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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vermont 2, Women's Hockey 1

Catamounts catch Friars napping

Last night, the PC women’s hockey team misplaced its magic at a moment when one would have hardly expected them to.

Other than a temporarily valid game-tying goal, inserted midway through the third period by assistant captain Jean O’Neill –who thereby extended her scoring streak to eight games, the longest such tear by any Friar this season- there was nothing to boast about in an eventual 2-1 loss to the plebeian Vermont Catamounts at Schneider Arena.

Instead of reclaiming first place in Hockey East, which an idle Northeastern team had usurped on Tuesday, the Friars let the league’s cellar-dwellers have an extra breath of hope in their nearly deceased playoff dreams. But naturally, that came at a vinegary price in the form of their first loss since a 4-1 drop to Wisconsin two nights after Thanksgiving and first non-win since a 4-4 knot at St. Cloud State one day after New Year’s.

For a team that has habitually amplified its hunger when playing the nation’s “big girls” all season, and in doing so has reaped constant rewards on the scoreboards and leaderboards all through this month, the Friars still have a contrapositive tendency to reduce their intensity and collect less booty, if any, when playing the featherweights.

“It’s a very long season, and I think they’re looking to catch their breath,” head coach Bob Deraney said of his own pupils. “You can’t catch your breath. We’ve mentioned it, and they know it: there are no easy games. You have to come to play every night, or else a result can happen that is undesirable.

“It’s an endurance test. There is no time to take it easy. You have to come ready to play every night. I think that’s what happens. We’re not very young, but we’re a young team, and I think young people want it easy, but hockey is not a sport where you can have it easy. Hockey is a mental grind because it’s a six-month sport.

“You can’t enjoy the season until it’s over and you can’t take it easy until it’s over. We want it easy sometimes, but it’s not going to happen for us.”

Right from the opening draw last night, the Friars were anything but themselves as the nation has grown to know them this month. In the first period, they scraped out a modest eight shots on net –most of them discharged from long, unpromising range- and took the brunt of the technical and personal fouls. They were guilty of all four icing calls and took the period’s lone penalty, a hooking infraction against freshman forward Jess Cohen at the 13:52 mark.

As a direct consequence of the Cohen call, PC wound up conceding the first goal and trailing in a game for the first time since before their seven-game winning streak began. On the cusp of Cohen’s jailbreak, while undirected bodies collapsed on the porch of Friars’ stopper Genevieve Lacasse (8 saves), Vermont’s Maggie Walsh lateralled a loose puck to Peggy Wakeham along the wall of the near pint. Wakeham let an awkward floater sail high and home over Laccase’s mitt.

Leading the shooting gallery, 8-5, through the first intermission, the Friars would only yield one second period stab to the Catamounts. But at the same time, they did little to flip on their own ignition when the puck was theirs, ultimately throwing five more biscuits at goaltender Kristen Olychuck (23 saves).

Would-be passes from the corners to the points had a way of turning into free clears for the Catamounts. Would-be passes across the neutral zone refused to connect and turned into icings. And even a few decent power play cyclones still amounted to nothing.

“I think a couple of time, the puck ended up in the crease and we just couldn’t put them in,” Deraney said. “They won the battles in front of the net, we didn’t."

For the first time this season, the Friars –despite all of the time they consumed in the attacking zone- were scoreless at the conclusion of 40 minutes. Another six minutes and 45 seconds of utter malaise passed before Vermont’s Jackie Thode was flagged for hooking, granting PC its third power play.

The Friars left their faithful hanging for still another minute and 55 seconds before Cohen forked the puck from a furious scrum in front of a sprawling Olychuck and nimbly fed it to O’Neill, who raked it home from along the near post with 11:20 to spare in regulation.

But the converted energy expired in a relative hurry and Vermont renewed its lead for good with 7:58 remaining. All it took was for Chelsea Rapin to halt at the offensive blue line, absorb a forward shipment from teammate Channing Ahbe, and race down Broadway uncontested to snap the decider low to the right of Lacasse.

“Give Vermont credit,” said Deraney. “They played pretty hard and made things difficult for us. We had some scoring opportunities. We missed the net. And when you get opportunities to score, you’ve got to score. We didn’t do that today.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com