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Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Hockey

A dynamic, durable duo
Ruff, O’Neill have piloted PC women in hot streak

The name and image of Alyse Ruff seems to gain another coat of notoriety every time her Friars paint another layer of collateral on their transcript, which they have done on a gamely basis for their last seven ventures dating 25 days back to Ruff’s birthday, an occasion that she celebrated by singlehandedly slashing Minnesota State, 2-0.

Last Friday, Ruff joined sophomore Ashley Cottrell –the only Providence striker with more points on the year than her- and head coach Bob Deraney at the Bank of America Skating Center, where they pitched the weekend’s Skating Strides Against Breast Cancer event on FOX 64’s “The Rhode Show.” She proceeded to stamp a 1-2-3 scoring log in Sunday’s 6-3 triumph at Boston College, nabbed her second Hockey East Player of the Week title in four chances, and –just yesterday- had her action shot pasted atop the uscho.com women’s home page.

Just the same, assistant captain Jean O’Neill is appropriately personifying her team’s consistency, having notched at least one point in each of these seven successive victories. In all, she and Ruff lead the team with 12 points apiece over eight games since New Year’s.

“(The winning streak is) really exciting to be a part of,” O’Neill offered. “It just shows how all of the hard work we’ve put in from the beginning of the season is starting to pay off.

“I think the personal success is coming from the team. I couldn’t do this without my linemates who are also contributing a lot. We have a really great line and the team as a whole is coming together.”

That is certainly fair enough, but it seems O’Neill halted her verbal skates on a dime just before she could say something a little more self-crediting. Being two of only five upperclassmen on the Friars’ scoring brigade, and two who have been particularly leaned on since their arrival, O’Neill and Ruff are fittingly the clear-cut catalysts in PC’s recent growth spurt.

In addition to trailing only the likes of Cottrell on the team leaderboard, Ruff and O’Neill have pole-vaulted Arianna Rigano for the lead in terms of shots on net, having landed 81 and 79, respectively. O’Neill owns the best plus/minus rate among all Friar forwards (plus-8), followed immediately by Ruff (plus-7). The two have combined to win three of the league’s last four Player of the Week laurels.

And they have both, as the adage would say, led by example in revising their own standards. At the conclusion of last weekend, Ruff had upped her scoring totals to 10-13-23 on the year. That makes four more points than what she amassed as a frosh and three more than what she collected through the full 36-game ride last season.

Perhaps most encouragingly for Friartownies, she is too busy berrypicking for more to spend any time enjoying the view from her new height.

“To be honest, I don’t follow my points through the season. I’d rather not know,” said Ruff. “It’s definitely exciting. I didn’t know I had 23 points. But I just look forward to working hard and continuing to do well.”

What’s more is, the weekend prior, Ruff had a direct hand in helping O’Neill reset her own bar. By converting a pass from Ruff and bumping PC ahead of host New Hampshire, 2-1, in an eventual 3-2 victory on January 16, O’Neill notched her 18th point of the season, thus exceeding her freshman bushel of 17. She now has 22 points to speak of, therefore needs only four more to surpass everything that she accumulated in her encouraging rookie year and what she sprinkled on last season while trying to restore her old self after a preseason injury.

When it comes to saturating the scoresheet with the likes of Ruff and an equally efficient third party by her side, normalcy returned long ago for O’Neill. One will not soon forget when the two ex-teammates from the Princeton Tiger Lilies partnered with then-junior Mari Pehkonen and constituted the splendid PRO Line for the final 18 games in 2007-08. Although the trinity took four games for anybody to notch a single point, they subsequently combined for 14 goals and 18 assists in their final 14 ventures together.

Pehkonen has since graduated, but on the cusp of the second anniversary of the PRO Line’s assemblage, rookie Jess Cohen took to the right wing on the first line and has served as the Finnish Flare’s virtual recast. In seven games playing with O’Neill and Ruff this January, Cohen has a 1-6-7 scoring transcript, thus splashing a minor drought she had going before the three-week holiday respite.

And, as previously noted, O’Neill and Ruff each have a dozen points since their reunion, which more than doubles what they had each charged up in 19 games before the December deceleration. On six occasions this month, they have shared a hand in the same scoring play.

“We played together in the past before college and our styles of play just kind of coincide,” said O’Neill. “We work well together and Cohen is a really strong player. She buys well into how Alyse and I play.

“Alyse is a very strong and fast player,” she added. “She’s always there to help out when either Cohen or I are in trouble in the corners. She’ll be there to help get the puck out.”

On a quite literal basis, one can claim that Ruff has “always been there,” even for those five games at the start of last year when O’Neill was still recuperating and through the ensuing year-plus when the two worked on separate lines. One of only four active Friars to have suited up every night since her freshman orientation, Ruff will have herself yet another oven-fresh tidbit tomorrow night when she plays in her 100th career game versus Vermont. (O’Neill figures to hit her own centennial milestone when the Friars visit the Catamounts three weeks from tomorrow).

“It’s really neat to be able to play all the time because not everyone has that opportunity,” Ruff acknowledged. “It’s a great experience to say that I was able to play in that many games.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com