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Friday, October 30, 2009

On Hockey

The case of the missing A-game
Friars vie to reignite this weekend

Bob Deraney had to stretch some second-rate truths in order to subtly acknowledge the more pressing truths in the aftermath of last Sunday’s Mayor’s Cup mayhem.

Theoretically, the PC women’s head coach could have offered Brown goaltender Katie Jamieson at least a dollop of credit for performing her fundamental duties amidst the Friars’ 19-shot tempest in the first period. And he would not rightly be blamed if he at least minimally faulted the injury-induced depth chart chaos that has complicated the continuity in his line combinations.

But there’s something equally obvious about the Friars’ latest results, especially Sunday’s 5-1 falter and a 3-1 slip before Syracuse a week prior. Deraney saw much better from his pupils –full bench or not- against certified national heavyweights in the opening month of this season. Of their five “non-wins,” as it were, the only two that didn’t go to overtime, didn’t see more than one PC goal, and didn’t see the Friars bite back once they were down, were against two ostensibly softer adversaries.

Conversely, two weeks ago, Providence flaunted a rabid appetite to ascend the national ladder when they faced a pair of ranked programs in Clarkson and St. Lawrence, ultimately posting a 0-1-1 transcript and a combined 6-5 deficit, but still picking up votes for a bigger bolder, honorable mention.

Overall, in their first five games, the Friars were an irreproachable 3-1-1 coupled with a decent 15-8 scoring differential. Since then, they have slipped and slid on an 0-2-1 run and an aggregate 10-4 scoring deficit.

What’s happened? Did that first half of October just fetter them with excess confidence?

“I think it could have been a factor in that,” conceded junior A-captain Jean O’Neill. “It’s one thing we have to be aware of and not let it get to our heads in future games. The results are always unfavorable when things get to our head like that.”

If that is the root of this recession, then there is not really much for Friartownies to fret about. It can’t be much more than a matter of replenishing the approach that amounted to the aforementioned 3-1-1 start.

Then again, the first step is proving they can follow through on a bold pledge, which is now a prerequisite to regaining what they have already proven.

O’Neill made the boldest pledge yet when asked about the coming weekend action, which features a visit from Boston University tomorrow afternoon followed by a Sunday day trip over to Connecticut.

“I expect two wins this weekend,” she said. “Plain and simple, four points. We match up really well with both these teams. They’re both going to be huge battles. We just need to capitalize on our chances and put the puck in the net.”

Presumably, O’Neill derived her mini Mark Messier-like assertion from hunger to restore order and not, say, the Friars recent history with the Terriers and Huskies, which has been favorable enough to carry one away. Last year, PC wrested their season series from BU at 2-0-1 and from UConn at 3-1-0, those two losses requiring more than regulation to occur.

But at the moment, their two upcoming adversaries have a little more national credibility. The Terriers, a bizarre 2-1-4 thus far with a whopping five overtime decisions, have nonetheless retained their Top 10 membership all season. They enter the weekend in the No. 10 slot in all relevant surveys.

Meanwhile, UConn has finally cracked out of its offensive chrysalis and, with two wins last week by an aggregate 12-2, nabbed two honorable mention votes in the US College Hockey Online poll.

Their name gone completely missing from all polls for the first time this year, the Friars have a cordial invitation to simultaneously regain the job-well-done sensation they sorely need and a dollop of can’t-hurt recognition. Furthermore, with the next seven games all within Hockey East boundaries, it’s their chance to build on a current tie for first place with Northeastern and to follow up on the anonymous preseason opinion of two league coaches who think they are most fit to win the WHEA pennant.

Beyond that, it will be a chance for unanimous All-Rookie selection Laura Veharanta to really thaw out her twig. It will be a chance for another nine individual skaters to snap a scoreless streak two games of age or older, which would inevitably bump up the offense from the No. 7 slot in the league rankings.

In recent years, the chief reason the Friars have been little more than a .500 performer is a shortage of goals to complement their watertight defense. Lo and behold, that is again why they are a level 3-3-2 going into this weekend.

Expectably, Deraney had addressed his team’s topmost need prior to the season. But so far, especially in the recent hiccup, it’s been as though the opposing stoppers are way ahead of the plan. The Friars have leveled a reasonable 98 shots on net their last three games, though a mere four have tuned the mesh.

The solution is within hooking distance, though. They just need to keep hacking, act like they want it, and act like they know what they’re doing.

“Goalies on other teams are always going to come out big,” said O’Neill. “We just need to shoot for under the crossbar, through the five-hole, just spots where we’re more likely to score goals. We just have to capitalize on the opportunities we have.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hockey Log

Anderson picking up her power

Coming in, her standards were already as comparatively towering as her team-high, 6-foot-even posture, but by sheer circumstance PC women’s freshman Nicole Anderson has been forced to prop up an emotional levee amidst an unpredictable gale of injuries and shake-ups.

Anderson has been a mainstay in her assignment as the Friars’ third line centerpiece since she arrived for orientation. Her associates on the left and right wing alike, not so much.

For the first two weeks of practice, while sophomores Kate Bacon and Abby Gauthier polished off their respective recoveries from preseason ailments, Anderson was flanked by converted defender Bre Schwarz and senior grinder Pam McDevitt. Once Bacon and Gauthier were reintegrated, they bumped those two into a rotation role, but at least the Friars had three constant lines and two flexible spares to work with.

Then last week, Bacon went down once more, resulting in a four-way personnel rotation within the three slots on the third line. And now, at gametime, any given pair can flank Anderson with a spontaneous call to duty.

Remarkably, for a rookie who already has to worry about mastering a two-way position, Anderson has remained unfussy and uncomplaining.

“I don’t think it affects us that much,” she said. “Obviously, it’s difficult but I think we’re handling it fairly well.

“We should have four full lines, but we basically only have two full lines and then the mixtures, so it’s pretty difficult,” she confessed, albeit in a relaxed, soft-spoken tone.

Individually speaking, Anderson has little to complain about. Even while the majority of her mates have misplaced some of their flare from earlier in the month, she has conversely picked up her production. Through her first four college games, she had an infinitesimal two shots and zero points to speak of. In the last four, she has upped her collection to 12 shots along with a 2-1-3 scoring transcript.

“I think I’m getting better at this level,” she said. “The pace is a lot faster from high school and I’m still trying to get used to that. But I think I’m managing so far. I just have to keep going, keep up the hard work.”

Most encouragingly, four of those dozen shots and both of those strikes have fallen on the power play, one with each of two regular units. In all, she accounts for one-third of the Friars’ six extra-strength conversions.

Not to mention, both of her goals have served as much pleasure to the eye as they have to scoreboard. Anderson’s icebreaker fell while she was linked up with the likes of Ashley Cottrell and Laura Veharanta versus Colgate two Fridays ago. She merely perched herself above the near inner hashmark for a late second period face-off, magnetically collected Cottrell’s win, and zipped it home with but 1.2 seconds to spare.

One week later, working with Jess Cohen and Alyse Ruff, Anderson was roaming free before the far post when she absorbed an upward shipment from point patroller Jennifer Friedman and backhanded it behind an unprepared Yale goaltender, Jackee Snikeris.

“I’m still learning the power play,” she humbly insists. “But I think both units have been working out equally well.”

Penalties on a par
The Friars have gotten at least a slight stable grip on their discipline detonator, significantly lowering their frequency in the penalty box. With eight trips to the bin themselves and 11 for the opposition over last weekend, those two parties have pulled even for 48 minor infractions apiece –or an even six citations per game.

Quick feeds: Up-and-coming recruit Corrine Buie, an Edina (Minn.) High School forward by winter, has scored four goals and three assists in her last six games for Team Metro West in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. Meanwhile, defender Maggie Pendleton –another future Friar from instate rival Woodbury High- has charged up four helpers for Team Metro East…With 34 registered shots on goal, senior winger Arianna Rigano ranks fifth in that category amongst all Hockey Easterners…Boston University, visitors to Schneider Arena this coming Saturday, was ranked No. 10 in both major national polls this week. Connecticut, slated to host the Friars this Sunday, has two honorable mention votes just below the USCHO leaderboard.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Hockey

One period wonders

As it happens, October 25 has hardly been an auspicious calendar date for the PC women in recent years. Two years back, they retched a wretched 5-0 decision in favor of Connecticut. And last season, a 1-0 lead at the end of Period One ultimately devolved to a numb 3-1 home falter before Boston College.

Not that any of that is supposed to influence the here and now, naturally. Regardless, if their exhibition game with McGill University a month ago to this date was their fire drill, the Friars were inexplicably ill-prepared for the third period inferno issued by Brown University yesterday afternoon.

Not unlike that harmless training tilt with the collegiate queens of Canada, the final result was a foul, fall-from-ahead, four-goal deficit –a 5-1 loss, specifically. This time, though, the Friars paid by watching the Bears wrest the Mayor’s Cup out of their clutch, listening to what must have been cicada-like whistles from the road fans in Schneider Arena, and dropping to an even .500 (3-3-2) on the year, when they could have been a comfy 4-2-2, or two games above the fence.

That was the magnitude of a forty-minute collapse that followed a decent, but still not job-finishing first period. And afterwards, head coach Bob Deraney was in a state slightly reminiscent of Steve Martin in the predicament scenes of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

“They continued to fight and we thought the fight was over,” he said bluntly. “We just thought it was eventually going to happen. It never eventually happens. You have to make it happen, and we didn’t.”

It seemed all good through the opening stanza. The Friars drew three opposing penalties and none of their own. Over those three power plays, which included a brief 5-on-3 segment and a nonstop 3:43 stretch of extra strength, they discharged 15 total shot attempts and reached goaltender Katie Jamieson 19 times on the whole period. One of them went through via Abby Gauthier at 11:27.

Even then, Deraney had something more ominous on his radar than what most in the barn likely detected. After all, his pupils were creating a favorable imbalance in ice shavings between the zones but not in terms of rewards on the scoreboard. They didn’t even convert during the aforementioned stretch of overlapping Brown penalty kills.

“I don’t think it’s their goalie,” he said when asked how it stayed merely 1-0 through intermission. “It’s our poor shooting. We had plenty of opportunities to score and we just didn’t put the puck where we needed to put it. She was down and out, out of position, and we made her look good tonight.

“When you get 19 shots and one goal, that’s not enough,” he continued. “We had a chance to put the game out of reach in the first period and we didn’t do it. That’s the ballgame right there, because they’re saying, ‘Hey we’ve got 40 minutes to go and we can play better.’ We’ve got 40 minutes to go and we think it’s going to be easy. And that’s what always happens when you think that.”

What happened took its sweet-and-sour time unfolding. In the second period, wherein PC outshot the Bears 8-7, goaltender Genevieve Lacasse survived two heart-stoppers. One was on a convincing snapper by Kelly Griffin from the near circle-top that dinked off the post less than thirty seconds after the opening draw. The other was a breakaway by Sasha Van Muyen in the 15th minute, mere moments after the Friars had spilled another power play (3 shots) that might have otherwise restored a lead deleted by Erica Farrer at 1:10.

At best, the extreme shift in momentum was giving off a foreshock at that point. But the third period was an unmistakable icequake. The Bears owned the shooting gallery, 10-5, beating Lacasse on two consecutive stabs at 2:48 and 7:54 and again between 11:22 and 12:59.

With a mere 4:48 to spare, the overcooked Lacasse gave way to Christina England the same way she did in the McGill scrimmage. Only here, England was finally shattering a marathon of anticipation. She had waited two-plus seasons, 79 games, and 37 appearances as a bench-bound backup to make her regulation game debut.

What’s that they say about anticipation versus what you get? Yeah, England proceeded to make three saves in an uneventful anticlimax. The bigger picture had sunk in already.

The Friars, now winless in their last three twirls after an irreproachable start and with roughly a quarter of their regular season on the shelf, have little to say and a thickset freight to do.

“We’ve got good enough players. We just have to get it done,” Deraney concluded.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hockey Log

Battlefield Schneider
Friars set to renew rough-and-tumble rivalry

When queried about today’s crosstown clash with Brown University (2:00 p.m. face-off), PC women’s hockey head coach Bob Deraney released an uncanny succession of bellicose terminology.

Apparently, that just can’t be helped. After all, coveted civic bragging rights are contained in the Mayor’s Cup and like any hunk of hardware, that Cup has a way of sterilizing every outside disturbance.

“It’s going to be a war,” Deraney asserted. “As we’ve found out in years gone by, we’re playing for the Mayor’s Cup on Sunday. So throw the records right out the window on Sunday.”

Indeed, last year’s installment of the Divine City Dance was one of the season’s more rigidly contested bouts for either side, but especially the Bears, who were a foul 2-8-1 going in versus a PC team bearing a more stable 6-6-2 transcript. Backed by tireless goaltender Nicole Stock –who has since graduated and moved northward to tutor the likes of Florence Schelling and Leah Sulyma at Northeastern- Brown confined the statistically superior Friars to a mere 1-0 triumph.

Three years ago, Brown was winless in its first nine whirls but splashed that drought with a drink from the Cup after dumping the 3-6-3 Friars, 4-2.

Furthermore, the fact that the last twig-lock was a PC victory, and the Friars’ first at Meehan Auditorium in Mayor’s Cup history, just might spark more incentive for the Bears to dish out a little eye-for-eye justice at Schneider Arena this afternoon.

Unwavering in assuming the toughest possible matchup, Deraney made no mention of Brown’s abysmal first impression on Friday, an 8-1 home loss to Connecticut. He is relying strictly on the tape of the Bears’ exhibition with the Toronto Jr. Aeros last weekend for any scouting report he can trust.

“We have a national tape exchange,” he said. Then he continued with more of the blood-and-guts motif. “It’s kind of like sending bullets to your own execution, so to speak. We sent them a DVD of us and they sent us a DVD of them, and they had an exhibition game last week, so I get a chance to look at that.”

And what did he find?

“We’re going to have a good Brown team coming in here. They’re going to be good and they’re going to be physical.”

Rebuilding reflections
Precisely one-third of Brown’s 21-player roster consists of freshmen, including goaltender Katie Jamieson, who will duel with junior to Joy Joung for Stock’s old spot in the crease, and two of their first-line forwards.

Similarly, Friday’s Schneider visitor from Yale boasted a total of eight rookies and five sophomores out of 21 rostered players. It’s not unlike the comprehensive refill project the Friars went through last season when they integrated 10 newbies (nine freshmen plus a junior transfer in Arianna Rigano).

“I just think we all go in cycles,” mused Deraney. “You try to stay away from that big graduating class where you’re only graduating about five players a year. But, inevitably, it happens for different reasons and that’s the nature of college sports.”

Quick feeds: The Friars are 4-1-1 all time at home with the Mayor’s Cup at stake and have won each of the last three contests here…Based on Friday’s line chart, Brown freshman Erica Farrer, the younger sister of PC men’s junior forward Ben Farrer, is on the third-line left wing with fellow rookie Laurie Jolin and junior Jenna Dancewicz…The Bears’ roster represents a total of five states, five provinces, and two European countries in the Ukraine (sophomore forward Vicki Mykolenko) and the Czech Republic (rookie Alena Polesnka)…The Friars will hold their annual fundraiser against domestic violence at today’s game. Prize pucks will be sold in the lobby at a price of $10 apiece…Today will be PC’s first of eight scheduled Sunday games this season. Last year, the Friars were a cool 5-2-0 on Sundays.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com