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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On Hockey

Dogged Lacasse having better days now

As Genevieve Lacasse goes, so go the Friars. Or perhaps that’s vice versa. Or it may just vary on an unpredictable basis.

This much is certain: in terms of pure achievement, the Scarborough Save-ior is personifying PC's promising U-turn that has herself and her team on a 3-0-1 start to the New Year and a carry-over 4-0-2 run dating back to the advent of December.

Too often in Part I of this season, Lacasse –who easily leads all Hockey Easterners with 606 saves on the year- was in a position rather akin to a loyal wife/mother who does not receive the recognition and rewards she would naturally expect from her constant labor. Such is quite often the anti-glamorous job description of goalkeeping.

After a chill, 19-save shutout on opening night, her fortunes soured to overall mediocrity. While the Friars’ offense was sometimes sufficient, but certainly not always, Lacasse took a prolonged fall below the .500 mark with the team record. That situation might have been a little better if, say, just one or more of those nine overtime games had ended with a PC goal instead of that fourth buzzer which is always more merciful for the two masked-and-padded ladies in question than it is for any skaters who are trying to make the opposing goalie flinch at great cost.

And more goose-eggs? Forget it. Lacasse did confine the opposition to two full-net goals or less in 13 of her first 19 starts, but even that was good enough for merely five wins.

Then again, for all of the mounting unrest and all of the tweaks head coach Bob Deraney made to his lineup during that turbulent period, one thing the skipper let alone was his goalie, whom he removed in favor of backup Christina England merely once for the final five minutes of the Mayor’s Cup mayhem October 25. Immediately after that game, Lacasse was leaned on for the duration of a rigorous stretch that saw Providence confronting a nationally-ranked opponent in eight out of 10 ventures, culminating with the revolutionary 4-1 road overthrow of New Hampshire.

And when the December deceleration was greeted with ambivalence –seeing as the Friars had implicitly compressed the open wound- Lacasse was rewarded as Hockey East’s pick for the short month’s top goaltender.

Since the break, she has consumed 244 minutes and 40 seconds worth of crease time, surrendered a mere seven goals, repelled 117 opposing shots, notched back-to-back Sunday shutouts, and, as of yesterday evening, garnered two consecutive Defensive Player of the Week laurels from the league.

Perhaps most importantly, she has received 15 goals worth of offensive support in these last four games. And while the Friars have repeatedly unloaded about the same loads of ammo as the opposition each night, they are simply tucking home a few more biscuits.

Even last weekend, the egregiously shorthanded Cornell Big Red upheld enough breath to take 25 registered stabs on Saturday and 29 on Sunday while allotting 27 to Providence each day. Cornell was, quite expectably, at its mightiest to start Sunday’s contest, when they wasted little time trying to recompense their 6-3 loss the day prior and ultimately charged up 21 attempts, 14 of them on net.

But to Lacasse’s credit as well as her praetorian guards’, those shots rarely came in immediate succession. Only twice did she have to play two consecutive pucks and another eight times, she simply summoned a whistle. The rest of the time, her teammates shoveled the remnants well away from her property. It all went a long way towards planting an early 1-0 lead and eventually augmenting that lead in the second.

Specific to Lacasse, though, one can already begin to size up a developmental distinction when examining this January compared to last. As a freshman, Lacasse returned from her respite with a recurring fit of numbness. For seven games, PC went on an agonizing loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss pattern, during which Lacasse was even more starkly bipolar. Although she posted two shutouts in that stretch, she was also forked out early from two other games, sat out for the full length of another, and twice surrendered at least four goals, something she had never done in her first three months on the Divine Campus.

Ultimately, she recovered and that proved to be the lone noticeable speedbump on her trek to the ITECH Goaltending Championship and Bauer Rookie of the Year award. Odds are she will not repeat the former title this year even if she can. Northeastern’s Florence Schelling would have to crash like Hoover’s economy, as would New Hampshire’s Kayley Herman for that to be realistic.

But look at the more vital implications. Over her first six appearances back from break last year, Lacasse produced a musty 3.14 goals-against average and an even jerkier .885 save percentage. Conversely, in her most recent six engagements, sandwiching a lengthy holiday, she has averaged 1.62 goals-allowed and a .943 save percentage.

Not to mention, she and the team have an active unbeaten streak of 4-0-2, a foundation for the very type of consistency both parties have long been pining for.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com