial Friar-New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs pipeline, is still unlikely to commit for any time earlier than Fall 2010. But given the general dysfunction that initially brewed from an overpopulated dressing room of 31 early this season, there’s no rush for much of a roster refill.

Quick Feeds: Cowl colleague Chris Mammen, who monitors and chronicles the PC men’s team for the campus reader-base, has politely declined an invitation to submit regular updates on the Tim Army Corps for the Free Press. However, we have pinned a link to the Cowl’s sports section to our list of linked web pages for fans seeking at least some beat coverage of teams this author is not specifically assigned to. I just don’t want to be the journalistic equivalent of a puck hog…There’s still no immediate explanation as to why, for the second year in a row, NESN devotes its lone, two-minute women’s Beanpot segment on Sportsdesk exclusively to Boston College…Can anyone find the logic in this? Spectators at Schneider Arena have regularly had their ears treated to the Dropkick Murphys’ cover version of “Tessie,” but never “Time to Go,” the Murphs’ original puckcentric composition…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: Impossible not to take note of tomorrow night’s Beanpot final, pitting a pair of Top 10 constituents. But for the sake of geographic diversity, the startlingly stealthy Yale men’s team –who came into this weekend 8-1-1 over their last 10 and #12 on the Pairwise leaderboard- will visit RPI on Saturday for the Engineers’ “Big Red Freakout.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com