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Monday, January 4, 2010

On Hockey

Ruff wraps another gift for PC women

St. Cloud, Minn.- It was Game No. 21 in the Friars’ 2009-10 endeavor and it fell on birthday No. 21 for the young woman who sports No. 21 on the back of her sweater.

Even for nonbelievers in hockey-based omens, therefore, yesterday has to go down forever as Spooky Sunday, seeing as Alyse Ruff pumped home both goals in PC’s 2-0 triumph over Minnesota State, granting herself a savory 3-1-4 weekend transcript and the team a 1-0-1 record in their excursion to the Easton Holiday Showcase. (Just remember, though, this is the player who in each of three collegiate seasons has not gotten her scoring groove on until she has lit one up on Colgate, so Friartownies might be advised to petition the Red Raiders for next autumn’s season opener.)

Already an elder stateswoman on the Friars’ relatively youthful offense and a convert from wing to center as of her junior campaign, Ruff seems to have settled on a new production line flanked by her classmate and off-and-on partner Jean O’Neill and progressive rookie Jess Cohen. The newly molded threesome combined for 10 registered shots on St. Cloud State in Saturday’s tempestuous 4-4 tie, then collaborated on yesterday’s decider on a power play with 2:06 gone in the second period.

By day’s end, Ruff, O’Neill, and Cohen had launched 11 of PC’s 31 total stabs at Mavericks’ goaltender Alli Altmann, who between Ruff’s two strikes had engaged in a nearly excruciating air hockey-paced battle with Genevieve Lacasse, who would turn away all 31 shots issued by MSU to salvage her first shutout since opening night of this season.

Ruff’s dagger goal, inserted with 10:05 to spare in the third period, would grant ex-linemate Arianna Rigano her fourth assist on the year and stay-at-home junior defender Leigh Riley her second point. It also added on to the junior pivot’s history of timely, breath-granting tallies.

The timing, execution style, and implications of yesterday’s insurance goal virtually matched that of last year’s Hockey East quarterfinal versus Connecticut. That day, the Friars subsisted on Laura Veharanta’s icebreaker from the 0:14 mark of the opening frame all the way until there was 10:10 gone in the third when none other than Ruff characteristically halted on the porch of goaltender Alex Garcia and waited to spoon home Erin Normore’s pass from behind the net.

Of course, that play had its own identical ancestor. Less than four months prior, the same visiting UConn team would victimized with the third period more than half-gone and a salivating PC strike force on the power play attack. Six seconds after a 5-on-3 morphed into a 5-on-4, Ruff capped the power play cyclone by tilting home a feed from Veharanta, spawning a 1-0 edge en route to a 2-0 triumph. It would be her third decider in as many Providence wins.

Overall, having now played in all 93 possible games and charged up a 31-22-53 log in her career, Ruff has stamped seven game winners plus one equalizer. Out of 31 total goals, 17 have come in the third period, including six of her seven this season.

On eight separate occasions since orientation, she has spotted the Friars a one-goal edge. Another four times, she has augmented a brittle lead to a cozier two tally difference. She has thrice sawed a two-goal deficit in half, and five other times she has pulled a knot on the board. (Remember when she singlehandedly deleted that 2-0 Vermont lead in the third period back on November 10, 2007, effectively paving the way to a 4-2 victory?)

Perhaps most enticingly, though, Ruff has contributed consistently and substantially on the power play, having poured on 21 career points in that situation, including a 4-4-8 log this season –second only to Ashley Cottrell for the team lead- and a 2-1-3 showing this weekend.

And much to head coach Bob Deraney’s delight, the power play wealth has diversely spread beyond Ruff. Cottrell has four goals and 10 points when PC is at least one player up, Veharanta and Nicole Anderson each have six points, O’Neill and Amber Yung five. As a team, over their last nine outings, the Friars have connected on 14 of 52 opportunities, swelling their connectivity rate from 11.9 to 18.9 percent in that span and placing them second in the league behind New Hampshire in the power play department.

That situation could still be a little more rewarding. After all, under altered circumstances, Providence might have pounced on a late invitation to put St. Cloud State to rest on Saturday and allow Ruff’s unassisted conversion to stand as the winner. Instead, they slipped and settled for a bittersweet draw.

No matter. For Ruff in particular, the do-over worked rather well yesterday. Now all heads shall turn to this coming weekend’s two-game home series with Cornell. That would be the team which, one year ago today, happened to spill a 3-0 lead and allowed the likes of Ruff to score twice and polish off an exhilarating 4-3 win for the Friars.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com