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Friday, September 18, 2009

On Hockey

Representing the team
Yung, like PC women, yearning for kinder stats

Here’s an ice chip of trivia for what the NESN Bruins’ broadcast team might like to term a “Twisted But True Fact.” Who –amongst her fellow blueliners- joined Amber Yung in the red with an identical minus-3 finish last season?

Answer: now-former captain Brittany Simpson, whose final transcript was conspicuously hurt by one forgettable 5-1 falter last February versus Boston College, wherein she lost four points in the plus/minus category. If not for that, she most likely would have been on the plus-side with reasonable facility.

Similarly, Yung had been a plus-1 at the time of the December deceleration, but then returned to hit a personal rough spot for the first few weeks of 2009. A pair of minus-2 outings at Cornell and Dartmouth and a minus-1 against Vermont, all interspersed with recorded “even” performances, rapidly docked her to a minus-4. Afterwards, she at least stopped the bleeding for the remaining six weeks, ultimately moving up one rung to finish at minus-3.

On an individual basis, the junior Yung’s compensation for her efforts has been particularly telling as to what still sits atop the Friars’ priority checklist. Within Hockey East play, she has stamped a plus-2 rating two years running, much the same way her team continuously concocts a nice, supra-.500 conference record but cannot quite make the same claim when it comes to interleague action. And it does not require much analytical thinking to conclude that Yung’s data, not unlike the Friars’ overall record, would be more gratifying if they tuned the opposing mesh a little more regularly.

Up through the halfway mark of her PC career, Yung’s durability and reliability have been pretty much on the same par as a Simpson or an Erin Normore. Through 72 possible games, she has had but one absence from the line chart, which was due to an invitation to a holiday camp with the U.S. U22 team keeping her away from an excursion to Yale prior New Year’s.

When she has been in the lineup, Yung is one of the team’s more imposing authorities at 5-foot-10 and has been one of the more outstandingly plucky shot-blockers in the lineup. And at least for a while, chiefly over the course of her freshman year, she bore another resemblance to Normore through a venturesome habit of singlehandedly touring the puck into the deeper portions of the attacking zone.

That year, she totaled 68 registered shots, plus 13 assists for 15 points –although those, to some extent, arrived in bunches, including two playmaker hat tricks. Last year, as the Friars’ collective output receded from 100 to 86 goals, her own numbers lessened to only 48 shots, along with six helpers and no goals to call her own.

Back on the home front, Yung’s plus/minus rollercoaster has followed about the same course in each of her first two seasons with the Friars. In 2007-08, she went as high as a plus-3 at various points from November through January, but ultimately slipped to a negative-2 in the end. And like her sophomore year, she didn’t have much company in the red, but remarkably, she was joined by none other than top gun Kathleen Smith, who finished at minus-1.

And again, that final figure was bumped primarily by two minus-3 nights and a shortage of better-than-plus-1 opportunities to cancel that out.

If this really does reflect the weakest link of the Providence defense coming into the 2009-10 campaign, then there is little on that CD requiring a Windex treatment. Rather, a more appropriate focus would be to see about inflating a few more skaters to pluses and double-digit pluses like one will find in scoping last year’s Boston College and New Hampshire stats sheet.

And that can come, quite simply, as a product of a little more offensive productivity across the lineup. As far as the Friars are concerned, while it is not inherently detrimental to grant the driver’s seat to defensive ideals, the offense could stand to assume the front passenger’s spot rather than the back row.

For Yung’s part, and for the blue line bunch as a whole, this means dropping more pucks on net the same way she did as a freshman, if not recharging her former audacity to skate it down there herself when need be. What to ask of the point patrollers, though, may depend on what kind of forward crew they have to work with and if everyone can get comfortable with aggressive, head-spinning puck movement. They may ultimately need to do little more than clog up the opposition’s clearing path and sustain pressure.

Regardless, Yung ought to know the itch to “get rewarded” as well as any other Friar, especially now that she is one of the defensive elders. Cue her hunt for a better winning formula.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Hockey

Rookie Cohen raised on real winning homestead

Amongst all of the active personnel within the Providence College women’s hockey program, only head coach Bob Deraney and ageless goaltending tutor Bob Bellemore can attest firsthand to the backside boot that comes with relinquishing a jealously-guarded title and the resultant fervor to regain it. After all, PC is now well into its fifth year –or more than one full collegiate generation- of renewing that drive, having last laid claim to a conference banner and/or NCAA tourney passport in 2005.

Although, newly arrived forward Jess Cohen ought to help make the annual relation process a touch easier. One year ago, Cohen was caught up with the inevitably untamed urge to redeem the almighty Shattuck-St. Mary’s U19 program after it had whiffed on a would-be fourth consecutive USA Hockey championship in 2008.

As it happened, and in part under Cohen’s leadership, the Cyclopean Minnesota-based prep program swiftly restored its sovereignty, effectively granting her three rings in four seasons and arguably the most enticing big game resume anybody is bringing to the Divine Campus this year.

Cohen’s SSM tenure –which for its first two years overlapped with this author’s own stint at the School of Hockey- followed a relatively smooth, coming-of-age pattern. A late addition to the team roster her freshman year, she presented herself as a grinder –at least by comparison to some of her acetylene teammates- in compiling 29 points in 49 appearances.

Her college prep turning point arguably fell the subsequent autumn, though, when the supernatural twins Jocelyne Lamoureux and Monique Lamoureux –both of whom are now on Team USA’s Qwest Tour- took temporary leave to take part in the Four Nations Cup. In their absence, Cohen, among others stepped up their game as needed and did not regress even when the roster was full again.

Result: Cohen spiked her productivity rate to 62 points in 50 ventures en route to her second national crown. She stayed roughly along that average throughout 2007-08 (54 points in 45 games) before she surged once more as a senior captain last year with a flush two-point-per-game mean (108 in 54).

Based on that rigorous brand of youth hockey upbringing, and the way she handled it, Cohen can rationally strive to make a first impression in Providence along the lines of, say, a Jean O’Neill. Two years back, O’Neill came bearing a game well-tuned by a series of similar September-to-March grinds with the Princeton Tiger Lilies and, despite taking a few weeks to thaw out, proceeded to charge up 17 points in her first 36 NCAA ventures.

And if anybody is to defend PC’s claim to the Hockey East Rookie of the Year laurel on behalf of Genevieve Lacasse, Cohen will likely be the one to do it.

Beyond that, though, is the habitual appetite for victory, which is to be expected most anywhere, but rarely in such extremities as Shattuck. All SSM Sabre teams have all but adopted the perennial New York Yankee-like perception that losing is a plain abomination. And while that might not quite be case in Friartown, fastidious hunger would not be an unwelcome trait and probably a fine starting point for someone who is still acclimating to a new campus, a new level, and a new itinerary.

From certain angles, Cohen’s transition requires one or two backward turns of the knob. When she was a newbie at Shattuck, her team was in the midst of defending its first title –the glory of which was shared by former PC stopper Danielle Ciarletta- and raring to cement the already believable notion that they were the new team to beat. From there on in, it was all about retaining a team-of-destiny mentality for the duration of the seven-month odyssey.

Now she has joined in on a six-month trek with the intent to, after repeat shortcomings, counter the critics, discredit the doubters, and prop up the Friars’ national posture.

It is, to sum up, a shift from craving status quo to pursuing progression. It is the rough competitive athletics’ equivalent of a rigid Republican switching to more Democratic values.

Yet there is still, above all else, the no-duh common element of an incentive to win, and there is no indication that Cohen has had fits squaring away that part of her adjustment.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Hockey

Ruff the nub of the offense
Distinctions lie in balance in productivity, maturity

Having officially inched beyond the halfway mark of her collegiate career as the PC women commence preseason business, Alyse Ruff, above any of her front line colleagues, stands out for her well-balanced mix of experience, durability, and three-zone aptitude.

The trust her twig has earned is such that, during the early phases of a pre-game warm-up, she has assumed the role of celestial stopper Genevieve Lacasse’s personal puck-provider, flicking those all-important game time coffee shots from between the hash marks.

Granted, there are also three seniors slated to resume their own offensive assignments. And sophomores Laura Veharanta (31) and Ashley Cottrell (21) each bested her in the point column last year. But in terms of importance, timing sits right up there with quantity, and that is one aspect Ruff has rapidly and all but peerlessly mastered.

Half of Ruff’s 10 sophomore strikes went down as deciders, four of those being game-winners, one other an equalizer. On top of that, she pitched in some breath-pumping insurance goals, most notably in the Hockey East quarterfinal against Connecticut, when she granted the Friars’ a more assuring 2-0 edge with less than 10 regulation minutes to spare.

In all, half of the 20 points Ruff charged up last year were either in the third period or within the final five minutes of the second. On thirteen occasions, she had a hand either in sawing a two-goal deficit in half, pulling even, or pulling ahead.

Furthermore, four of her goals were sprinkled over 26 total power play shots for a team-best .154 percentage in that situation. And amongst all PC returnees, only Veharanta (15) had more power play points than Ruff (7). The two sandwiched a foursome of seniors in Erin Normore, Katy Beach, Brittany Simpson, and Mari Pehkonen, which would now signal a call for hefty reinforcements in the 5-on-4 guild.

Naturally, Ruff and Veharanta –who combined to polish off a dozen of the Friars’ 31 power play conversions last year- are the starting points for that project. First impressions (and that’s really all there is at this time) would call for each to be penciled in as the base for one of two regular units, each thereby branching out their wealth through established abilities to both initiate and finish.

These particular brands of production are a testament to patience and poise, traits that are a tad less common in a player’s younger years. As a junior this year, Ruff will be joined by classmate Jean O’Neill, three seniors, and then seven underclassmen in the offensive department. And so far, she has played in all 72 possible career games, a claim that cannot be shared by any of the seniors or any of her fellow juniors.

As it generally expected of any college puckster with a budding identity, Ruff had a rather one-dimensional look as a rookie, using her bloodhound instincts in the dirty-nose areas to ultimately concoct 14 goals and 19 points. Last year, she both grew to balance her productivity between 10 firsthand strikes and 10 helpers while also growing to demonstrate noticeable defensive proficiency, earning her a fixed position on the penalty killing brigade.

And because one’s progression is never finished, now would be the time for Ruff to think of upping her season point total closer to the 30 plateau and continuing to help foster her relatively young colleagues. She has already accepted a little credit for that, citing when she lined up with Cottrell and Veharanta, who emerged respectively as topmost playmakers and finishers for the Friars.

But even the top gun Veharanta, for all of her own output, goal-assist balance, and clear-cut knack for timely connections, brandished a minor blemish in the stretch run when she went pointless for the final six ventures of the regular season. Cottrell similarly managed a mere two assists in that same critical block of time after logging 19 points in her first 28 games. More generally, everyone else on the depth chart is just hunting for their first assertive spark.

And as evidenced through much of PC’s last game-by-game scroll, more of that aforementioned insurance is a must. There was a fistful of nights when the Friars would plant an initial 1-0 or 2-1 edge, only to spill invaluable points when they let the opposition nip back to usurp the win. There would be less chance of that happening if they could get more comfortable with the dual task of nabbing, defending, and augmenting a lead.

Translation: there would be more regular cushions if more critical plays were nailed at the right moments. More individual strikers following Ruff’s tactical example would make that possible.

So look for her to assume a pilot’s position –however overt or covert it may appear- in the Friars’ strike force this year.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com