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Friday, January 29, 2010

Hockey Log

Friars stand watch for possible UVM surprise

If one who swears by the stats sheet insists on classifying the remainder of the PC women’s hockey schedule based on nominal “winnability,” then there are two simple groups to consider.

Four of the regular season’s final seven games shall be played against fellow national poll-dwellers (Harvard tomorrow evening, Northeastern next Saturday, and Connecticut twice the week after).

Group II –beginning with a home date tonight and two road ventures three weeks from now- consists of three tilts with the Vermont Catamounts, who have shaped out as the greatest disappointment in this year’s Hockey East pennant race.

Vermont rates either dead-last or second-to-last in every category on the league leaderboard –from offense to defense to discipline to both ends of the special teams’ spectrum. Their top point-getter, senior forward Chelsea Furlani, has a grand total of 15 points, which is good enough for a four-way tie for 28th among all Hockey Easterners. And ever since a fairly encouraging October, where at one point their record glistened at 4-1-0, the Catamounts have floundered for the better part of their schedule, now digesting a 7-17-1 overall transcript.

In other words, very little has changed on the Green-and-Gold landscape from previous years. But that is precisely why the Friars –winners of their last seven games and one point out of first place in the WHEA- are taking a professionally cautious approach to their still-unopened season series.

When reminded of the gaping, databased discrepancies in the matchup, head coach Bob Deraney did not immediately swing into a state of humble denial. But he still managed to throw in a caveat.

“Look at our record against them lately,” he said, naturally referring to the past two seasons, wherein the Friars reached the verge of sweeping the season series, but whiffed on their third swing.

In 2007-08, when Vermont followed through on a 4-0-0 start with a three-month-long, 19-game winless nightmare (0-18-1), they briefly liberated their shattered psyche by beating Providence, 2-1, in Part II of a weekend set at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

And thus, although four of seven Hockey East rivals would sweep their season series against the Catamounts that year, the Friars were not one of them.

Last season’s falter was particularly egregious from a PC perspective as it fell in the form of a 5-2 home loss. It was Vermont’s first win in eight tries, its second in 13 hacks, and one of only four league victories it would have claimed by season’s end.

Three teams swept their season series with 2008-09 Catamounts. And yet again, the Friars were excluded from that fairly inclusive sorority.

Having been there, having suffered that, junior A-captain Jean O’Neill insists she and her mates know better than to get caught sleepskating like that again.

“We need to go into the game the same way as you go into every other game,” O’Neill said with her characteristic simplicity. “Every Hockey East game is a challenge. All the teams are strong, and you never know what the outcome is going to be, so I think we have to come in with the same mindset as we would playing a ranked team.”

It is not as though Vermont is playing for diddlysquat yet, Deraney noted. In fact, their desperation has earned them some invaluable table scraps of late.

Three weeks ago, the Catamounts splashed an eight-game winless drought with a 2-1, nonconference road triumph at Wayne State. And last week, they latched on their second conference victory by tipping over Boston University in overtime.

But more notably, Deraney said, they couldn’t complete the weekend sweep, spilling a 3-2 decision to the Terriers on Sunday. As a result, their window to the playoffs has lowered a few more inches, therefore their desperation figures to grow that much higher.

At this stage in the playoff derby, the Catamounts cannot come up empty-handed in their visit here tonight or to Connecticut tomorrow night. Otherwise, any subsequent combination of a loss and a victory by Boston College (out of league action until next weekend due to the Beanpot) will dash their bid for a postseason passport.

“They have nothing to lose and they’re eager to make up what they’ve lost,” said Deraney. “Their goalie (Kristen Olychuk) can get hot as we’ve seen in the past. She’s stonewalled us before, so we can’t have enough goals. If we don’t score, it’s anybody’s game.”

Quick Feeds: Although she has not tuned the opposing mesh in her last 12 appearances, Vermont sophomore Kailey Nash –the pride of Newport County pucksters- continues to hold the league lead with seven power play goals. PC rookie Nicole Anderson, while similarly swamped in a slump, is still ice chips behind with six power play strikes…Ex-Friar Brittany Nelson, now a senior captain for her hometown Catamounts, ranks third among her teammates with 11 points, but has only two assists since New Year’s and no goals since October 24…In six total games against her old team, Nelson has accumulated two goals and four assists. Those six points equate what she charged up in her 32 games as a Friar in 2006-07 and constitute 15.8 percent of her career totals as a Catamount.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com