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Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Hockey

On their way back up

For more than one excruciating week-plus, the chart-topping tune for the PC women’s Billboard State of Mind Songs’ list had to have been Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold.”

“You’re hot then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in then you’re out, you’re up then you’re down.”

They’re hardly back to where they want to be after yesterday’s 3-1 falter at the hands of Boston University, which docked them to a 3-4-2 record on the year and a 1-3-1 finish to a five-game homestand. But based on head coach Bob Deraney’s assessment, the new theme song is something more along the lines of the timeless “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.”

“First of all, it’s nice to have our team back,” Deraney said after his pupils dropped the decision on a freak wrap-around goal by BU’s Jenelle Kohanchuk late in the third.

“I thought we played really well today. Obviously, I’m not satisfied with the result, but I am very happy with the effort today. We competed, created great chances, we stayed out of the penalty box. We played the game the way it’s meant to be played.”

As the calendar Zamboni made its monthly tour around the books this morning, the Friars seem to be rerunning a lot of old, unfavorable patterns. They have again finished October at sub-.500 overall and are not quite asserting themselves against nationally ranked competition. The tenth-rated Terriers were the third such adversary this season and, coupled with a 3-2 overtime slip at Clarkson and a 3-3 knot at St. Lawrence three weeks back, PC is 0-2-1 in that regard.

But there are acceptable explanations for all this –the most conspicuous of those being the chronic short bench scenario. Fascinatingly, Deraney was in no mood to accept that as a factor a week to date when his pupils egregiously spilled the Mayor’s Cup to Brown University, 5-1. But in that game, they had potted a brittle 1-0 lead on a 19-shot first period brittle and then dozed off.

Conversely, facing certified contenders has consistently impelled the Friars to break out the requisite resolve to make games exciting. For all the knowledge of all mortals, the presence of a Kate Bacon or a Jessie Vella may have been all they needed to tip the scale their way on a night like that.

But, as this author would often hear from a coach from a past sportswriting gig, you can’t coach against injuries. You have to use what you are allotted and swear by the “What doesn’t kill you…” adage.

“I think our kids are doing yeoman’s work because we haven’t had a full team since we stepped on the ice,” Deraney granted. “We’re getting better and I think we’re going to be better for it in the long run.

“Even though it hurts right now, some people are getting some valuable ice time that they might not have gotten. That experience is going to pay off.”

Right now, although there is little of it to be gauged, the bushel of offensive output points to decent top-to-bottom balance in the making. Of the 17 skaters to have suited up so far, 12 have discharged 10 or more shots on net, seven have unloaded at least 20, and the head-turning Arianna Rigano has a team-best 37, one more than she accumulated all last year as a junior transfer out of Division-III Saint Anselm.

No doubt Rigano is one of those extra-ice beneficiaries Deraney was referring to. Other developmental standouts include the two active freshmen, Nicole Anderson and Jess Cohen. Anderson has cracked her chrysalis in the last three weeks for two goals, an assist, and 12 shots after a mere two stabs in her first four games. And Cohen, though held pointless her last three outings, already has two Rookie of the Week laurels to her credit and has been an inseparable linemate of Rigano and Alyse Ruff.

Top gun Ashley Cottrell’s six goals account for 30 percent of the team’s total of 20. But her eight points constitute a slimmer 16 percent of the team accumulation of 50. Cohen follows that with six points (12 percent), then Jean O’Neill with five (10 percent), followed by another 12 personalities, including goaltender Genevieve Lacasse after she assisted on Cottrell’s goal yesterday, with somewhere between 2 and 8 percent of the PC scoring pie.

A few individuals, mind you, still have catching up to do. But that ought to show up on the surface by the time Bacon, Jackie Duncan, Emily Groth, and Vella all vacate the injury ward and potentially allow for a fixed four-set of forward lines and three-set of defensive pairs.

“Getting some people back in our lineup and being able to go deeper into our lineup will give us fresher legs during the games,” Deraney observed.

“There are a lot of positives to look forward to,” he added. “I don’t think the first quarter is indicative of the type of team we are.”

Well, at least all the mental, preparational, and psychological ailments appear to have healed.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Boston University 3, Women's Hockey 1

Kohanchuk, killers squeak BU past Friars

A little more pre-ordered punch on their part, and the Friars might have had a facile and pleasurable time exploiting Boston University’s D-plus-grade gang of penalty killers yesterday.

The trouble was PC had been too busy all week kicking ice chips over the rancid remnants of a submissive loss to Brown the week prior. So even in defeat, a 3-1 outcome at Schneider Arena, and even with a 1-for-6 finish on the power play, head coach Bob Deraney allowed the reheating fundamentals a little more microwave time while his team, first and foremost, proved that they have their willpower back on straight.

“It’s nice to have our team back,” he said. “I thought we played really well today, (but) when you play against a good team like Boston University, you can’t give them gifts, and we gave them two gifts today.

“Obviously, I’m not satisfied with the result, but I am very happy with the effort today. We competed, created great chances, we stayed out of the penalty box. We played the game the way it’s meant to be played. I thought we did a good job.”

Going in, both contesting clubs were primed to wash out relatively fresh vinegar, the Terriers having just surrendered a 7-2 decision at Clarkson. And to start, while the host Friars applied all the pressure –heavily leading the shooting gallery 8-2 through 14 minutes, forcing whistles around the net and by virtue of BU icings, and inducing BU penalties- the Terriers never budged, amounting to a scoreless opening frame.

Boston, the last team to get around to playing an intraleague contest until yesterday, settled down a little more after their first power play late in the first, and afterwards the game was another testament to the primordial parity in Hockey East, top gun Jenelle Kohanchuk ultimately spelling the difference on two third period strikes.

“We’re good enough to be in every game and we’re good enough to stay in every game too,” said Deraney. “I love our league, it’s very competitive from top to bottom, and today was another example of that. They’re the No. 10 team in the nation and it could have been a different outcome today.”

It certainly could have been different if the Terriers had played like the team that came in with a toe-curling 67.6% penalty killing rate. But by day’s end, they had done enough to improve that mark to 69.8% (borderline C-minus).

Over six total chances on the day, the Friars’ power play packed eight shots at BU stopper Melissa Haber (24 saves). During their fourth opportunity, granted at 4:45 of the second when Tara Watchorn went off for hooking, they thrust five attempts in one continuous buzz, though they were all blocked, telepathically directed wide, or dinked off the post.

But the main point was, in those first four chances, they never tuned the mesh. Furthermore, two minutes after they killed their third penalty, a carry-over holding call against Kathryn Miller, the still-dignified Terriers snatched a 1-0 lead at 2:27 of the second as Britt Hergesheimer leveled home a slapper from the near circle-top.

“I said to the team that you don’t get instant gratification,” Deraney said. “What I mean by that is there’s a new work ethic in practice. I think we kind of got lax there a couple of weeks ago and just because you get back to what made you successful doesn’t mean it’s going to happen immediately. But we saw some signs of that hard work.”

Eventually, with Miller caged again for bodychecking Nicole Anderson and the Friars on their fifth extra-strength chance in less than 40 minutes, a little gratification finally came. Point patroller Lauren Covell paused with the puck behind her own net while her mates were in regrouping mode and eventually let Ashley Cottrell swing by to pick up the disk.

Cottrell (team-leading four shots) would dart the full length of the far alley, cut uncontested to Haber’s property, and deposit an in-your-face conversion just 17 seconds before the Friars could fall to 0-for-5.

But Boston would ultimately restore its lead on a similar act of stealth. Just as the Terriers’ laser-beamed PK square had repelled all of those swarms in the first two periods, Providence had kept the radiant likes of Kohanchuk and Jillian Kirchner off the scoresheet.

That changed with 6:27 to spare in the third as the starting linemates engaged with defenders Jennifer Friedman and Christie Jensen behind the net. The puck ultimately dripped in behind Genevieve Lacasse (22 saves), Kohanchuk lacing in her seventh goal of the year and granting Kirchner the assist.

Kohanchuk would finalize the 3-1 upshot on an empty netter with a mere 3.5 seconds remaining.

“They got the breaks today and we didn’t,” shrugged Deraney. “It’s really as simple as that.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Covell returned to forward

Erin Normore she is not, certainly not at this stage in her career and, given the lofty standards, likely never in the future.

Still, PC women’s sophomore Lauren Covell has made her slightly belated impression as a capable and flexible two-way puck pusher, able to accept reassignment from defense to forward or vice versa on demand.

Strictly a winger in all of her 24 appearances last season as a barren frosh, Covell had assumed a blue line post for the first eight ventures this year and promptly turned heads with two assists in as many weekends. And then, prior to yesterday’s matinee tangle with Boston University, she found herself back amongst a still-shorthanded offensive corps.

In effect, with the tweak, PC head coach Bob Deraney coaxed his backline brigade to sacrifice one of its bodies and left each position with one void on the depth chart as opposed to a disproportionate two cavities amongst the forwards.

“That’s using your personnel,” said Deraney, who is not settled on keeping Covell up front full time but was encouraged by the first impression. “Every game is different. You look at who you’re playing against, strengths and weaknesses, and then you use your personnel accordingly. We felt, against Boston University, that would be our best use of our assets and our personnel to be successful. And I think it paid off, even though we didn’t win.”

Covell –whose one shot attempt on the day hit the post in the fifth minute of the second period- did return to her point perch for every special teams sequence, and that was where she extracted her third helper on the year.

Within the final two minutes of the second period, the Boston PK cleared their zone and convinced Friars’ stopper Genevieve Lacasse to play the puck behind her cage. Covell arrived on the scene, held up, and then handed things over to center Ashley Cottrell as she swooped by.

Cottrell proceeded to go on a quite Normorian trek along the far wall, never relinquishing the puck en route to potting the equalizer and granting assists to Covell and Lacasse alike.

As for Covell’s assignment in today’s visit to Connecticut, Deraney said, “It definitely worked today, so we’ll talk as a staff and look at UConn more as the opposition.”

Another battle for redemption
Not unlike yesterday, the Friars will again have a stark conflict of interest today as both clubs concerned are seeking to redeem a loss. This afternoon’s opponent from Connecticut (4:00 p.m. face-off over at Freitas Ice Forum) is coming off its second fall-from-ahead 3-1 road slip to New Hampshire of the season.

Just as they did four weeks prior, the Huskies nabbed the initial lead, only to have the Granite State Goddesses perk up and preserve their seamless all-time Hockey East home record at the Whittemore Center. The loss docked UConn to 0-2-1 within league boundaries this year.

“Hey, I think they’re just like (BU),” said Deraney after his own team’s 3-1 falter yesterday. “They’re going to work extremely hard, they’re going to go four lines deep, any mistake you make can end up in the back of your net. You just can’t give them any gifts.”

Quick feeds: Yesterday was the five-year-old BU program’s first win at Schneider Arena in club history and their first regulation knockout of the Friars since February 2, 2008…For the second time this season, the Friars finished even with the opposition in the shooting gallery, each side charging up 25 registered stabs…BU won 35 out of the game’s 58 face-offs…Yesterday’s first period was the fifth scoreless opening frame out of nine total games this season. The Friars curbed the opposing strike force through intermission for the fifth consecutive outing…PC and BU will lock twigs twice more in a mere two weeks, converging on Boston’s Agganis Arena November 14 and returning to Schneider the following afternoon…Five of the Friars’ eight November games will be at home, but they begin the month with two on the road. After this afternoon’s day trip to UConn, they shall come back to gear up for a Friday excursion to Maine.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com