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Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Hockey

Friars vie to exploit Eagles

Through its ascent to real deal national relevance in recent weeks, the PC women’s hockey team has already verified the adage that preaches beating the best in order to enter the company of the best.

They have done so by doubly dispatching long-ranked Cornell, which earned them the No. 9 slot in last week’s USA Today Top 10 poll, and then pulling off a most startling sweep of New Hampshire, a feat which this week got them first-time admittance to the tenth slot on US College Hockey Online’s leaderboard.

With that squared away, now would be the right time to show the way to retain –or, better yet, build upon- such coveted recognition once one has it. The best method is showing why you are among the best and the hottest by repressing the colder teams while they are down.

Enter the Boston College Eagles, who are here today for Part I of a home-and-home set, slated to entertain Part II tomorrow up at Conte Forum, and still trying to thaw out from a month-long slump.

When PC and BC last encountered one another two weeks prior to Christmas, their records were an identical 5-7-6 overall. By night’s end, after the host Eagles claimed an extra Hockey East point in the postgame shootout, they continued to bear duplicate transcripts at 5-7-7 apiece.

Since then, though, the Friars and Eagles have literally been the league’s hottest and coldest teams, respectively. Providence is on a 6-0-2 tear for the nation’s second-best active unbeaten run, whereas Katie King’s shorthanded pupils are missing the input of Olympic ambassadors Kelli Stack and Molly Schaus more direly by the day. Including their knot with the Friars, they are a vinegary 0-4-3 in their last seven games.

And with Vermont’s surprise 2-1 overtime defeat of Boston University last night, every one of the Eagles’ conference cohabitants has now notched at least one W during their protracted famine.

But this slump could be a lot worse from a BC standpoint and this weekend’s matchup card could look a lot easier from a Providence perspective. The Eagles, as they have recently demonstrated at the expense of St. Lawrence and the Friars themselves, can perk up its shallow strike force when the situation is desperate enough and the opposition is not sharp enough to safeguard its lead.

Twice in their last six outings, while unable to seal a full two-point package, the Eagles have salvaged a tie by deleting an initial two-goal deficit in the closing stanza. They did so back on Dec. 11 when they initially trailed Providence, 2-0, before the game was 10 minutes old, only to slow down the bleeding and ultimately whip up two strikes of their own in the third. The Friars’ ordinarily reliable power play spilled five chances after the first period that might otherwise have wrested that game out of reach.

More recently, nine days ago up at Chestnut Hill, the Eagles let St. Lawrence sculpt itself a 3-1 advantage, but pulled even via rookie Caitlin Walsh and revivalist sophomore Mary Restuccia within the final seven minutes of regulation. And two weeks to the day, to a slightly less dramatic degree, they cemented a 3-3 draw versus Yale with five goals coming in a matter of two minutes and 52 seconds halfway through the second period. Starting at the 9:50 mark and ending with 12:42 gone, an initial 1-0 BC lead morphed into a 2-1 deficit, then a 2-2 knot, then a 3-2 disadvantage, and finally a 3-3 tie.

Case in point, BC’s relatively unripe and numerically challenged line chart –which has but 16 skaters, including six freshman and six sophomores, to work with on any given night- can click and make an outing worthwhile when they have the chance. And the more desperate their situation becomes late in the season, the closer they might be to blowing their top on someone.

If the Friars don’t want to be that victim –and they ought to detest that prospect more than anyone at the enchanting rate they’re going- they will need to come out quick and confident (as they have done a lot lately) and work towards draining the Eagles’ tanks.

Indeed, in all five of their January games, BC has authorized more than 10 opposing shots in the third while consistently garnering less than 10 shots of their own. And in their last four losses, they have entered the final frame with nothing worse than a two-goal deficit on their hands. In one case, they spilled a 4-3 edge and watched Northeastern rejoice in a 7-4 triumph. On other occasions, the opposition has simply laid down their insurance and laid down the law around their own net.

Oh, and ever since New Year’s, BC’s opponents have substantially outclassed them in the discipline department, giving the Eagles no more than three power plays per night while earning at least four of their own. As is common knowledge to any Friartownie, Providence has already made a habit of out-disciplining their adversaries all season.

Bottom line, the Friars want anything but a single ice chip of directional diversion for either party in question this weekend. First-place Northeastern is in a nonconference engagement with Niagara, and four points would mean usurping the throne atop the standings.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com