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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Women's Hockey 2, Yale 2

Friars feeling buoyant over tie

The patently perilous Bray Ketchum, Yale’s junior centerpiece who already had a goal-assist value pack on the night and who had assisted on an overtime goal at the Friars’ expense last season, was somehow left free to play the role of lookout amidst a mass neutral zone scrum in the first minute of last night’s overtime period.

When the puck squirted loose from along the near wall, it was simply between the opportunistic Ketchum and goaltender Genevieve Lacasse to decide if the Bulldogs’ would issue Providence its fourth statistical slight in as many annual encounters.

Sequentially speaking, this fixture had been flexing all the same trimmings of the PC-Yale card as this collegiate generation knows it. The Friars nabbed brittle one-goal leads, only to let those slosh out of their control and grant the Bulldogs at least an implied morsel of momentum.

But this time, Lacasse (20 saves) kicked a good layer of ice shavings over any prevalent or residual negativity. She got her blocker on Ketchum’s up-close wrister and tilted it safely over the crossbar and out to the near corner.

And within another four minutes, the 2-2 knot at Schneider Arena turned to stone. The Friars had at least reversed their fortunes with Yale halfway and head coach Bob Deraney emphatically pronounced everything half-full.

“That’s a huge save. That’s just our defense going out to lunch,” the skipper said, recalling the Scarborough Save-ior’s CPR play. “We’ve got five people on the same side of the ice, and we just talked about making sure we take away the middle of the ice, and that happens. It should’ve never gotten to that point, but that’s a big save by her to keep the game even.”

Most of the night, though, it was Bulldog stopper Jackee Snikeris hogging the highlight reel and propping up her peers through clutch saves. PC ran up a final shooting advantage of 37-22, including a smoothly distributed 17 attempts on the power play.

Of those attempts, Snikeris handled nine on her own, her aides up front blocked four, two wandered wide, and two went through.

To start, within the second minute of the second period and on their second advantage of the evening, junior pivot Alyse Ruff momentarily churned with the puck around the slot before handing things over to Colleen Martin on the near point. Martin was just as quick to drop it over to partner Jennifer Friedman, who found forward Nicole Anderson open to her right. Anderson absorbed Friedman’s feed and backhanded it into a gaping slab of the net for the 1-0 edge.

But only 80 seconds later did Leigh Riley go off for hooking, inviting a Yale equalizer via Ketchum, who polished off a chaotic scramble on Lacasse’s porch with 3:21 gone in the period.

The Friars started anew in another 10 minutes when a puck-carrying Pam McDevitt drew a holding infraction on Jamie Gray in neutral ice at 13:28. By 14:05, Ashley Cottrell had restored the lead upon perching herself right in Snikeris’ line of vision and tipping Christie Jensen’s straightaway point shot home through the five-hole.

“We’re really starting to understand what we’re trying to do on the power play and starting to get a good feel for it, so that’s exciting,” said Deraney, who has now seen his pupils convert at least once in all but one of their last five games. “If you’re going to be a good team, you have to score on the power play and get the advantage.”

The Friars even threatened amidst a few shorthanded segments, particularly within the final minute of the middle frame while Laura Veharanta did time for interference but teammate Arianna Rigano still registered two stabs at Snikeris.

Even so, the Bulldogs –taxed with the tasks of integrating eight freshmen on a 21-player roster, filling the cavities left by celestial 2009 graduates Crysti Howser and Helen Resor, and starting off their schedule with only 16 healthy skaters- held up long enough to get by on a combination of Snikeris (35 saves) and stealth.

At 4:32 of the third, off a draw that followed an icing and forced the Friars to leave out a rusty five-set of skates, sophomore winger Aleca Hughes smuggled a flip shot behind Lacasse through a slender opening along the near post, ultimately spelling the 2-2 final.

“I thought we did a lot of really good things tonight,” Deraney granted. “We ran into a hot goalie, we got some great looks, we made some great plays, and she made the saves when she needed to. And I think they capitalized on the couple of chances that they had. They score ugly and they scored two ugly goals tonight.”

But Lacasse, whose personal data has been dented in her last two outings with four goals-against on 42 shots faced, also stepped up when needed and kept the ugliness off the final upshot.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Bacon bumped yet again

The Friars’ already-shorthanded depth chart took yet another chop with a fuzzily detailed ailment to sophomore winger Kate Bacon.

Bacon, who came back from a prior injury for the second game of the season along with classmate and linemate Abby Gauthier, took to the sidelines again for last night’s tussle with Yale, reducing PC to a mere three-and-one-thirds forward lines.

“No comment,” head coach Bob Deraney initially replied when asked to explain Bacon’s absence. But, when prodded a little further, he offered, “She’ll be out for three weeks.”

Oof. Now what? Still yet to hand fellow forwards Jackie Duncan and Jessie Vella their game-time attire at any point in the young season, and still not pinpointing just when that can and will happen, the Friars will have to indefinitely subsist on the services of 10 attackers and allow for, at most, two constant forward lines instead of three.

Last night, keeping the consensus top two lines intact as always, Deraney primarily had Bacon’s spot on the third-line left wing plugged by the likes of Pam McDevitt and Bre Schwarz, both of whom have not had a line to call their own yet this year. McDevitt would tally one shot on net and draw two of the Friars’ seven power plays. Both players got away with an even plus/minus rate.

Meanwhile, in a game pitting two injury-shriveled, 16-skater rosters, even the zebras were not immune to the on-ice injury endemic. A mere 14 seconds into overtime, referee Julie Piacentini took an inadvertent clip to the face and left the scene clutching her right eye. Luckily, with partial thanks to her visor, she escaped without considerable damage.

Shootout summary
The contesting teams conducted a harmless shootout after their 2-2 draw went final last night with the Friars unofficially prevailing, 1-0, on the strength of third shooter Jess Cohen slipping in a five-hole conversion.

PC goaltender Genevieve Lacasse pushed away all three bids she faced, starting with another dramatic thwart of Bray Ketchum’s –whose stimulating breakaway carried real weight moments prior in overtime; continuing with an upfront stick save on Caroline Murphy; and concluding with Berit Johnson watching her wrapper trickle behind Lacasse, only to scamper away from the net.

Yale’s Jackee Snikeris prevailed against Ashley Cottrell’s backhand bid and got a break against Jean O’Neill, who illicitly pumped home a rebound. But she could not answer Cohen, who like Erin Normore against Niagara last year gave the Schneider masses a virtual walk-off in just the second shootout they have ever witnessed.

In the year-plus since the new format was introduced, PC has yet to see a tangible Hockey East shootout on its own pond.

Slow whistles
The uneventful first period trend carried on last night as the Friars lulled through their fourth scoreless opening frame in seven games this season. As if that weren’t enough, there were no stoppages of play between the opening face-off and the 4:38 mark, at which point Schwarz was flagged for tripping.

Quick feeds: The line of Cottrell, O’Neill, and Laura Veharanta combined for a hefty 20 shots on net. Veharanta was credited with the initial assist on Cottrell’s goal, equaling her third point of the season (all helpers)…Cottrell’s five goals have her in a four-way tie for the league lead, opposite Boston College’s Allie Thunstrom, Boston University’s Jenelle Kohanchuk, and Maine’s Jennie Gallo…Both of PC’s losses this season have been immediately followed by ties…Sophomore defenders Jennifer Friedman and Christie Jensen each picked up their first point on the year in the form of an assist…Brown University, tomorrow’s opponent for the 15th annual Mayor’s Cup clash, opened its season last night with an ultra-vinegary 8-1 home loss to Connecticut.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, October 23, 2009

On Hockey

Ready for redemption
Friars poised to pick their game back up

With the natural passage of time as their prime cooling agent, the PC women’s hockey team has long cast off the psychological remnants of their first forgettable outing in 2009-10, which, as it happens, was but six days and one game ago.

When it happened last Saturday, ultimately kneading itself into a 3-1 home falter before Syracuse, the patently bad news was that they had, by their own admission, not boasted their best stuff.

But since about Sunday, considering it was one out of six total games played, the good news was that they had not boasted their best stuff –whereas on other meaningful occasions, they have. And overall, it’s been good enough for a satisfactory 3-2-1 record.

“We played two strong teams already early on in the season in Clarkson and St. Lawrence,” junior forward Alyse Ruff recently said, referring to a northern excursion two weeks ago that saw the Friars tangle with two national Top 10 staples, push them both to overtime, and emerge with at least a morally digestible 0-1-1 transcript.

“It just goes to show that we have a strong team this year and we can certainly do well as long as we come to play every day,” said Ruff.

Apart from the three aforementioned contests, Providence has scraped out three home wins, sweeping Maine on opening weekend by a cumulative 6-1 and lashing Colgate, 4-1, a week ago tonight.

Three more home dates are right on tap to round out this critical tone-setting month of October, beginning tonight with a visit from Yale.

“It’s just a chance to move forward and a chance to improve and to continue working on what we do best,” said Ruff. “We’re a fast team, we have a lot of skilled players, and obviously we have a strong goalie in Genevieve (Lacasse). I always look forward to every game we have.”

Working on what they do best? One of those already evident elements lies in their overall two-way game. Out of each defensive pair, one member –namely Colleen Martin, Amber Yung, and Lauren Covell- has made a healthy habit of touring the puck herself from the blue line to the depths of the attacking zone.

It is unmistakably a healthy habit because it seems any given forward is both flexible and attentive enough to plug that void on the point whenever it happens. It’s an occurrence vaguely reminiscent of when a lacrosse long-pole hustles the ball across the center line, impelling a midfielder to hang back. And it has already amounted to two goals, nine points, and 51 shots by designated defenders.

Additionally, the Friars have kept a solid grip on their spirits even when they haven’t had the upper hand. They have authorized the first goal in four out of six swirls and trailed during a total of seven individual stretches, but only once have they trailed by multiple goals and only twice have they failed to pull even. Furthermore, they have owned the latter two periods by an aggregate score of 15-8.

Move forward? That kind of speaks for itself at this point.

Improve? Hey, this team doesn’t seem like it would shy away from cracking open the playbook and doing a thorough, honest inspection for glitches.

Three jutting wrinkles that could still stand to be ironed out: first, the fact that they are tops in the league in penalty frequency, racking up a median of 13.3 penalty minutes per game.

Second, while the Friars have more often than not benefited from letting the ice sharpen their skates as the night progresses, it couldn’t hurt to make more ripples in the opening period, where they have been outscored 3-1 over six games thus far.

The third fissure is, to be fair, beyond their control, but the Friars must be yearning for their first opportunity to dress a hearty pack of 18 skaters. They have already subsisted through one game with a mere 15, then reincorporated sophomore strikers Kate Bacon and Abby Gauthier, who with new linemate Nicole Anderson are making passable headway with their game of catch-up.

“I’m pretty excited about our lineup,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “We’re not even close to being as good as we can be, but we are getting better. That’s a real positive sign.”

Rookie defender Emily Groth and forwards Jackie Duncan and Jessie Vella are still out of the game frame, though all three have been physically active of late. There is no real telling how they will each be integrated once they are pronounced ready for action. On the whole, though, the three full forward lines are all hinting at a smooth gelling process, so look for Duncan and Vella to rotate with Pam McDevitt and Bre Schwarz, who just might need little more than a constant third linemate to get their mills churning.

Just the same, while Ruff and starting center Ashley Cottrell have both nobly stepped up to double-shift and supplement that line as needed, they could stand to get a little break and focus solely on their respective full-time lines.

All that will take is one more healthy body.

“If we can all get healthy and add those people to our lineup, it’s just going to add some more depth to a lineup that I think is pretty good right now,” said Deraney. “Our future’s bright.”

So, too, can be their present. It will be up to them tonight to exploit a Yale Bulldogs team that is finally breaking in its game schedule and, if only for good measure, to refresh everyone’s memory of the pre-Syracuse Friars.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hockey Log

Centering her attention
Ruff accepts new responsibilities as a pivot

PC women’s junior forward Alyse Ruff may ordinarily conform to the ultra-attentive, ignore-all-trivial-anecdotes principle of collegiate athletics. But a spurt of human nature showed when she was reminded of the fact that, as of last Friday, all three of her season-opening goals have come at the expense of Colgate.

“I am aware of that and I think it’s very ironic,” she said yesterday. “I wasn’t sure if that was true, but I definitely knew that my first goal of my freshman year was against Colgate –and it was probably one of the worst goals I’ve ever scored. I missed the net, it bounced off the back (boards), and I somehow put it in. But yeah, it’s kind of funny.”

Ruff carried on with her habitually mild self-effacing tendencies as she assessed her first few weeks as a full-time center, a position she regained after having temporarily tried it early in her rookie campaign before sticking strictly to the wing over the last year and a half.

Her relative promotion to the weightier post around the face-off dot and at the core of each zone is not much of a surprise based on the way her game has evolved. As a freshman, Ruff’s defining characteristic was strictly nosing after the net, which amounted to a hefty bushel of 14 goals. Last season, she balanced her output between 10 goals and 10 assists and also earned a regular spot on the penalty killing brigade, hence the implication that she could be relied on to play a decent two-way game.

“I found out I was going to be playing center this summer and I can’t say that I like it, but it’s the position that I’m playing,” she said, matter-of-factly accepting that she is pretty much there to stay.

“I think my sophomore and perhaps my junior year in high school, I was playing center,” she recalls. “But it’s much different at the college level. It’s obviously a lot faster and the other centers are just better, probably because they’ve been playing that position they’re entirely lives.”

For what it’s worth, Ruff, who cultivated three assists before her icebreaker goal on Friday, has at least this much to show: through six games, she has won 51 out of 93 face-offs for a .548 success rate, second on the team only to the .592 winning percentage of first line pivot Ashley Cottrell.

And between Ruff, freshman Jess Cohen, and senior Arianna Rigano, the Friars’ second line has already combined for seven goals, six assists and 59 shots on net in their first six outings as a unit.

“I think center, just as a position in general, requires a lot of skating,” Ruff said. “If I could, I would prefer to still be playing right wing, but (playing center is) doable and I love the other two linemates I’m playing with. Jess Cohen is very talented and Anna has improved tremendously since last year.”

Cohen crowned again
Through her game-clincher Friday versus Colgate and her third period strike against Syracuse on Saturday, the aforementioned Cohen regained her claim to the Hockey East Rookie of the Week laurel, having already earned it two weeks ago. Her six points on the year knot her up at the top of the freshman scoring chart with New Hampshire’s Kristine Horn, her former teammate at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

Additionally, Cohen is already one of three individuals in the league with two deciding goals –opposite Northeastern senior Lindsey Berman and Vermont sophomore Kailey Nash- and now boasts the Friars’ best plus/minus rate at plus-5, tied with goaltender Genevieve Lacasse.

Quick feeds: The final repercussions of Saturday’s 3-1 falter to Syracuse have more or less passed through. The Friars’ vote distribution in the USCHO poll shriveled from 12 to three yesterday evening…With 364:05 minutes already under her belt in the young season, Lacasse has seen more ice time than any other goaltender –or any other player, for that matter- in Hockey East…Senior forward Pam McDevitt is the last active PC skater still without any penalty minutes…After four consecutive tangles with New York-based institutions, the Friars will play all of their next nine games against New England-based adversaries, beginning this weekend with Yale and Brown dropping in and continuing with seven Hockey East contests. Six of those nine total contests will be at home.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Hockey

Syracuse sting leaves the Friars orange-red

There was every indication of it coming in, but just their puck-luck, the PC women’s hockey team had to verify, in the most vinegary fashion, that the sophomore Syracuse program is anything but your easy-going Halloween cupcake with Orange icing.

Minnesota, Boston College, New Hampshire, and Connecticut have all learned as much themselves this month, but none of them would have to spill a full two-point package in the process.

Yesterday afternoon, the Friars did as they dropped a numb 3-1 decision at Schneider Arena. It amounted to their first regulation falter in six ventures and an untimely drawback to an otherwise irreproachable start to their season.

Now at 3-2-1 overall, PC has also endured its first regulation loss and first home loss on the year. Perhaps more tellingly, though, they acted as their own strict tutors in learning the value of tuning out any Vegas-like odds, which frankly would have favored them on all four home dates so far.

“There are no easy games,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “Even new teams are not really new teams because we don’t have a transfer rule. So kids can go from one program to another and make a second-year program really good. They’ve got some great players. (Julia) Marty’s a good player, (Talia) Menard’s a good player, and (Lucy) Schoedel has some experience in the net. There’s a lot of parity (in NCAA women’s hockey).”

Syracuse departed the ice yesterday looking, feeling, and sounding a lot like the Friars of years past. That is, after repeatedly rebounding from a handful of clips to the teeth, they could indulge in persistence finally paying off.

Yet even for the mini packet of Orange buffs on hand, this was hardly an excitingly flavorful way to pull off that much-anticipated first W. On the whole, it was ho-hum hockey from start to finish. A noticeable smattering of would-be icing calls died before they reached the goal line, the two defensive garrisons took on a laser-beamed look to bar effective net crashes, and both contesting stoppers summoned whistles at every chance they could get.

For their part, PC would command a final shooting gallery by a count of 29-20, but didn’t lay down many prolonged stays in the attacking zone. They took a mere two penalties and killed them both with reasonable facility, but similarly mustered little ignition on any of their four power plays. Save for one early opportunity in the second, during which they leveled five shots on net, they failed to test Schoedel at any time with the numerical advantage.

In fact, some of the Orange’s best threats were on shorthanded rushes, including a three-on-one heroically snuffed by the quick-thinking defender Amber Yung and goaltender Genevieve Lacasse in the sixth minute of a first period that saw a mere 5-4 shot count, Providence favor.

But then the once-blessed second period turned its back on the Friars, who had outscored the opposition, 9-1, in the first five middle frames of the young season. And it was probably no accident that Deraney singled out the likes of Marty and Mendel when he highlighted Syracuse’s gems.

Marty, a transfer out of PC’s Enemy Epitome in New Hampshire, struck twice in the second to ultimately spell the difference. She first broke the ice at the 9:28 mark when she lassoed a loose puck on the porch, turned a full 360, and roofed it home. The Orange didn’t even record another shot on net until Marty slugged home another one at 12:14, which effectively granted her linemate Mendel her second helper on the day.

Meanwhile, throughout the latter two periods, several spontaneous shuffles rippled through the Friars’ barren offensive corps, though Deraney explained that was more a product of circumstantial chaos than a presage of full-scale realignment during the forthcoming practice week.

“I wasn’t tweaking the lines,” he said. “We were just trying to play a high-tempo type of game. They were playing it pretty fast and we had to make sure we used our personnel appropriately. Power plays can kind of wear you down when you’re not effective on those. Then we took a couple of penalties, and that didn’t help.”

Neither, ultimately, did freshman Jess Cohen sawing the deficit to 2-1 at 2:18 of the third. There would be no riveting reversal a la the previous weekend’s visit to St. Lawrence. Just an empty netter via Janelle Malcolm and one ear-battering beep of a wake-up call.

“I thought we were awful today,” Deraney bluntly concluded. “It had nothing to do with the other team either. We just didn’t play the way we were capable of playing. They deserved to have the breaks because they worked harder.”

Sounds sort of like Deraney wants to rhetorically ask what an exact opposite outcome yesterday could have done for his program going forward. That may be the motivational “what if?” he will need to toss out over the next few practices.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com