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Saturday, February 13, 2010

On Hockey

Penalties couldn’t kill them
PC PK stops bleeding, makes shootout win possible

Regardless of where one’s party loyalties lie, this was yet another turn of events to send everybody into Tevye “On the one hand…on the other hand” mode.

Last night’s upshot –a 3-3 tie/1-0 shootout triumph in favor of the PC women over Connecticut at Schneider Arena- could have gone better for either team. Yet it wasn’t quite as devastating as possible, either.

More than anything, Friars head coach Bob Deraney took comfort in knowing that, by the time the ice chips settle on this evening’s rematch at Freitas Ice Forum, his team will either be tied for first place or have further augmented its lead in the Hockey East point column.

“It might be one more point, but what it does is it gives us a full game ahead of UConn, which is really important going into (today’s) game,” said Deraney. “It was a gutsy effort by our kids, and we have faced a lot of adversity, some self-imposed, some not self-imposed. But I really admire our kids dug down and found a way to hang on and to get the extra point.”

If they had only taken one less penalty in the third period, instead of letting UConn pull even through a 5-on-3 conversion with 9:29 to spare, the Friars most likely would be savoring a three-point edge over their team breakfast this morning. Still, the Huskies could have claimed one more favorable bounce in the time they had left. Or, for that matter, they might not have let Providence usurp the momentum late in the first and subsequently fallen behind in the second. In that case, they might have had first place to themselves right now.

Instead, the one-point differential remained constant through 65 minutes, and Laura Veharanta’s backhand spooner in the fourth round of the shootout nudged the Friars up by just one more notch.

Indubitably, however, Veharanta would never have had the game on her stick like that if, say, Connecticut had stood up on their wave in the third and seized a 4-3 edge in the 96 seconds that remained on Jessie Vella’s penalty after Michelle Binning’s equalizer terminated Christie Jensen’s sentence.

This was hardly the first time the Friars have pushed their luck by letting a discipline detonator threaten a third period lead. But based on their record when leading after 40 minutes (11-0-4 with last night’s tie), it has yet to knock them entirely over the edge.

The drama commenced at 2:02 of the closing frame when Kate Bacon –whose line with Abby Gauthier and Arianna Rigano put forth one of their most outstanding efforts all season- negated a would-be power play when she decided to avenge Jessica Lutz’ illicit bodycheck with a shove after the whistle.

Both Lutz and Bacon were jailed for their respective infractions, and the Huskies got the better of the 4-on-4 as Maude Blain inserted her second goal of the night and sawed the difference to 3-2 at 3:58.

From there, the Friars were forced to kill a two-minute checking minor issued to the towering Nicole Anderson at 6:01. Then, within 28 seconds of Anderson’s release, Jensen was flagged for the same infraction. Still another 36 ticks and Vella was off for hooking, granting UConn a savory 84-second 5-on-3 segment.

Guess what happened? Huskies’ top gun Michelle Binning, seconds after being foiled by PC stopper Genevieve Lacasse, tried the same backdoor maneuver again and shelved an equalizer.

On the other hand, that’s as far as they got on their power play, which ultimately went 2-for-6 on the night thanks to Blain’s first period icebreaker.

“It’s always key,” said Deraney of the PK brigade’s crucial persistence. “You play the situations that are dealt to you. We had a lot of different situations dealt to us. Some we played well, some we played poorly.

“Giving up on a four-on-four goal isn’t a good thing, going down 5-on-3 and giving up a 5-on-3 goal isn’t a good thing, but we’ll be more prepared for them the next time we play.”

The Friars’ most valuable penalty killer last night may have ultimately been their offense. That is, through three unanswered goals between the final minute of the opening frame 14:51 of the second period, they sculpted just enough collateral that UConn couldn’t muster another lead.

Furthermore, there was a fairly diverse array of point-getters on the scoresheet. Rigano inserted her seventh strike of the season and granted the likes of Bacon and Jensen a helper apiece with 50.6 seconds till intermission.

In the middle frame, Jackie Duncan, barely an hour removed from her pre-game Senior Night celebration, buried Goal No. 1 of her turbulent campaign, assists going to Ashley Cottrell and Amber Yung. And about 10 minutes later, Lacasse catapulted a clear to Vella in neutral ice and watched as Vella’s turnaround shipment to Alyse Ruff turned into a freak power play conversion, Ruff’s intended centering pass from the goal line banking in off the stockings of goalie Alex Garcia.

Translation: at least one member of each forward line –including all four centers- plus two defenders and even the Scarborough Save-ior (now with three career assists) made a tangible contribution.

And that, unlike spilling a 3-1 lead in the third, is a good thing for the Friars.

“I think we’ve solidified three and a half lines, and I’m pretty excited about that,” Deraney said. “If you want to be successful this time of year, you’ve got to be more than a one-trick pony. Our team is developing, it is getting stronger and that is exactly what you want.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com