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Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Hockey

Haunted by ill-fated start
Season-ending loss reflects season itself

First the UConn Huskies, one week removed from dismantling the toughest goaltending guild in Hockey East at Northeastern, invaded the PC women’s property for Day 1 of the league’s championship weekend.

Then they invaded the personal space of Friars’ goaltender Genevieve Lacasse enough times to plant themselves a 3-0 first period lead, enough to live off of en route to a 3-2 semifinal triumph at Schneider Arena.

Even with zero penalties all day and an offensive firestorm in the latter 40 minutes, Providence couldn’t quite recompense its initial errors. As penance for that, and for the fact that an outstanding January and February couldn’t quite redeem a sketchy October and November, the local Skating Sorority will once again have spring cleaning in its locker room during the second week of March while eight other teams reconvene to tune up for an NCAA tournament game.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my team,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “But you have to give credit to the University of Connecticut. They played extremely well today. They got out to a quick start and were able to hold off a furious comeback by us.”

The positions from which each UConn goal was scored practically form a triangle when they are mapped out. Radiant rookie Lisa Stathopolous sparked the ignition at 4:18 when she waited front and center on the porch for a setup by Jenniefer Chaisson, who stripped Lacasse along the near post after the goalie vacated her crease.

Less than 10 minutes after Amy Hollstein converted just to Lacasse’s right, tucking in an in-your-face rebound left by Michelle Binning. And then, with 2:30 to spare, Binning buried her own firsthand strike from the left side.

For the Friars and their hopes of a homemade conference title, the resultant triangle on the first period review chart spelled an ominous disappearance into the dark side of Bermuda. But equal to what they gave up at their end, an early shortage of threats in the offensive zone endangered their voyage.

Deraney detected a runaway cruise ship driven by a crew with too keen an appetite to park at the Paradise Island, where his program has not been for five years running and where it once appeared to have no shot based on the first half of its season.

“I think our kids cared too much,” he said. “Sometimes caring too much could be just as bad as not caring at all. I think there’s a delicate balance there.”

Bottom line: nothing but imbalance was working against the Friars at the conclusion of yesterday’s first period. On top of their commanding 3-0 advantage, the Huskies owned the shot clock, 15-4.

More callously, even after PC’s strike force perked up and ran up an even more lopsided 19-2 edge within the second period shooting gallery, UConn sophomore goaltender Alexandra Garcia staged a goaltending clinic for her contemporary counterpart. She repelled everything leading up to the Friars’ penultimate stab of the stanza when Kate Bacon, parked along the far post, shoveled home a feed from Arianna Rigano on her backhand at 17:45.

By day’s end, Garcia had repelled 32 out of 34 stabs, proving why she is among the top 10 netminding performers in the nation.

Of the 30 SOG Providence piled up after the first intermission, 12 were within the same intimate vicinity as the three the Huskies poked past Lacasse. But the Friars could only connect on two of theirs.

“Obviously, you have two great goalies in this game,” said forward Alyse Ruff, who was the only Friar besides Bacon to test Garcia at least once in every period. “Genevieve has always been strong in net for us all season long and Garcia’s a strong goalie as well.

“But it was a great effort by both teams. We really wanted to move the puck around and get shots off and she was able to defend those shots and they fought off both penalties.”

By “both penalties,” Ruff literally meant the only two that were issued all afternoon. They both went against the Huskies and they overlapped before the halfway mark of the third period, granting the Friars 69 savory seconds of 5-on-3.

The power play brigade ultimately mustered three shots on net and no shots in net, preserving the 3-1 difference for another two-plus minutes before Jean O’Neill scored with 5:53 to spare.

Ultimately, though, it all traced back to that trifecta of gaffes in the opening frame.

“The better team won,” Deraney said in blunt concession. “You have to play 60 minutes. You can’t give away goals. If you do that, it’s going to be awfully hard to win this time of year, and that was the deciding factor today.”

True, the Friars had already positioned themselves to host yesterday’s game by conjuring up a District Five to Ducks turnaround. They had morphed a 4-7-6 midseason record to a 15-10-9 transcript heading into the playoffs, including a league-best 11-5-5 record on their conference slate.

And realistically, they could have nabbed one more favorable bounce yesterday and mustered the same single-game magic you once saw Gordon Bombay’s pupils pull off against the Hawks or the Icelanders.

But because they didn’t, their 2009-10 campaign has abruptly wilted, ultimately reminding them what can happen when fate is tempted too much.

“This group deserved a better fate,” Deraney concluded. “But you get what you deserve. UConn deserved to win.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com