• Check out the Free Press founder's new Rhode Island/New England sports blog
  • http://providencesportsscribe.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hockey Log

Deraney adamant about full-scale parity

It was probably the last thing one would want in the way of intrigue, but yesterday’s freshly disclosed Women’s Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll is calling for a strict duplicate of the 2008-09 regular season standings. If such did in fact come to fruition, that would mean yet another venture to the revered Lake Whittemore off the coast of the University of New Hampshire for the conference championship weekend, and yet another bye into that stage for the likes of Boston College.

It would also mean yet another Beantown Showdown between third-seeded Boston University and sixth-rate Northeastern in one quarterfinal clash, and yet another Battle for Southern New England between Providence and Connecticut in the other. For the Friars and Huskies, it would amount to a postseason threematch, dating back to PC’s 5-1 semifinal shellshock of UConn at Freitas Ice Forum in 2008.

Well, at least in these hypothetical events, a few healthy rivalries are all but guaranteed to intensify. But beneath the 1-through-8 surface, the poll exposes a bonus morsel of hope for the likes of Providence, which garnered two of the anonymous first place votes while the remaining six were split between UNH and BC. The four-time defending champion Wildcats have laid claim to virtual first place by way of earning more cumulative points (50).

Expectably, head coach Bob Deraney was not going to escape being asked on those two votes during yesterday’s preseason league-wide teleconference. But he did his best to pull off a self-effacing C-cut and insist that, even with a lack of positional shake-up, every team will be reckonable in the coming year.

“I have to tell you,” he said. “Northeastern has a goalie (in Florence Schelling), Vermont is much improved, and Dan (Lichterman) is doing a (heck) of a job in Maine. I think anybody can make noise this year.

“I found it interesting that we’re ranked fourth, and then two coaches think that we should be Number One in our league. I think it’s really hard to judge anybody this year. It’s going to be really exciting, not so much for the coaches, but for the fans, because every game, you’re going to show up not knowing who’s going to win.”

The more the altogether trivial poll suggested otherwise, the more Deraney pushed the notion of parity. The dividing line between fourth-place PC and fifth-place UConn, i.e. the equator of the standings and the deciding factor for postseason home ice, marks the greatest gap in point total between any two teams. The Friars were allotted an aggregate 43 voter points, a mere seven behind New Hampshire, but 12 ahead of the Huskies’ 31. UConn is, in turn, trailed by Northeastern (27), Vermont (22), and Maine (20).

And yet, Deraney concluded, “I think this is going to be one of the (most) dog-eat-dog seasons that Hockey East has ever had from top to bottom. We have a lot of parity in our league, due to several things. One, I think, is the tremendous coaching and coaching staffs that we have who have done a wonderful job of recruiting and attracting great players into our league.

“But also, with the defection of the Olympians on various teams –UNH and Boston College- adds to the parity our league.

“We’re gonna have our hands full, there’s no doubt about that.”

Sophomore surge?
When asked about the return of the two nascent faces of the franchise –top gun Laura Veharanta and incumbent goaltender Genevieve Lacasse- for their sophomore years, Deraney pointed quickly to their minor glitches the popped up last year and asserted that they have already been mended.

He was especially keen on highlighting his refined expectations of Veharanta, who topped the team charts with 31 points as a frosh despite a six-game scoring drought during the stretch run in February.

“Laura Veharanta has come back in 50 times better shape than she was a year ago from a stamina standpoint,” he said. “I think towards the end of last year, she got a little fatigued, and people were pushing her around, and she got a lot of attention. She really wasn’t in the physical shape to handle that kind of attention. I think this year, she’s come back ready to play a full season.”

As for the Scarborough Save-ior, “Having one of the best (goalies) in the country come back in better shape than she was a year ago, I think we’re going to have an opportunity to be in every game.”

Quick feeds: During yesterday’s conference call, Deraney divulged that freshman forward Jess Vella is still healing an offseason ACL tear and is expected to see her first lick of collegiate action sometime in November…The PC athletic department is currently auctioning off a game-worn jersey from former captain Brittany Simpson. Simpson, four months removed from grabbing her degree at the Dunk, has settled in to her graduate position with the Friars Forever Athletic Fund. Bidding on the sweater shall close a week from today at noon.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Hockey

Big task in small package
In first follow-up year, Lacasse has little to alter, a lot to maintain

Fifty weeks ago at this time, there were no convincing hints that Genevieve Lacasse was revving up a ride to fast VIP status in the PC women’s hockey program, let alone the WHEA.

All she had done up to that point was succeed senior Danielle Ciarletta for Part II of a season-opening two-game set with Ohio State, ostensibly to keep the abundance of goalies fresh and try to turn the Friars’ luck after a 2-1 falter the night prior.

Instead, after turning away 32 stabs even in a 3-2 loss, the then-rookie would start each of the next two outings. And if her claim to top dibs in the crease hadn’t solidified by that point, it certainly was before she had polished off her first term at Providence. After her lone instance of missing the full length of two consecutive games, she won six of her next seven starts throughout November and early December. The lone loss in that time frame was a valiant 51-save dolphin show versus almighty Mercyhurst.

From there, Lacasse deftly proceeded to charge up a season that inevitably rehashed visions of Jana Bugden and Sara DeCosta, snagging both top rookie and top goaltending accolades at the Hockey East awards banquet to go with a collection of stupefying statistics.

Her cumulative bushel of 756 saves already has her perched at 10th all-time on the Friars’ career leaderboard. In terms of a single season, those 756 are exceeded only by DeCosta, who thrice exceeded 760 during her tenure here.

And if, hypothetically, she were to duplicate that output in the coming year, or just haul in a comparatively light 430, Lacasse would instantly leap-frog six of her predecessors and sit in the No. 3 slot behind DeCosta and Bugden before she even fulfills her Development of Western Civ. requirement.

A Friartownie could get historically giddy over that and add that 2007 New Hampshire alum Melissa Bourdon, after all, swept the league’s golden goalie prize in all four of her years, backstopping two championships in the latter two.

In all likelihood, assuming she does not stray too far from her celestial path, Lacasse should repeat that accolade with reasonable facility given that Boston College’s Molly Schaus is on Olympic leave and the reliable custodians at New Hampshire and Northeastern will likely be working in strict 50-50 tandem.

Naturally, though, she ought to be breaking in her sophomore pads knowing what to expect and knowing what is expected of her –not that that surfaced as a harrowing problem at any time all last year. If anything, the only cause for concern would be her potential inability to wipe her mind clean of her sparkling rookie stats and to drop a veil over her mental trophy case.

Then again, over the course of last year, the unsung second nature pressure had to already be building up on an exponential basis, yet it only surfaced problematically for little spurts at a time. Namely, in the first three weeks after the December deceleration, during which Lacasse was forked out of two games at Cornell and Dartmouth and endured another forgettable home outing versus Vermont.

Afterwards, though, she restored and bridled her game and would allow but 19 goals over her final 11 appearances on the season. Ultimately, that brief fit of negative energy left only a medium dent at worst.

And if converting negative energy is, in fact, a direct part of a winning formula, then Lacasse may want to draw up a healthy way of recalling her summer shortcomings. One of five stoppers to survive Part I of the Canadian U22 team’s selection camp in May, she returned two months later to find herself assigned as a two-billed alternate behind the tandems of both the red and white teams in July. By the time Part II was up, she was, not so shockingly, among those rooted out. (Ironically, the other goalie failing to make that second cut was Mercyhurst’s Hillary Pattenden, the opposing half of that classic card back in November.)

The at least temporary loss for Lacasse is a first-class blessing for the Friars. Now she is a lock to devote the full breadth of her sophomore year to intercollegiate affairs with no MLP Cup to keep in the back of her mind for the first half, and subsequently try to recover from afterward.

Under different circumstances, it would have been solely up to a still box-fresh junior in Christina England to plug in X-number of games. And after the fact, there would be a good chance that Lacasse’s performance would at least mildly flaunt the effects of jet lag the same way it often did to Finnish Flare Mari Pehkonen the last three seasons.

Nothing to worry about on that front; plus Lacasse cannot be blamed if she packs extra determination to start enhancing her international caliber for future reference.

In the shorter run, though, she is tasked with propping up a collegiate program still vying to enhance its national caliber. For her part, the only glitches to address will be seeking a more rewarding start –which is a matter of concern for the entire team anyway- and never losing her touch to the point where it spills invaluable points in the standings and polls.

Beyond that, an upgrade in all-around support from her praetorian guards –defender and forward alike- will be in order the most.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com