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

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hockey Log

Harvard jolted by ill-timed injury
Kessler’s forced retirement summons unripe Bellamy to crease

In a most melancholy fashion, the Harvard women’s hockey team experienced a variation of the dramatic refrain, “She was that close to retirement,” this week when senior stopper Christina Kessler announced her abrupt retirement due to a torn ACL sustained in a recent practice session.

Kessler’s impact on the Crimson –who will host the Friars this afternoon up at the Bright Hockey Center (4:00 p.m. face-off)- was such that Tuesday’s edition of the Harvard Crimson student newspaper ran the startling news and followed it up with a Top Five countdown of the goalie’s shiniest career highlights.

Only two weeks to this day, Kessler had sealed her Crimson program-record 64th career victory through a 21-save performance en route to lashing Colgate, 5-1. Apart from two occasions against Cornell where four biscuits got by, Kessler had authorized no more than two goals on any given night this season.

And entering yesterday’s action, she was tops in the ECAC and No. 3 in the nation under both the goals-against average (1.39) and save percentage (.944) heading. Only the Olympic-bound likes of Minnesota’s Noora Räty and Northeastern’s Florence Schelling have exceeded that data.

All sentimental and psychological slights aside, Kessler’s immediate successor, freshman Laura Bellamy, has now seen action in six games and owns a 2-2-1 record, coupled with a 1.54 GAA and a .925 save percentage. She worked up her biggest sweat in a matinee yesterday afternoon, repelling 37 Dartmouth shots en route to a 4-1 road win.

And whether it has been Kessler or Bellamy backstopping them, the Crimson skaters have sufficiently complemented her output, taking a slim average of 8.7 penalty minutes per game and averaging 1.3 more goals for themselves than what they have allowed –the fourth-best margin among all Division I programs.

“We’re going to have our hands full, just like we did tonight,” PC head coach Bob Deraney said simply. “I expect our kids to rise to the challenge and make it a terrific game.”

Trying to tip the scale
This afternoon’s excursion to Cambridge will conclude PC’s 13-game interleague slate, an area where they currently stand at 4-4-4.

Translation: having finished sub-.500 against nonconference foes in each of its last three seasons, a flaw that plainly helped to bar them from an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament every time, the 2009-10 edition of the Friars gets one hit-or-miss chance to reverse that trend.

“All non-league games are huge for their national implications,” Deraney stressed after last night’s 2-1 loss to Vermont. “Obviously, (Harvard is) nationally ranked, they’ve got a very good team, and you’re trying to put together a resume that hopefully will be appealing to the (selection) committee and will allow you to continue to play in the postseason.

“This game has tremendous implications on a lot of different fronts, most of all to get us back on a winning run. But we’re excited that we get to play again tomorrow night after what happened tonight.”

Slotted at No. 7 in every major national poll this week, Harvard will also make for the Friars’ 15th tangle with a ranked team out of 29 total outings. Providence is 6-5-3 in that scenario.

Bert’s legacy revisited
As was announced yesterday on the Friars’ website, the late Helen Bert, PC’s former associate athletic director who held the front of the hose when the school flooded its first pond for female pucksters in 1974, will be posthumously bestowed with the inaugural Women’s Ice Hockey Founders’ Award. Commissioned by the American Hockey Coaches Association, the award will be formally presented at the AHCA Celebration of Women’s Hockey convention on April 30 in Naples, Fla.

Quick Feeds: Alyse Ruff, who received belated credit for an assist on Jean O’Neill’s second period goal, led the Friars with four shots on net last night…Ruff and second-line centerpiece Ashley Cottrell both won the majority of their face-offs, Ruff posting a 10-7 record on the dot, Cottrell 13-10. As a team, the Friars edged Vermont, 33-29, in that category…PC is still winless when trailing after the first period (0-4-1) as well as the second period (0-4-0). The Friars are 2-6-3 on the year when allowing the first goal…Vermont was allotted a mere 10 shots on goal, easily amounting to the lightest workload Genevieve Lacasse has had in her first year-plus at Providence. Lacasse has now allowed two goals or less in 19 of 27 appearances this season, but for the third time still emerged with a loss…Ten of the Friars’ 24 shots were on the power play, which went 1-for-4 last night…One night after Ruff achieved the milestone, junior defender Amber Yung will suit up for her 100th career game this evening.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com