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Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Hockey

Lacasse won’t yield any breaks
Injury clouded by winning effort

Burlington, Vt.- Amidst last night’s crucial bout at the Gutterson Fieldhouse, a source close to the Providence College women’s hockey team gave this author a better-than-nothing peek into the ultrasensitive injury report.

The revelation was rather mind-boggling. Apparently, glue girl goaltender Genevieve Lacasse had sustained a not-so-negligible upper body injury in Thursday’s practice session shortly before the team was slated to bus off to Burlington.

Yet she still suited up and assumed her position for her 33rd start in as many opportunities this season, ultimately becoming the first goalie in the nation to log at least 2,000 minutes played on the year and backing a 4-2 PC triumph with a 20-save performance.

All of this happens to be on the heels of her Wednesday nomination, opposite 44 other initial candidates, for the 2010 Patty Kazmaier Award. Odds are Lacasse will have the same type of difficulty going much farther on the Patty ballot than she has had making headway in the Canadian U22 program. The individual competition is just too overwhelming.

Conversely, and thankfully if you are a Friartownie, nothing has overwhelmed Lacasse when it comes to engaging Hockey East and bolstering her team’s cause. Even with her reported ailment –which shall remain unspecified out of ethical disclosure concerns- she could not exactly get permission to sport a temporary handicapped sticker, advising the pride-hungry Catamounts to let her ease in to last night’s contest.

In fact, it was just the opposite. Vermont doled out all of the game’s first seven attempted shots, four of which the Scarborough Save-ior would have to play herself. Two of those were back-to-back power play bids by Emily Walsh and Melanie Greene in the fifth minute.

Lacasse’s skating mates did grant her a brief break after Arianna Rigano’s release from the sin bin at 6:27, muzzling the Catamounts’ strike force for a good five-plus minutes of clock time. But in that same block of time, the Vermont defense was equally thorny.

PC didn’t so much as attempt a stab at Vermont keeper Kristen Olychuck until there was 11:38 gone in the opening frame. Although that shot happened to be the icebreaker goal, courtesy of Nicole Anderson, and it was converted on a swift counterattack issued moments after Lacasse had repelled a stab by Celeste Doucet.

The start of the second period was not exactly like the first. It was more along the lines of Lacasse moving up to Level II on an in-person video game. Vermont lasted a full nine minutes after the initial face-off without letting the Friars pester Olychuck while thrusting out nine unanswered attempts. Although, Lacasse only had to deal with three of those while the other six were blocked or guided wide.

The Catamounts’ third power play, awarded at 9:45 of the middle frame on an interference infraction by Jessie Vella, was a different matter. In a matter of 77 seconds, Lacasse worked up a flash flood’s worth of sweat, kicking out six power play shots and summoning two whistles. But she eventually cracked and let Erin Wente insert an equalizer at the 11:02 mark.

The Friars, however, promptly perked up afterward. At the time of Wente’s goal, Vermont owned the shooting gallery, 17-5. But for the remainder of the period, the Friars usurped control under that heading, 6-1, and renewed their lead via Jean O’Neill at 13:25.

Compared to all of the developments of the preceding 26 hours or so, the final 19 minutes of last night’s tangle were an easy drive for Lacasse. The Catamounts drew another knot on another power play strike at 0:32 via Chelsea Furlani, only to see O’Neill renew the Friars’ lead yet again at 1:01.

After that, the total shots would be 8-4 and the goal count 1-0, both in favor of Providence, Alyse Ruff slugging home an insurance strike with 2:51 to spare. Meanwhile, Lacasse went through one stretch spanning over seven minutes and two additional blocks lasting five minutes wherein Vermont had no tests to offer.

And when the clock rolled up to the 10:04 mark of the closing frame, Lacasse had just played exactly 2000 minutes on the year. By night’s end she had consumed 2009:56 for an even 99 percent of the Friars’ crease time.

Of all the other Division I stoppers across the map, only six stand any realistic potential to join Lacasse in this year’s 2,000-minute club: Laura Dahm of Clarkson, Alexandra Garcia of Connecticut, Hillary Pattenden of Mercyhurst, Jennifer Harss of Minnesota-Duluth, Victoria Vigilanti of Quinnipiac, and Lucy Schoedel of Syracuse. Some of those are a little more likely than others, but all are technically “maybes” until they cross that boundary.

Certainly, Lacasse’s peerless mileage is partially owed to the 11 times Providence has played a fourth period this season. In overtime alone, she has logged a 1-1-9 record coupled with 50:55 minutes and 25 saves on 26 shots faced.

That nearly constitutes an extra game played on top of the 33 she has already started and the 32 she has finished, some with more dignity than others.

Last night, however, saw nothing in the way of OT drama. The fits of tension came first, then the collectively composed reactions, and then a satisfied stride to the finish, and back into sole possession of first place in the conference.

But like usual, it was another testament to the Save-ior’s stamina. So even if this doesn’t get Lacasse all the way to the Kazmaier crown or earn her a repeat of the league’s ITECH goaltending championship, it certainly makes her a prime candidate for the team MVP title.

And especially in wake of the health issue, it should also make one wonder why there is no Bill Masterton Trophy at this level.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com