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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hockey Log

Bacon, Duncan primed to return
PC women raring to dress a full roster

Other than a long-suffering spectator, Jackie Duncan primarily played the role of a freelance photographer for the first dozen games of her senior campaign with the Friars. But as one of the highlights in yesterday’s practice, where she assumed the right wing of a line with Bre Schwarz and Pam McDevitt, she earned head coach Bob Deraney’s acclaim for –as it were- getting the picture of an ideal breakout.

Not to mention, the likes of McDevitt and Schwarz can now cease to make mere mental pictures of having a third linemate to call their own. It is finally a reality.

And with Duncan as well as Kate Bacon –out the for last six games with a brief injury relapse- back in the equation, the Friars look forward to dressing the maximum limit of 18 skaters for the first time this season in today’s excursion to Boston University (2:00 p.m. face-off).

Based on the arrangements for yesterday’s on-ice seminar, Bacon will also assume a right wing position, linking up with sophomore centerpiece Ashley Cottrell and rookie leftie Nicole Anderson.

Jean O’Neill, who had partnered with Cottrell and Anderson for the previous four games, has now been seen working with Laura Veharanta and Jess Cohen. Cohen’s old spot on the right side with Alyse Ruff and Arianna Rigano figures to be plugged in by Abby Gauthier.

With the forward stable fully staffed, Deraney has reassigned the ever-flexible Lauren Covell to her original blue line firm with Leigh Riley, where she had played the first eight games before a momentary return to the front lines. The other defensive combinations of Colleen Martin with Jennifer Friedman and Christie Jensen with Amber Yung shall remain unruffled.

Home sweet home-and-home
This weekend’s series with BU will be the first home-and-home set the Friars have engaged in all season and their first case of facing the same adversary on back-to-back days since they swept Maine to start the year. Since then, they have confronted 10 different opposing jerseys in as many games.

Not unlike the all but forgotten notion of playing with a full bench, Deraney declared the weekend itinerary another liberating change of pace for his students.

“It’s nice to play the same team back-to-back,” he said. “We’ve been playing a lot of different teams on the (two) different days on the weekend, so that’s tough to do. But I think that’s also helped our team to become better hockey players. The fact that they can do that is just another reason why I’m so proud of these kids right now.”

Vintage Normore
Volunteer assistant coach Erin Normore, a two-way connoisseur for the breadth of her playing career and a mere eight months removed from her final college game, practiced in full gear yesterday, variously supplementing an alternate line with freshmen Emily Groth and Jessie Vella and patrolling the points for breakout and special teams’ drills.

At one point, upon cutting down the far alley into the visiting zone of the Schneider Arena pond, Normore attracted a feed from Groth out of the slot and one-timed it top shelf over the blocker of goaltender Christina England.

Animated over Agganis
Deraney, a BU alumnus, will take part in his first meaningful game at the mint-conditioned Agganis Arena, which opened in January 2005 –a good 17 years after he graduated- and hosts one select Terrier women’s game per season.

“I’ve been in that building and it’s a terrific building to play in,” he granted before lapsing into his habitual team-first mode of speech.

“I’m not excited for myself,” he readily added. “I’m more excited for (the players).”

The BU women are 1-0-1 all-time in their male counterparts’ full-time barn, having tied Maine, 1-1, two seasons ago, and thrashed the same Black Bear team, 8-1, last autumn.

Melissa Milestones
In Wednesday’s 4-0 cleansing of Vermont, BU senior forward Melissa Anderson inserted an insurance goal at 6:34 of the third period, granting her career point No. 103 and thus breaking 2009 alumna Gina Kearns’ program all-time record of 102.

Additionally, Wednesday’s upshot amounted to senior goaltender Melissa Haber’s first shutout on the season and the sixth of her career –four of which have been pasted on the Catamounts.

Quick feeds: The BU power play has converted at least once in nine of its first 12 ventures this season. One of the three exceptions was their 3-1 triumph over the Friars two weeks to this date…Boston sophomore Jenelle Kohanchuk, who connected twice the last time these teams squared off, is currently the WHEA’s most frequent puckslinger with 64 shots on net to her credit and stands alone atop the league scoring charts with nine goals. PC’s Cottrell and BU’s Jill Cardella are in a five-way tie for second with seven strikes apiece… Both today’s and tomorrow’s game can be heard through online audio streaming on friars.com, and Brian Schulz will drop in at Schneider Arena tomorrow, opposite 1999 Harvard alumna A.J. Mleczko, to deliver the USCHO Game of the Week.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hockey Log

Lacasse still keeping the crease clean
PC women’s goalie keeping mates afloat like usual

If Genevieve Lacasse will not say that she has been the single most heavily taxed Friar in the opening phase of her sophomore season, her 2009-2010 transcript will.

The defending Hockey East Itech Goaltending Champion, Lacasse came to training camp having to deal with the offseason departure of two of her creasemates (Danielle Ciarletta to graduation and Jen Smith to transfer). Since the first face-off, while consuming all but seven minutes of the total game action, she has dealt with a smattering of injuries that inevitably drain extra energy from her trusty skaters.

And amidst the Friars’ nearly month-old winless pothole (0-3-4 overall), Lacasse has somewhat lagged behind on the league leaderboard in every goaltending category. Entering Sunday’s confrontation with Northeastern and Florence Schelling, the runaway threat to usurp her claim to the annual goaltending laurel, she ranked fourth amongst all stoppers in terms of both goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.920).

But after one clean, crisp, and classic 65-minute bout –which ended in a 1-1 draw and was followed by an epic, 13-round shootout- Lacasse ascended to second place upon pushing away 28 Husky shots and upping her save percentage to a .924 success rate.

Perhaps most fittingly, as of yesterday, she and Schelling split the weekly honor as the league’s top defensive performer.

But they and their teams couldn’t split the third point on Sunday. Someone had to be outdueled. And Lacasse ultimately prevailed, 12-11, on the strength of several straightforward saves, a few assists from the post, and even a couple of cough-ups by Northeastern bidders who never got their shot off.

“Last shootout against Maine, I lost, so I didn’t want to lose two shootouts in one weekend. That would just be brutal,” Lacasse said in a deep day-after reflection yesterday. “And with our rivalry, I didn’t want to lose to (Schelling), especially since I’m playing with her in the All-Star Game in a couple of weeks. So it felt good to win.”

Dating back to last February, when the Friars grabbed a vital extra point in the regular season finale versus Boston College to salvage home ice for the postseason quarterfinal, Lacasse has won three out of four meaningful shootouts. The last three have all fallen in uninterrupted succession and have all been decided by a single goal.

Until Sunday, though, none of them required a single sudden death inning, never mind 10 of them. But Lacasse insists she was too busy tracking the mischievous biscuit to tally up her shots-faced or to measure the barometer of intensity.

“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “Because while I was on the bench before the shootout started, (head coach Bob Deraney) was asking ‘Do we want to shoot first or second?’ and I said ‘Let’s shoot second’ so there’s a little less pressure on me and more on the shooters, I guess.

“And it went by really fast. When someone said afterward that there were 13 shooters, it didn’t feel like there were that many.

“There wasn’t much pressure. It was fun more than anything.”

One critical stat, however, was plain to discern in the middle of the seventh round. When Northeastern’s Danielle Kerr let a low-riding bid trickle home to the right of a sprawling Lacasse, it was all on PC forward Alyse Ruff to salvage any shot at a home victory.

Without hesitation, Ruff cut with a stallion’s stride down the Broadway lane and let a soft ice-kisser similar to Kerr’s squirt through Schelling’s five-hole.

It was on to Round Eight.

“I was super relieved,” Lacasse admitted. “I didn’t even think it went in at first, because the ref kind of waved it off, but then it was signaled a goal. None of us are really even sure how she scored. But we’re just all really happy it went in. It gave us a little boost.”

Of the remaining six shots she confronted, Lacasse only needed to act on two of them, stoning Stephanie Gavronsky in Round 11 and subsequently getting her right boot on Rachel Llanes’ attempted wrapper. Two other shots (Annie Hogan and Casie Fields) scampered wide and another two (Katy Applin and Kasey Cedorchuk) dinked off the bar before Christie Jensen ended the game in the Friars’ favor.

For what Sunday’s shootout and some of its predecessors are worth, it was a pleasant reminder of the characteristics Lacasse established throughout her sparkling rookie campaign. She is, once again, regularly anchoring her team’s half of a New Jersey Devils’ intrasquad scrimmage and convincing a yet-to-thaw offense to withhold the white flag.

Then again, her supporters are gradually stepping up their performance, having decisively outshot the opposition their last two games and minimized their trips to the penalty box.

So far, it’s been enough to draw a three-way knot for first place in the Hockey East standings. And Lacasse is not afraid to acknowledge that little more than an offensive upgrade will be needed to bolster the cushion.

“It’s really doable,” she said. “We just have to win both games this weekend and keep going from there focusing on one weekend at a time, one game at a time.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, November 9, 2009

On Hockey

Working overtime begins to pay off

Out of 56 total Women’s Hockey East contests this season, 21 have required overtime. Six of those occasions have involved the Friars, who at the sound of yesterday’s third period buzzer stamped their sixth regulation tie (1-1 final) in a dozen total swirls.

And in another five scoreless minutes of clock action morphed their overall record to a peculiar 3-4-5. That’s right. More brother-smooches than either wins or defeats.

PC proceeded to partake in a concentrated, 13-round shootout marathon that only the goaltending card of Genevieve Lacasse and Northeastern’s Florence Schelling can enforce. Ultimately, recent experience won out by an ice chip as the Friars, on the heels of two other shootouts at Connecticut and Maine last week, walked off 2-1 winners on sophomore defender Christie Jensen’s rooftop conversion in the bottom half of the 13th round.

These three consecutive ties will likely keep their national outlook in limbo, but the extra points they earned last week at UConn and again yesterday have tied them with the Hub Huskies and New Hampshire for tops in the league standings with nine points apiece.

Just a reminder for the sake of reminding: the Friars have done all of their autumn apple picking with no fewer than one, but more often two vacancies in their injury-riddled depth chart.

“With the roster that we have and the lineup we’ve been putting out there, I think it’s an unbelievable testament to our kids’ willpower and commitment,” granted head coach Bob Deraney. “Most nights we’re going out there with three lines and five defenders and the other teams have full complements. And yet we’re still finding a way to hang around and give ourselves a chance to win.

“When we get our bodies back and start matching everyone personnel-to-personnel, I’m pretty excited about our chances.”

Deraney would add that all four of the long-missing skaters –namely Kate Bacon, Jackie Duncan, Emily Groth, and Jessie Vella- are all primed for practice this week and, depending on their performance, will have every opportunity to become the long-absent Skaters No. 17 and 18 come Saturday’s excursion to Boston University.

But in the meantime, the shorthanded Friars have been frugal about their energy and, most nights, about their points. And lately, the circumstantial conditioning that comes with a short bench has statistically surfaced in what has been –take your pick- a three-game tying streak or a 2-0-1 Hockey East unbeaten streak.

In the wee days of November, Providence has out-disciplined its collective opposition, 13 minor penalties to six. It has outshot them, 105-87, including a favorable 38-29 differential yesterday against a normally laser-beamed Northeastern defensive force. Yesterday was the first time Schelling had to deal with more than 30 opposing stabs in a single game all season.

And, Deraney opined, “We missed a lot of great opportunities to score. I thought there were some pucks in the crease where we had chances to put it in and just whiffed, muffed, whatever you want to call it. The puck didn’t bounce our way, but we didn’t let that get to us.”

Fittingly, Lacasse and Schelling alike were put to the ultimate test in front of each other’s eyes when overtime expired and so brought on the first meaningful Hockey East shootout to ever take place at Schneider Arena.

And in the one-on-one derby, Friday’s falter in Maine aside, the Friars have rapidly evolved into a class of clutch capstones even while they have yet to polish off a regulation win in their last seven chances. Counting a sheer exhibition shootout with Yale, PC has won three out of four this year by a cumulative 7-5 score.

Naturally, the runaway top dog in the WHEA goaltending ranks wasn’t going to make this one easy. Schelling, Lacasse, and at times their red iron backups, retained a 0-0 draw through the standard three-round shootout, and then duplicated their perfection for the first three sudden death rounds.

In the top half of the seventh, though, Danielle Kerr –one of the last few Huskies yet to notch a point on the year- beat Lacasse low to nudge the Friars halfway over the cliff.

Enter a redemption-thirsty Alyse Ruff. Not only had Ruffed been foiled by Maine’s Brittany Ott in the exact same must-score situation two nights prior, but a delayed penalty against her midway through yesterday’s third period was nullified only because Kristi Kehoe converted on the play, pulling the 1-1 draw and effectively necessitating the extra action.

Ruff recompensed everything when she stepped up and inserted her first strike of any kind against Schelling right through the five-hole. And in another six rounds, Jensen –generally a stay-at-home defender with nothing but three assists in her first 44 career games- lifted the puck and the Friartown spirits high, beating Schelling glove-side.

“We’re looking for difference-makers, gamebreakers, playmakers under pressure,” said Deraney. “And I don’t think there’s any more pressure than when they score and we have to score to keep it going. Alyse made a great play with a tremendous amount of confidence. I think that epitomized it.

“I think our goalie at that point realized she had to keep pace save-to-save and we had (Jensen) step up who really is kind of an unsung hero for us. She plays a lot of minutes and a lot of quality minutes for us and she comes in and wins the game for us. That was exciting for her. She deserves the limelight.”

For at least one day, patience and poise rewarded the unfamiliar individuals with heroism. And it charitably gave the dogged team a wholesome winning taste –even if it was an artificial shootout flavor.

“Needless to say, it’s a gritty, gutsy effort by our kids,” said Deraney. “And I think it’s something that’ll leap us forward here."

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On Hockey

About to fight through the ranks
PC women to close semester with succession of stiff opponents

It’s almost amusing the way Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney took off on Friday’s excursion to Maine with a humble, no-easy-task proclamation, then voiced a plain element of disappointment in the aftermath of the 2-2 tie/2-1 shootout loss up there.

For Friartownies, that would be funny if it were not so serious. But the point should be taken even better than the single Hockey East point PC fished out of the Alfond Pond: Deraney is responsible enough not to overtly denigrate the opposition. But at the same time he must have known, deep down, that his pupils should have nailed a good two- or three-goal knockout of the WHEA’s distinctive bottom feeders.

Reaction-wise, Friday was practically a rerun of the Mayor’s Cup malfunction two weeks to date. After all, the Friars did heave 43 registered shots at Maine goaltender Brittany Ott, including 16 in a span of seven power play segments, but with a mere two strikes, their connectivity rate on the night was only 4.65 percent.

“Whenever you put up 43 shots, you expect to score more than two goals,” Deraney told the Maine Campus. “We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”

He would add, “Penalty killing has been good for us, but we just have to find a way to score on the power play,” Deraney said. “We’ve got to take advantage of them. We’re not right now.”

There you are again. The weaker the adversary, the sharper the coach’s critique if the job is left undone.

Now contrast that with the Friars’ routine response to heavyweight programs. One month ago, they pushed the likes of Clarkson and St. Lawrence beyond regulation, scoring on two of 18 and three of 19 tries, respectively, those two nights. Those make for a nightly accuracy of about 11.1 percent and 15.8 percent.

And last Saturday, the 3-1 falter to Boston University aside, Deraney gave his pupils a free pass, granting that they had only just recovered their incentive and put forth enough mass and acceleration to force a relatively even affair.

From that angle, the forthcoming schedule should be anything but disconcerting. Starting with this afternoon’s visit from Northeastern and running through the December deceleration that will round out the first half of the season, the Friars will have eight consecutive games against current or recent members of the national Top 10 polls.

The hot Hub Huskies, second in the league standings and newly promoted to the No. 9 slot on both relevant leaderboards, are here today and again a week from Friday. The Terriers, who have hovered anywhere between No. 8 and No. 10 since the preseason polls, will be raring for a quick rematch in the form of a home-and-home card next weekend.

After Thanksgiving, none other than the defending national champions from Wisconsin shall drop in for a two-night stay. And then, in December, the Friars will make a one-time stop to New Hampshire –where the Wildcats have refused to cool off and have sat as high as No. 3 in the country this season- and to Boston College –where the elastic Eagles are gradually recovering their groove after a shaky start thwacked them off the radar after Week One.

Chances are, especially with BU's sudden slide this past week and the 5-3-0 Badgers’ mild inconsistency, not everyone will be ranked precisely when they lock twigs with the Friars. But they ought to be more often than not, which equals a luminous invitation for PC to spruce up its current 0-2-1 record against Top 10 teams.

And in any case, everyone on the slate for the rest of the semester is a certified threat. Therefore, at least four wins and certainly no more than three regulation losses in their next eight outings ought to perch the Friars in a snug stocking before they break for the holidays.

But first, they will need to accept a loss of many luxuries that they have largely squandered on some nights. Today, they will have a hard time outdrawing the opposition for the seventh consecutive game for Northeastern is the only WHEA tenant more disciplined than they are, boasting a virtuous mean of 7.8 penalty minutes per game.

Not to mention, the Huskies’ cornerstone, sophomore savior Florence Schelling, has allowed but six goals in her first eight starts on the year, including three shutouts.

Gee, perfect timing for an offense that just mustered its second multi-goal performance in six tries and, in those same six games, has accumulated merely eight strikes after scoring 15 in the previous five.

“That’s why I’m hoping to get our scoring touch back,” Deraney said recently. “They’re a formidable foe. They’re very difficult. (Schelling) takes up a lot of net and she’s not going to let in easy goals, so our margin of error is going to be very small.”

But that was also the case against BU, which ultimately tied the Friars in the shooting gallery, 25-25, and won on a somewhat freak wraparound connection last Saturday. And it was the case against Clarkson, when a cruel overtime strike cost Providence an invisible nonconference point. And it was the case at St. Lawrence, where they repeatedly fell a step behind but never let the deficit expand beyond one goal.

Essentially, they have done all the right things against ranked teams save for tipping the scale their way. Ahead lies a savory chain of opportunities to spruce that up, but the Friars need to embrace it.

After all, PC’s margin of error for the whole season is slightly shriveling every time they fail to stamp a W, which has now officially happened in six straight games (0-3-3). At 3-4-4 overall, and without so much as an honorable mention in the past two weekly polls, they could make valuable pills out of poison if they approach the next month correctly.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com