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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Women's Hockey 4, Maine 0

First Night Festivities
Friars thoroughly whitewash Black Bears to start season

Apart from a Hockey East championship banner and concomitant passport to the NCAA tournament, one other element has been conspicuously lacking in PC’s Skating Sorority since the 2004-05 season: a 1-0 start to the schedule.

For the moment, at least the latter of those jutting jinxes is officially passé thanks to last night’s 4-0 triumph over Maine before an encouraged opening night mass of 170 at Schneider Arena and a confident coach who was quick to assign his tangible gains to the middle row of the minivan.

When reminded that his program –regardless of however many moral winning streaks they may have sparked in past Octobers- had not drawn a genuine “W” to start the year in over a full collegiate generation, Bob Deraney offered a sarcastic, albeit polite, “thanks.”

“I don’t even know about that, because every year is a different year,” he continued. “We may have not won our first game the last couple of years, but it’s not about the win, it’s about how you play, and I thought we played really well tonight. We played smart, we really had a couple of times where we needed to have a gut check, and we answered that call. We learned a lot about ourselves tonight and I like what I see. I think the kids do too.”

Both contesting squads took time to kick up their full energy flow, amounting to a scoreless first period with a 7-3 shot count favoring the Friars. But in the latter 40 minutes, Providence asserted itself with 11 of 15 skaters garnering at least one shot on net and seven of them ultimately touching the scoresheet.

It began at the 4:35 mark of the middle frame, with freshman winger Jess Cohen settling down a feed from defender Lauren Covell in the near face-off circle after a hectic swarm filled with wide near-misses and a few non-calls (in Deraney’s fervent opinion, at least). Once in comfortable control of the disk, Cohen wasted little time snapping it home low to the left of Maine stopper Candace Currier (21 saves).

To their credit, the Black Bears confined the Friars to a somewhat shallow 25 shots on the whole night, a sound follow-through on an implicit vow to make their collection of shots-against a prime candidate for a spot on ABC’s Biggest Loser. Not to mention, PC is continuing to press forward while missing a full forward line due to a horrid injury bug.

All that aside, the middle frame proved an effective period to collect insurance, which Providence did in amassing 12 registered stabs, three of which would go through via Cohen, Ashley Cottrell at 16:25, and Jean O’Neill on a four-on-four breakaway with only 20.5 seconds till intermission.

“We’re hoping that tomorrow, we will put Abby Gauthier and Kate Bacon into the lineup for the first time this year,” Deraney noted. “That’ll be a real nice shot in the arm, but the way we played today, I think that will just add to our depth.

“Our kids played their hearts out today. We only had three lines and three sets of D, and if you watched us, you would have thought we had a full complement, so that’s a credit to how hard our kids played out there tonight.”

Maine assumed control of the shooting gallery for the third (9-6), and threatened early on a carry-over penalty to Alyse Ruff that overlapped with Laura Veharanta’s checking call at 0:35, amounting to 55 seconds worth of 5-on-3.

Nothing doing, though. Providence goaltender Genevieve Lacasse (19 saves, seventh career shutout) only dealt with one shot during that penalty kill, and within four minutes of Veharanta’s release, Cohen set up linemate Arianna Rigano for a tumbling conversion at 6:22, ultimately finalizing the 4-0 difference.

And so, the “Glory Days” –both in the statistical sense and in the sense of Bruce Springsteen taking over the PA system after the stick salute- came to Friartown substantially earlier and before. The natural objective is to continuously renew those good days, beginning with a sweep of this weekend’s series this afternoon.

“We talked about it in our (locker) room. We’re only halfway to our goal (for this weekend),” Deraney said. “And the other thing is I push our kids right to the end. And you might be saying, ‘Why aren’t you coaching for tomorrow?’ But I’m coaching for the season, and we need to create an energy level and a conditioning level that will last for 120 minutes, not just 60, of the hardest hockey you can possibly play.

“We kept the throttle all the way down even when we were up by four goals with five (minutes) to go. It doesn’t matter to me. We’ve got a lot more to give, and we’re going to get it out of them.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Cohen crashes into the ranks
Rookie bags two points, first star in debut

A tempestuous sweep check of most every database available could not locate another instance of what Jess Cohen uniquely attained for the Friars’ last night. For all of the marquee names branded into the books, no player to have come through PC in this waning decade, and possibly long before that, has ever nabbed a goal-assist value pack in her intercollegiate debut.

Ironically, the closest find was none other than current assistant coach Meredith Roth, Cohen’s fellow alumna of the almighty Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep, who charged up a two-point outing in her second college game versus Findlay on October 29, 2000.

So last night, statistically speaking, Cohen set a peerlessly lofty bar for herself in PC’s 4-0 win over Maine. More to the point, though, she made an equally sound visual impression on her coach and associates.

She charged up two attempted shots in the first period, one which Maine goaltender Candace Currier turned away, the other going wide. She would launch another three in the second, the first homeward bound from the near face-off dot for the icebreaker and eventual game winner.

And in the third, though she would be finished thrusting pucks squarely at Currier’s property for the night, she would issue a magnetic cross-ice pass from the near outer hash marks of the Maine zone that linemate Arianna Rigano slugged home with 13:38 remaining.

Her final transcript for the evening: one goal, one helper, three SOG, a plus-2 rating, and the distinction of the game’s No. 1 star. Meanwhile, her linemates Rigano and Alyse Ruff led the team with four shots apiece on the night.

“Not surprised. She’s a very good player,” assessed head coach Bob Deraney. “She played in the shadow of players like Brianna Decker and Amanda Kessel (at Shattuck), but when you watch her, she kind of held the whole line together and did some fabulous things.

“So, I’m not surprised. I knew it was going to come at some point. Did I think it was going to come this fast? No, I didn’t, so I’m really happy for her. She deserved it tonight.”

O’Neill rolling along
Junior Jean O’Neill, a first-line winger and newly anointed A-captain, joined Cohen in the multi-point club last night, collaborating with fellow wing Laura Veharanta to assist on Ashley Cottrell’s second period goal and nailing her own just 3:15 later.

Her late conversion to curtain a decisive second period quickly abolished any residual disappointment from late in the first period, when she saw two consecutive tries scurry wide of the cage. It would also equal her first two-point performance since her freshman year, an unhesitating hint that she is back to her old, ideal form after a so-so, injury-riddled sophomore campaign.

“She really worked extremely hard over the summer to prepare for this season, and I think it’s the benefit of how hard she worked,” said Deraney. “And if anyone deserved to come out with thus type of effort in her first game of her junior year, it was her.”

Quick feeds: Sophomore defender Lauren Covell, who assisted on Cohen’s decider, led the team with a plus-3 rating on the night…Starting Maine defender Jessica Bond led both sides with six shots…The Friars’ recently released prospectus indicates that the Skating Strides charity will make its annual stop at Schneider Arena on January 23, when PC hosts Boston College…2009 program and school graduates Mari Pehkonen and Brittany Simpson both put in an appearance at last night’s game…Dating back to December of 2007, PC has now scored exactly four goals –no more and no less- in each of their last five meetings with Maine, all of them wins…Part II of this series faces off at 4:00 p.m. and will be viewable through online streaming on the Friars’ official website.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hockey Log

O’Neill back on top
Wings a starting line featuring two established scorers

For the moment anyway, PC women’s junior Jean O’Neill is renewing the old sense of her days on the PRO Line opposite classmate Alyse Ruff and recent graduate Mari Pehkonen, a unit that famously came together for the stretch drive in 2007-08 and combined for 15 goals and 33 points in the last 14 games.

All through the first official week of practice and for Saturday night’s preseason bout with McGill University, O’Neill assumed the left wing on the top line, supplementing Laura Veharanta and Ashley Cottrell, the top two returning point-getters in the program.

And for what it’s worth, persuasive hints of chemistry would show up on the scoresheet. The top trinity combined for eight of the Friars’ 25 total shots and aggregated six points. O’Neill left her mark on the night when she hustled through neutral ice as Veharanta’s breakout feed sent Cottrell flying down the far alley for a two-on-one rush. O’Neill absorbed a crisp cross-ice pass and wristed it home over the blocker of McGill goaltender Gabrielle Smith, spawning a 3-0 lead with 3:41 remaining in the second period.

Just like that, all three linemates had statistically conspired on the same scoring play. And for the rest of the night, O’Neill, like the majority of her active colleagues, garnered substantial amounts of ice time in all situations, including both ends of the special teams’ spectrum.

Everyone was needed chiefly for the fact that a hefty handful of injuries confined Providence to a mere 15 skaters –nine forwards and six defenders- and that two of the four ailing forwards included nascent scorers Kate Bacon and Abby Gauthier, who like O’Neill before them are temporarily sidetracked in terms of building on their freshman foundations.

Depending on everyone’s return, the line combinations could be largely tweaked as time goes along. But for the moment, far as head coach Bob Deraney would offer, all five of the timetables for return are indefinite. “We’ve got some nicks and bruises, and it’s too early in the season to rush anybody,” he said. “They’re going to take a while, but we’re hoping to eventually get everybody back, and that’ll make us a much better team.”

A year ago at this time, it was O’Neill’s preseason ailment creating one of the voids in the depth chart. She would miss the preseason game and five of the first 10 regular season ventures before she paced herself in thawing out her game once she had returned to stay.

Her high point last season, which was defined by her grinder-type role on a line with Gauthier and Katy Beach, was a five-point-in-six-game stretch between January 25 and February 13, which upped her scoring transcript from a 1-2-3 to an eventual final of 3-5-8, a far cry from a smooth rookie ride highlighted by a 7-10-17 log and five two-point performances.

But with a stable bill of health the top gun Veharanta and the proficient playmaker Cottrell, the more ideal scenario has every reason to return for O’Neill this season.

Drawing class
In the first half of Saturday’s second period, freshman center Nicole Anderson –who logged three shots on net and four penalty minutes- drew two power plays in a matter of two minutes and 14 seconds. She first went down via a hook by McGill’s Caroline Hill, effectively setting up Ruff’s icebreaker. Only 41 seconds after Ruff converted, Anderson drew an interference minor at the expense of Cathy Chartland.

Quick feeds: Ruff, having her first go-around as a center rather than a winger, led the team with 13 face-off wins and five shots on net Saturday…Through the pregame warmup session prior to the McGill scrimmage, sophomore Bre Schwarz paired up with junior Leigh Riley as a defensive tandem while Lauren Covell winged the third forward line. However, for the better part of the game itself, the two switched those positions…Defenders Colleen Martin and Amber Yung each picked up an assist Saturday….Individual game tickets for all 18 regular season home games go on sale starting today at 9:00 a.m. at a price of $5 for adults and $2 for both kids 15 and under and seniors 60 or older…Seven of the Friars' first nine regular season games, all in the coming month of October, will be at home, starting with this weekend’s two-night drop-in from Maine.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Hockey

Exhibition loss a much lesser evil

At least for about the first half-hour of clock time, last night’s fixture presented vintage Providence-McGill women’s hockey, if such a thing can even be identified. By the time Jean O’Neill had converted a stimulating two-on-one rush with Ashley Cottrell with 3:41 to spare in the second period, the Friars –who between three meetings in 1981, 1985, and 2003, had run up the Montreal-based program by a 24-0 aggregate- were up 3-0 and well on a path to rerunning old patterns in this matchup.

The illusion would be literally gone in 60 seconds, when with 2:41 remaining, Rebecca Martindale pumped home the Martlets first goal at PC’s expense in team history. From that point forward, an array of vinegary realities settled into the Friars’ water bottles as their guests proceeded to chalk up a 6-1 run in the third period, amounting to a 7-4 decision at Schneider Arena.

They were thus enlightened to the fact that this is a new era on both sides. PC is no longer the urban legend whose coach has to advise players to make X-number of passes to avoid running up the score.

Meanwhile, McGill, the two-time defending Canadian Interuniversity champion, could easily be wearing a Wisconsin Badgers “W” or a Golden Gophers “M” with a tiny maple leaf stamped in the middle of it, denoting them as a Canadian chapter of college hockey excellence.

They, like the Badgers, will even be missing their head coach, Peter Smith, for the duration of the 2009-10 campaign as he attends to Olympic duties.

All that just made it an enticing recipe for the Friars’ annual preseason extramural scrimmage. The old practice of facing a Provincial Women’s League team was clearly not giving them the launch pad they needed to ignite their NCAA run, hence the drastic change in select Canadian invitee of the year.

“McGill’s a very good team, and if you did the research on our record against them, it’s a much different team than they’ve ever had before,” said Friars’ skipper Bob Deraney. “They’ve got a terrific coaching staff that’s attracted a lot of great players. That was a really good test for us and that was the idea. I wanted to see what our weaknesses were.

“I think it told us a lot and now we’ve got some concrete things to work on. I know we can play a lot better, but we had some spurts where we played really well and executed the way we wanted to.”

To start, those spurts came primarily in the form of sophomore stopper Genevieve Lacasse playing as if she had never been on break. She thwarted all of 15 McGill stabs to retain a scoreless knot through the opening frame.

Later on, the Friars’ strike force –which charged up 25 shots on net between 12 individual skaters- perked up to sculpt a 3-0 edge, starting with junior Alyse Ruff’s backdoor connection at 6:46 of the second. Within another 10 minutes, returning top gun Laura Veharanta (two goals, three points total on the night) and O’Neill augmented the edge. And Cottrell, last year’s established resident playmaker, was also on her normal par with two helpers.

But in a subsequent hurry, a short supply of bodies and patience prevailed. PC had a grand total of four skaters –Kate Bacon, Jackie Duncan, Abby Gauthier, Emily Groth, and Jessie Vella- all watching from the stands as they recuperate from offseason afflictions, reducing the line chart to only three forward lines.

As the score devolved from a 3-1 lead to a 6-3 deficit within the first dozen minutes of the third period, the frayed Friars paid four consecutive trips to the penalty box and authorized three power play goals.

“It’s a big factor, especially at this time of year,” said Deraney of the short bench. “But you have what you have, you get out there, and I think it adds to our conditioning, our mental toughness, and stamina. You’ve got to learn how to play when you’re fatigued.”

Meanwhile, backup goaltender Christina England had a forgettable return to game action –her first lick of it since the preseason exhibition of two seasons ago. Deployed in relief of Lacasse to commence the third, her transcript for the night would ultimately read 9:27 worth of playing time, four saves, four goals-against, and unwelcome credit for the loss.

By the time Ann-Sophie Bettez snuck in her second strike and fourth point on the night for a 5-3 difference, a conspicuously disconcerted England was reassigned to the pine.

But this was, after all, just a puck-based PSAT for everybody concerned. Record-wise, it will all stick like a fallen snowflake in above-freezing temperatures.

“Believe me, I’m not very happy with the result, but I’m proud of the effort,” Deraney concluded.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com