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Saturday, May 2, 2009

On Hockey

A most genial gesture
Schwarz’s peers give her props via MIP ballot

Breanna Schwarz, together with a whopping nine fellow rookies, donned formal game time attire for the PC women’s hockey team last September 28 for the numerically unrestricted preseason exhibition versus the Brampton Junior Thunder. That steamy afternoon, she linked up with classmate Christie Jensen on the fourth defensive pair (again, overly brimful rosters are OK for these time-honored scrimmages) and notched a not-so-shabby +1 rate as part of a 4-1 triumph.

As far as the 2008-09 Friars’ cumulative stats are concerned, however, that little tangible achievement is ultimately as good as a sprinkling of snowflakes dropping onto supra-freezing temperature grounds. And Schwarz, out of respect for the program’s future planning layout, accepted a redshirt run for the duration of the meaningful 36-game run while 23 of her associates lapped up countless gobs of ice time and another, sophomore goaltender Christina England, at least saw a smattering of action in warm-ups.

Of all the core requirements this institution may have in the way of psychological and human spirit studies, none need be devoted to the personal hardship that comes with that type of pact. It’s a pact of patience and prudence. It is a practically unrivaled test of the hockey heart.

So it is a tad flooring, but quite fitting when you think about it, that Schwarz departed the Providence Courtyard by Marriot last night with a claim to PC’s 2009 Most Improved Player Award. Only interior witnesses who caught a day-by-day look at her progress in practice this past year could have possibly detected Schwarz’s unique worth. Naturally, those witnesses were her peers.

Strictly speaking, to term this twist of events a slice of poetic justice is a stretch. But it was, if you will, a complimentary complement. Schwarz nobly contained any carbonated frustration she may have felt over a five-month grind that only permitted her to don an orange jersey with no name or number on the back. In doing so, she proved never to forget the Skating Friar emblem on the front of that sweater and those that the others wore –complete with surnames and numerals- on weekends.

In return, as was divulged last night, Schwarz’s teammates most tellingly proved that they never forgot about her. As a result, the circle that spoke the Three Musketeers’ rustic tagline was rounded out.

You don’t ordinarily see an opportunity pop up like this. On Schwarz’s individual part and the Friars’ collective part, it was an opportunity to reiterate the game’s untouchable “team first” dogma. And they all pounced on it as though it were a vulnerable rebound inclined to end a vital overtime affair.

Granted, apart from her latest accolade, Schwarz hasn’t done much to knead a true identity for PC buffs to consider. But so far, this token of tolerance and conscientiousness is just a reflection of her collegiate prep resume.

Leading up to her commitment, the Portland, Ore. native had shuffled from the opposite coast to play under Friar alumna Christa Talbot at Williston Northampton in Easthampton, Mass. There, she nabbed similar MIP accolades as a freshman in 2005 and proceeded to sport the “C” as a junior and senior. At this time a year ago, she was being termed the “most sportsmanlike” athlete in the school’s hockey, lacrosse, and crew programs.

Looks like the background of a regular Portland Pygmalion, does it not? Or a distant descendent of Lady Byng. Or, if nothing else, just another epitome of hockey humility. (Quick sidetrack: similar values were rewarded in the form of senior grinder Steph Morris winning the Coaches’ Award and the statistically eclipsed rookie Abby Gauthier being termed the Seventh Player winner.)

It is pretty much foregone that Schwarz will be training to be a regular on the active roster when she and her returning teammates reconvene in September. Her input will be craved on a defensive corps that figures to have no more than one spare body at any given time. And her award can function as an effective mental launching pad for her genuine collegiate debut and beyond.

An on-ice translation of the character traits she has exhibited up to this point would certainly be well-received. She does not seem inclined to spill many minutes worth of ice time over into the penalty box and ought to feel plenty comfortable evoking her certified leadership flair even with as many as 18 slightly or densely more experienced teammates sharing bench space with her.

After all, they along with six outgoing seniors each thought well enough of her to ensure Schwarz did something worthy of a computable term in the spotlight –not to mention, the papers- before the curtain formally closed on her rookie year. Their move symbolically completed their team and the team’s season.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PC Hockey Log

Friar Puck confirms Anderson, Groth
Four incoming freshmen now formally on tap

Barring the effects of the variable commitment and transfer winds that are sure to whistle somewhere or other in the women’s hockey world between now and captain’s practices in September, PC’s Skating Sorority has completed its roster renewal process for the 2009-2010 campaign.

The all but inevitable came to fruition yesterday when the Friars officially acknowledged the commitments of Madison Capitols’ U19 defender Emily Groth and Minnesota interscholastic scoring beacon Nicole Anderson to go with wingers Jess Cohen and Jessica Vella, who officially fastened their future in place back on January 14.

Groth was initially cited as a foregone commitment on February 12 by the ever-resourceful beyondthedashers.com. Almost precisely a month later, the same women’s puck-centric database penned Anderson under the same Providence heading.

Another six weeks or so, and now the college sports equivalent of the Electoral College balloting process has passed for them both.

"Emily Groth is a defenseman who is athletic and has a great knowledge of the game,” commented assistant coach and topmost recruiter Meredith Roth in a statement on the PC athletics’ website. “Her passion for the sport and willingness to compete will serve as a catalyst for her teammates on a daily basis.”

Added head coach Bob Deraney on Anderson, who recently nabbed Shakopee High School’s academic-athletic juggling award, “We envision Nicole helping our program in the same fashion. She's a powerful forward who will make an immediate impact on our offense.”

PC presently figures to vacate two roster spots from this past season with four forwards –that including two-way connoisseur Erin Normore, who polished off her career as a center- one defender, and one goaltender on the cusp of snagging their degrees at the Dunk in three weeks.

Assuming there will be no additional acquisitions, which at this rate would most likely arrive via transfer in the thick of the summer, Providence should have one spare body for all three positions next season. With the advent of Anderson, Cohen, and Vella, three of the four offensive holes will be replenished with a grand total of 13 designated front-liners in place.

The defense will more or less gain an extra set of blades with captain Brittany Simpson leaving her tracks while Groth steps in and redshirt freshman Brianna Schwarz –one of two strictly inactive Friars from last season, besides sophomore stopper Christina England- figures to be integrated into the game time rotation.

In the club
Jennifer Perrault, a sports-specific employee in the PC alumni relations office, sent a College-wide e-mail yesterday morning inviting any interested parties to join in on the team’s fifth annual golf outing, which will be held this Saturday at the Cranston Country Club.

Registration will remain open until tomorrow, Perrault’s statement detailed, at a $100 fee for current students and “young alumni” –i.e. those who have graduated no earlier than 2004- and a $150 bill for other attendees. The active festivities, which will designedly follow up on Friday evening’s awards banquet, are to begin at 1:30 p.m. following a “shotgun start, scrabble format.”

Orange squeezed into slate
A virtual Big East hockey clash will be conducted on campus next October when the second-year Syracuse program visits Schneider Arena. As was proclaimed in their press release yesterday, the Orange –who in their inaugural run went 9-16-3 overall and 2-11-3 against their College Hockey America cohabitants- will visit Connecticut on Friday, October 16, and Friartown the following day at a still-undeclared face-off time. And all that coming a week after they have visited the likes of New Hampshire and Boston College.

The inaugural Providence-Syracuse puck playbill will be most noticeably saturated by the deadlocked coaching rivalry between Deraney and Paul Flanagan, who went 5-5-0 against the Friars over nine seasons as the St. Lawrence foreman before he bolted to flood a new pond last summer.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

P-Bruins Commentary

Clownish conflict should be addressed
P-Bruins’ playoff itinerary jumbled by circus yet again

The Providence Bruins are engaged in at least a decently promising Calder Cup derby for the 11th consecutive season. For the seventh time in that stretch, and the fourth in the last five years, they have progressed beyond the opening round and tonight will commence the Atlantic Division Finals against the Worcester Sharks downtown at 7:05.

Afterwards, it will be time to slow down the playoff adrenaline just so the self-proclaimed “Greatest Show On Earth” can put in its annual appearance in the Ocean State this weekend. The Barnum and Bailey Circus have dibs on the Dunkin Donuts Center from Thursday through Sunday and, coincidentally, Worcester’s DCU Center is preoccupied with a Professional Bull Riders’ show.

Accordingly, Game 2 shall fall a week from tomorrow night in Worcester, eight protracted days after the series opener and away from the higher seed’s abode. Granted, the Bs will in turn be entitled to host Game 3 on Friday, May 8, but the disfigured slate is still egregious enough.

Game 7, if necessary, would be here on Thursday, May 14 –a mere eight days after Game 2 but a lengthy 16 nights after tonight.

Translation: if this best-of-seven card goes the distance, the Bruins and Sharks will have alternated venues on a game-by-game basis, a playoff practice only otherwise seen in Canadian major junior leagues, and will have crammed their latter six tussles into a space of nine nights as if it were the American League Championship Series (as in Red Sox and Rays, not to be confused with the Calder Cup Finals).

And all for the sake of temporarily accommodating big shoes, big noses, and big animals.

Furthermore, while tonight’s opener is being conducted, the Senior Spokespeople in Boston will finally be learning whom they are to pair up with for Round 2 of their playoff run. At least three NHL Eastern Conference semifinal games figure to be in the books by the time Bruins Buffs need to be concerned with any more AHL affairs.

Meanwhile, none of the league’s other second round matchups will begin until Friday, yet the Manitoba Moose and Grand Rapids Griffins will be engaged in Game 4 next Wednesday when Game 2 is conducted in Worcester.

All things considered, this year’s itinerary is about as disfigured as it’s ever been, but this is hardly a new trend in this particular AHL market.

Consider the following:

Twelve months ago, the regular season champion P-Bruins swept Manchester out of the division semis, then throttled their second round adversaries from Portland in the opening two games by an aggregate score of 11-1. The circus dropped in from April 30-May 4 and, out of courteous flexibly, the Providence-Portland series was the only one to follow the 2-3-2 format as the Dunk went iceless for 12 days.

Interestingly, the underdog Pirates happened to usurp command in the series by winning Games 3, 4, and 5 on their pond before they slammed the door here in Game 6 on May 9, but a minor detail.

When Barnum and Bailey arrived without fail for the first weekend of May 2007, the Baby Bs had already overthrown rival Hartford from the first round and subsequently split Games 1 and 2 of the following series with the first-place Monarchs at Verizon Wireless Arena. Game 3 had to wait six days –between May 2 and May 8- while temporary elephant stomping grounds gradually gave way to fresh ice again.

In 2005, a fourth-place Providence team upset Manchester in the first round, polishing off a six-game swing with a 3-1 triumph at home on April 30 and effectively linking them up with the Lowell Lock Monsters for the division playoff title. That string of scraps expectably began at Tsongas Arena, Lowell being the higher seed and all. But curiously, each of the first three games, not two, took place there.

Or, maybe not so curiously. The P-Bruins didn’t get to play before another favorable mass until May 13 that year, thirteen days and three games after their previous home date. Guess why?

In more distant years, the scheduling circumstances have been reasonably methodical. The standings and the long pre-planned start date for the playoffs have happened to work favorably. But lately, during the fruitful five-year coaching tenure of Scott Gordon and the smooth transition to his successor, Rob Murray, the Baby Bs have practically been tripped up by a trapeze year-in and year-out.

It is arguably a more testing wager to be this consistently reckonable in the minor leagues –where you are hard pressed to spot the same on-ice personality for three consecutive seasons- than it is in today’s NHL. Yet this is how a team is rewarded for its solidity?

The parent club, slightly more famously, is posed a similar test by the same entertainment institution. The circus always reserves the TD Banknorth Garden in the thick of October, forcing the Spoked-Bs to play the bulk of their first month of action in foreign time zones.

Frankly, that typically team-gelling experience pales in comparison to the adaptability the Spoked-Ps and select postseason adversaries must constantly exhibit while the rest of the AHL’s Elite Eight move along in an orderly, rationally paced 2-3-2 or 2-2-1-1-1 format.

One ought to think there is a better way to C-cut around this repetitive discord. And as any capstone hockey historian would know, the New York Rangers once moved their Stanley Cup Final home games to Toronto when the 1950 edition of the circus uncompromisingly happened into Madison Square Garden.

So, in light of the equally rigid trend for AHL buildings to draw shallower crowds until the climax of the playoffs, why not heighten the ticket scramble and make Schneider Arena the momentary venue?

I somehow suspect that suggestion won’t fly.

Better yet, just put your skates down and tell those literal clowns that the Dunk figures to be busy hosting the Greatest Sport On Earth this time of year. Surely, like most everybody else, Barnum and Bailey are contemplating more fiscally efficient travel anyway. It could be a win-win deal if they agreed to put in their Providence appearance, say, in late September, when they need only scurry up I-95 to get to Boston in October as usual.

Sorry circus supporters, but compared to your extravaganza of choice, this is a serious game.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Don’t lock Normore out of Hall

Erin Normore’s diverse athletic background –complete with participation in at least five different organized sports during her high school years- and her lengthy scroll of small victories in four seasons at Providence College are both dwarfed, sentimentally if not numerically, by a myriad of shortcomings.

The two-way connoisseur enrolled in 2005 and rapidly surfaced as a prospective cornerstone to sustaining the Friars’ habitual Hockey East banner-raising. Yet out of a program record 143 career games played (a landmark tied with that of 2006 alumna Katelyn Laffin), not one ended in a cathartic victory lap nor was one ever conducted under an NCAA tournament heading.

At the halfway mark of her collegiate tenure, Normore made an offseason business trip to Calgary in hopes of sealing a spot on Canada’s U22 squad for the then-Air Canada Cup. But Puckworld’s pool is simply too deep and her chances of future international engagement now look about as slim as a skate lace in profile view.

Earlier this month, she might have linked up with the Eastern All-Stars at the Frozen Four Skills Challenge. She had the opportunity by way of membership on the final ballot, but the informal fan-controlled polls didn’t work in her favor.

Later this week, PC will distribute its 2008-09 team awards. This author is not about to retract the assertion that radiant rookie goaltender Genevieve Lacasse has a magnetic pull on the MVP prize, but if anybody can pull an upset on that front, it’s Normore. Still, that’s not exactly a guarantee.

Thankfully, though, there is one other means –a much wider open means at that- of materially underlining Normore’s achievements: the PC Athletics Hall of Fame.

This too may be a long shot, especially considering those whom the Friartown City Council still haven’t gotten around to immortalizing – Cindy Curley, Sara DeCosta, Karen Thatcher, Sonny Watrous. (If not for that five-year freeze between 2003 and 2008 that saw no new inductee classes whatsoever, they’d be much further along with this).

But this type of honor can wait a while and it can be a wait well worth it.

Let’s be honest: Normore’s positional flexibility and concomitant entertainment value will be virtually impossible to replace. She hardly went through a single contest, regardless of her specific depth chart assignment, without extracting the puck from the corner of her own zone and touring unchallenged across both blue lines –sometimes en route to a stimulating scoring chance, sometimes not, but magnetic to the eye in any case.

Most recently, the likes of Amber Yung and Colleen Martin –rising juniors and seniors, respectively- have been spotted emulating the audacious cut from her point perch to the enemy crease, but that’s as far as either of them have gone. No net-to-net navigation has been tried, much less mastered, on their part. That’s how rare a find Normore is.

Well, actually, there’s more to the matter. Normore couldn’t have carried out those enterprises on such a routine basis unless she had cemented an exceptional trust with head coach Bob Deraney fairly early in her PC gig. From there, it ought to have been fast evident to even the most novice observers that her adhesive stick blade would only give out and give the puck away at a rate that just reminded everyone she was human.

The rest of the time, though, Friar Fanatics were treated to the equivalent of South Park fans whetting their funny bones for Kenny McCormick’s newest madcap demise. And on the best occasions, malnourished women’s hockey advocates were treated to a split-second wherein Normore had to exert an extra dollop of maneuverability to make the neutral zone incision. And if there were enough student spectators on hand –especially males- an excited interjection of “Ooooo!” actually channeled through Schneider Arena.

That’s still far from a sufficient supply of fanfare, but all things considered, it stands out as something. There was clear-cut admiration for the feats of a female athlete. And who, specifically, delivered?

Erin Normore. A reminder, too, that she pulled that stunt on a near-gamely basis en route to 25 goals and 66 assists over a career 143 ventures. Before you spew out the Don Schula/Mercury Morris within and note that there are a few more games per season than in the former days, consider this: in the current calendar decade, the Friars have conducted at least 35 games per season and during that time, only one player has demonstrated the requisite durability to dress on every possible night.

To do that, let alone freely play two positions at once, let alone embolden the team’s scoring punch whilst composing a career plus-25 rating and a comparatively irreproachable 102 penalty minutes?

Admittedly, those aren’t your standard accolades detailed in the column of accomplishments for most PC Hall members. But you should bet your full CCM duffel bag it’s worth a look.

And perhaps, sometime circa 2025, just as she’s resting after leading a band of professional pucksters through a taxing power skating seminar, Normore will receive the momentous news.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com