• Check out the Free Press founder's new Rhode Island/New England sports blog
  • http://providencesportsscribe.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 30, 2009

On Hockey

Half done, but not nearly finished

Half-full or half-empty? Technically, there is no real difference.

For the PC women’s hockey team, the sine qua non is that they have consumed precisely half of their 34-game regular season slate, have concocted an iffy 4-7-6 overall record, have enough cause to believe that thicker ice lies ahead, and have the patent task of making sure those better days happen.

Were 17 games crammed within a window of 58 days a bit more than a long-shorthanded squadron could handle? Perhaps so, but no one could have planned around that.

Regardless, in their first five games with the maximum allotment of 18 skaters, the Friars have, on the one hand, reinvigorated their scoring touch for a cumulative 15 goals after charging up 24 in their previous 12 outings. That’s a full letter-grade improvement from an even two strikes per game to three.

On their other hand, their record in the latter half of this dying month was 1-3-1. As a whole, they were 1-3-4 in November.

“I’d say we’re inconsistent at best,” said head coach Bob Deraney after Saturday night’s 4-1 falter against Wisconsin. “Some days we look terrific and other days we look like a bunch of individuals who just started playing hockey for the first time.

“I’d like to think that continuity will come now that we’re totally healthy for the first time for a decent stretch. I expect us to continue to get better and start to play a consistent brand of hockey, which we haven’t done.”

As if scrambling to gel a sorority laced with new, wounded, and newly recovered personnel were not enough of a trial, nine of the Friars’ first 17 ventures –including each of the last six- have been against nationally ranked opponents. A 1-5-3 transcript in that situation is not doing them any favors in terms of garnering national recognition, which they will sorely need by March to bolster their shot at a to the NCAA tournament.

Then again, consider the oft-dignified fashion in which they have tussled with the certified heavyweights:

· October 9: Lost a 3-2 overtime decision at Clarkson only after deleting 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in regulation.

· October 10: Kept within hooking distance of nemesis St. Lawrence and salvaged an invisible yet invaluable nonconference point after Ashley Cottrell inserted the tying goal with 1:30 to spare in the third period.

· October 31: Deraney proclaimed “It’s nice to have our team back,” in spite of the 3-1 home slippage versus Boston University. For that particular moment, it was certainly enough to rinse away the vinegar from a foul 5-1 loss to Brown six days prior.

· November 8: The Genevieve Lacasse-Florence Schelling rivalry all but maxed out its entertainment budget as the Friars mustered a 1-1 regulation tie, then nabbed the bonus point in a 2-1, 13-round shootout triumph.

· November 14: Rather than seek seclusion in the wake of a penalty-induced 5-1 deficit through the second intermission, the Friars bit back en route to an eventual 5-3 shortcoming at BU, the first hint that the strike force finally had the ammo import it had pined for since Day 1.

· November 15: Spilling over from the previous game, the Friars erupt for a cathartic 6-2 lashing of the Terriers at Schneider Arena, thus halting a month-long, 0-4-4 hex.

· November 20: Sculpted a startling 3-0 lead against Schelling and the Hub Huskies in the first 15 minutes, but paid back once the Swiss Save-ior regained her identity and her revamped teammates scorched Lacasse en route to a 4-3 final.

· November 27: Warded off the defending NCAA champion Wisconsin Badgers long enough to savor a brief 1-0 lead and ultimately draw a 2-2 knot courtesy of Nicole Anderson’s power play strike with 5:29 remaining.

· November 28: Take Two from the evening prior as Providence withstood a 16-0 shooting deficit in the first period, knotted things up 1-1 late in the second, and held up until the rabid Wisconsin offense mustered a three-goal outburst within the final 2:59 of action.

“I think in a lot of our games against ranked teams, we’ve played extremely well,” said team captain Colleen Martin. “We lost to Clarkson late in overtime and that game could have gone either way, too. We hang in there, we’re a great team, and we’re going to get back to our winning ways.”

If that happens, PC can still make a substantial impression on the pollsters. Assuming the leaderboard generally holds up, there could be as many as about 7-to-10 more bouts with ranked adversaries, starting with a day trip to No. 4 New Hampshire this Saturday.

After that, there will be a two-game visit from No. 6 Cornell in early January, followed by a home-and-home with UNH, a January 30 venture to No. 10 Harvard and another encounter with Northeastern.

And the hockey gods know that Boston College –on tap for December 11, January 23, and January 24- could very well pop back on the radar at any time.

However, one luxury the Friars will be far less able to bank on is the comfort of Schneider Arena, where they have already played 12 games and gone 4-5-3. Eleven of their remaining 17 games will be conducted elsewhere, including the last two of the calendar year.

“It’s not as bad as it seems,” Deraney said, noting that after a post-New Year’s excursion to Minnesota, they will actually have six of their remaining 13 games on the Divine Campus. “I think we’re a good team on the road and we’re excited about what’s ahead of us.”

To make good of what’s ahead, PC will need more players to follow the example of slick sophomore Ashley Cottrell, who bears a runaway team lead with 20 points. After Cottrell and Anderson (10 and 8 goals respectively), no Friar has any more than four strikes to her credit. And only three individuals (Cottrell, Jennifer Friedman, and Arianna Rigano) are in the black under the plus/minus heading.

But with the full roster and the rather merciful December deceleration not too far ahead, Deraney ought to have more time, breath, and sanity to freeze his runny line chart. A good first step to consistent results is a consistent arrangement in personnel.

Most recently, especially with the revivals on offense, on the power play, and in such leaned-on individuals as Jean O’Neill and Laura Veharanta, they have flaunted most every hint of improvement outside of the win column.

“Right now, we’re doing some good things,” said Martin. “If we keep working hard, the bounces are going to come our way and we’re going to start winning games.

“We’re a hard-working team and we’re talented, so as long as we’re finally glued, we’ll be fine.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com