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Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Hockey

Landmark win packs more than trivial implications

The PC women’s hockey PR staff responsibly began to foretell the approach of win No. 600 in the program’s 36-year history well before the initial puck-drop on the 2009-10 campaign.

Only seven more to go, the official game notes’ spread proclaimed prior to the season opener versus Maine, after which it could claim there were only six rungs to climb. One day and one more repression of the Black Bears later, it was a mere five strides.

From that angle, which is one that every fervent Friartownie is sure to assume, Providence should have given rival New Hampshire its first bit of company in the 600-win club a lot sooner than they did. But that would not be the only milestone, nor the most vital on the table, that PC collected in yesterday’s 6-3 lashing of Cornell at Schneider Arena.

Try registering the fact that, on the heels of last week’s 2-0 triumph over Minnesota State, the strictly here-and-now Friars were keen on raking in their first pair of back-to-back wins since the aforementioned Maine sweep three months ago. In fact, they were also vying to win on back-to-back weekends for the first time all season.

One other thing: upon morphing its record to 7-7-8 at yesterday’s final horn, PC is .500 overall for the first time since dipping to 3-4-2 on October 31.

In every case, a better-late-than-never attitude is in order, so take it or leave it. At the moment, the 600-win phenomenon is just a free bonus to a batch of savory on-ice hors d'oeuvres served up at Schneider yesterday.

Though substantially shorthanded (12 skaters dressed) with Laura Fortino, Lauriane Rougeau, and Catherine White all away with Team Canada at the MLP Cup, Cornell came bearing the nation’s sixth-best defense (1.69 goals-against per game), best discipline (nightly median of 6.8 penalty minutes), and topmost penalty kill (47-for-48, or a 97.9 percent success rate).

The Friars would keep their tactical dismantling simple, puncturing the Big Red’s tiny tanks early and exploiting cold goaltender Katie Wilson in her season debut for three strikes on 12 first period shots.

The home offense slightly decelerated for two second period goals, one insurance strike in the third, and a combined 15 registered stabs in the latter 40 minutes, but kept their collateral high while Cornell could only suck in the occasional wind of desperation. That would only be good enough for two tallies on an aggregate 17 shots in the second and third stanzas.

Given the nearly blemish-free face of the Cornell PK, the Friars’ power play brigade might have been forgiven for going 0-for-4 and thus cooling its collective hot streak of 14 conversions in nine ventures, even if yesterday’s upshot were less favorable.

But what really kicked ice chips over the power play letdown were the abundant and timely even-strength goals and the diverse distribution of points across the scoresheet. At least one member of each forward unit –including the whole starting trinity of Jess Cohen, Jean O’Neill, and Alyse Ruff and the entire third line of Kate Bacon, Arianna Rigano, and Jessie Vella- had a point, as did three defenders.

When Bacon –who is scrapping for her old production rate after off-and-on injuries set her back last term- broke the ice at 8:19 of the first, she granted the likes of Leigh Riley and Rigano each their second assist in as many games.

Suddenly roused to a predatory, shark-like sugar rush, the Friars landed two wayside bids off the next face-off before O’Neill spawned the 2-0 edge 96 seconds after Bacon’s connection.

O’Neill submitted a team-leading five SOG, concomitant with her goal and two assists for the best single-game transcript in her college career. By assisting on O’Neill’s goal and subsequently collaborating with the junior A-captain to set up Ruff’s eventual game-winner at 8:37 of the second, Cohen stretched her welcome-back hot streak to four helpers in three games. In turn, Ruff has four firsthand points in the same span and her first three-game scoring tear since about this time last year.

Somewhat Xeroxing the Bacon saga, three other hard-luck grinders made their own day in augmenting PC’s lead to 5-1 before the second intermission and then to a commanding 6-2 early in the third. Senior center Jackie Duncan set up stay-at-home sophomore Christie Jensen’s first career regulation goal with 5:18 to spare in the period. Then, at 3:08 of the closing frame, Abby Gauthier –who entered the game with a minus-6 rating, the worst among all Friar forwards- inserted her fourth goal of the season unassisted.

Chances are, long after the last of the ink for this season has evaporated, the Big Six-oh-oh and the top line’s performance will be yesterday’s two best-remembered aspects. After all, O’Neill and Cohen had multiple points the same way Myia Yates (hat trick), Katie Lachapelle, and Jess Tabb all did in the program’s 400th all-time win over Yale on February 7, 1999. And their centerpiece Ruff was credited with the decider same way current assistant coach Meredith Roth was in Win No. 500 versus Boston College on February 22, 2004.

But more to the pressing matters, PC is finally in a winning rhythm and all-time wins No. 601, 602, 603, etc. will each emit more significance than their immediate predecessors. For starters, today’s task will be rerunning yesterday’s assertive effort, upping the pivotal interleague record to an even 4-4-4, collecting another invaluable knockout of a nationally-ranked opponent (3-5-3), and leaping back over the right side of the .500 fence.

An enriched past always wants to make room for an equally positive present.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com