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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Looking for instant impact
Starved NU offense permeated by promising freshmen

When you really look at it, the Northeastern Huskies personify the needs and wants of the Women’s Hockey East Association better than any of the league’s fellow constituents. After all, it was indubitably their genuine ascent from board-to-board mediocrity to a budding win-stealer that prompted commissioner Joe Bertagna to amend the playoff field from four to six teams effective this past campaign.

In turn, Northeastern partook in a passably compelling run, their laser-beamed goaltending tandem and obsessive-defensive mentality piloting them through a stretch run that saw nothing but defense-first contests across the out-of-town scoreboards.

It would all amount to a Beantown showdown with Boston University in the preliminary round, an eventual 2-1 Terrier triumph.

Well, there’s your boon and your bane for all eyes to see. But perhaps to make a deeper incision, the Huskies were blown away in the shooting gallery that afternoon, 37-23. And so, Swiss Save-ior Florence Schelling’s valiance aside, the gun rack couldn’t conjure a complement at the other end. Furthermore, the upshot marked the 24th time in 35 ventures on the year that Northeastern was confined to two goals or less.

How exactly is this of universal concern for the WHEA? As sweat-breaking as the buffet of soccer-esque matches may have been for the six parties concerned, broader fanfare would be more likely if everyone flaunted their firepower a little more and offered a reminder that hockey is the quintessential two-way game.

For the certified pennant racers, this means calling for more salsa-based rubber from the likes of Kelli Stack, Jenn Wakefield, Laura Veharanta, Jenelle Kohanchuk, Michelle Binning, and their respective allies.

For the still-aspirant contenders such as the Huskies (not to mention Maine and Vermont), this means calling for a simple upgrade to let them catch up to the others. It means calling for something reminiscent of the Friars’ last freshman contingent –prominently featuring Veharanta, Ashley Cottrell, Kate Bacon, and Abby Gauthier- which head coach Bob Deraney had termed “a tremendous shot in the arm.”

Studies of the horizon can confirm nothing but potential, but that is precisely what the data currently suggests for Northeastern.

Quantitatively speaking, the rostered offense is rather brittle with 12 forwards to speak of, exactly half of them being freshmen. So granted, there is no room for jutting health setbacks.

On the other hand, co-coaches Linda Lundigran and Lauren McAuliffe, stepping up for Dave Flint as he attends to his protracted Olympic duties, have no cause to fret over who plays or who sits how often. The whole dozen will be relied on to work as the same 12-pack unit for the duration of the run, and the frosh will be counted on to make a booming impact and at no time will be asked to retract even to give someone else a try.

Out of the six forwards, the most succulent scoring transcript in the new class is that of winger Brittany Esposito (this despite the fact that, by all counts, she shares no bloodlines whatsoever with that proficient garbage man from the 1970s Bruins).

Esposito is just coming off an Alberta Midget AAA season where she decisively topped both the regular season and playoff scoring charts with 67 and 19 points, respectively, and in so doing steered the Edmonton Thunder to a provincial championship.

Behind Esposito, Danielle Kerr –whose commitment was formally confirmed over the week, thus rounding out the eight-member recruiting class- comes bearing a resume slightly reminiscent of fresh PC graduate Erin Normore –i.e. an Ontario-based athletic upbringing permeated by hockey, but with a sizeable fix of high school badminton, basketball, and track and field on the side. According to a Northeastern release, she wore the captain’s C for her Ottawa-area prep school team in all four seasons and topped the program’s all-time scoring chart.

And beyond all her interscholastic obligations, Kerr squeezed in regular time with the London Devilettes in the prestigious Provincial Women’s League, where she most recently cultivated 21 points.

The remainder of the freshman front-line crop –Siena Falino, Rachel Llanes, Casey Pickett, and Kelly Wallace- offered no reliable stats available for the public eye, but they all do come with gold-fingers courtesy of various regional and/or national championships and many with Star-Spangled select camp experience and prep school captaincy tenures.

It’s a bushel almost overwhelming for a program that last summer surrendered its would-be veteran scoring nucleus, Chelsey Jones, by way of transfer to Minnesota. That drawback aside, spurts of promise surfaced as three rising juniors –Kristi Kehoe, Alysaa Wohfeiler, and New Hampshire transfer Julia Marty- constituted the top of their stats sheet.

For those returnees, the trick for 2009-2010 is to merely upgrade their maturation pace –especially under the shots-on-goal heading, where only Kehoe (121) cracked triple digits- and assist in what ought to be an arduous, taxing gelling process at training camp.

The youth movement, no doubt, is designed to perk up the Huskies’ two-way viability. But ultimately, precious time will be lost on the coming season if not everyone is perked from the start of captain’s practices.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com