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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Women's Hockey Summer Notes

Central focus on Anderson

It seems that for every dozen inches she consumes upon standing, there is a radiant reason for the PC women’s hockey team to convert rising sophomore Nicole Anderson to a full-time center for the 2010-11 season.

At an exact six-foot posture, Anderson is the most physically imposing forward to come and play for Bob Deraney in the coach’s decade-plus tenure. She out-towers even the tallest of active Providence defenders, namely the 5-foot-11 Jen Friedman. Combine that with her scoring touch, which should get better and more consistent as she gets older, and handing her a two-way job description is too sensible to avoid.

Utilizing her peerless stature and wingspan, Anderson has already projected a penchant for imposing her will on the opponent’s doorstep, which amounted to six gritty power play goals last year. If she can grow to put herself in a similar position and repel opposing attacks on Genevieve Lacasse’s property during even strength action, she has a hefty slice of the job description covered.

Plus, she has done a little of this before. Although, she might have been a victim of circumstances and assigned to the middle of the line before she was ready. In that sense, she was not as fortunate as rising senior Alyse Ruff, who waited on the wings for two years while she ripened her all-around game, or soon-to-be junior Kate Bacon, who was not a regular center until Thanksgiving weekend last year.

But there will be no better time than the coming autumn for PC to phase in a new full-time pivot. Based on the line charts from their most recent ventures, the Friars figure to return three seasoned centerpieces in Ruff, Bacon and Ashley Cottrell, the last of whom landed a briefly prolific gig on a unit with Anderson and Laura Veharanta.

As unwelcome as this revelation might be, however, the luster of that line faded like a rain-peppered satellite signal together with Veharanta’s dreaded sophomore funk. But that’s beside the point anyway. Whether or not we see something closer to the vintage Veharanta this autumn, it is better that Cottrell and Anderson part ways and spread their wealth a little more. Better that the two learn to start running their own breakout plays rather than one set them up for the other.

On a similar note, in the waning weeks of the regular season, Anderson –who totaled 11 strikes for fourth on the team and third among Hockey East freshmen- splashed her own little scoring drought by depositing a couple of visually identical goals against Northeastern and Vermont. On both plays, she vacuumed a loose puck or a pass in the neutral zone and revved up some turbine blades en route to the cage, which she reached virtually unchallenged.

A move like that projects the potential to pull off a few of those Normorean net-to-net journeys not unlike what we saw out of Cottrell on a regular basis this past year. While not required, it would be a can’t-hurt and can’t-miss addition to the Friars’ transitional flair if Anderson can indeed master that trick.

More critically, she will have to prove herself capable of raking away at least half of her face-offs. For what it’s worth, while filling in on the dot amidst PC’s early season injury plague, she did go 33 for 70 over the first eight games of her young career. That equals a .471 success rate, one little notch above Bacon’s .470 winning percentage and not very shabby for an inexperienced interim center.

Under ordinary circumstances, only those who were tried and true centerpieces in their pre-collegiate days are thrust into that position once they enroll. But the circumstances around the Friars last October were anything but ordinary, what with multiple injury-induced cavities appearing on their depth chart every night.

All things considered, therefore, Anderson fared reasonably well when she anchored the third line, often with Bacon and Abby Gauthier on the wings. Although, it was best to lessen her load once it was possible, as evidenced by a second half attack of freshman frostbite that had her sprinkling on a mere two goals and one helper in the last 16 games.

But she is hardly the first to fight through that breed of growing pain. Assuming she has felt the worst of it, the time may be coming for Anderson and Bacon to accept their lot on a nominal “bottom six” half of the strike force.

If the Friars want to attain that elusive and elite distinction of “four rolling lines,” they can start by planting four certified, productive centers. With what they’ve got, they won’t need to bring one in to fill that void. With Anderson, they just need to finish making one.

***
The Friars are reportedly pursuing a third jersey and want public opinion to help influence the design. Not that this author’s take should hold any sway, but it would be cool if they went with a scheme similar to those sweatshirts you can buy in the PC bookstore with a solid black body and the Providence shield logo on the chest.

Also, the very topic of third jerseys, which at least nine times out of 10 are on the dark side, makes one wonder if college hockey might consider adopting the NHL’s unchanging policy of home teams donning their colored uniforms. That would take a little, or a lot of, adjustment for the eyes of every beholder, but it could be worse. Someone in charge could take a puck to the head and decide to institute the trapezoid.

***
PC’s own Alyse Ruff and Jen Friedman, along with recently graduated Northeastern forward Lindsey Berman, constituted half of the Jewish Sports Review Women’s College Hockey All-America Team earlier this month.

***
As of this write-up, only three Division I women’s hockey programs have disclosed their 2010-11 schedules and the rest have offered not one ice chip’s worth of a hint as to what will be on their itineraries. Accordingly, all Friartownies can know for certain right now is that their team is dropping in on the upstart Syracuse program on Friday, October 15 at the compact Tennity Ice Pavilion. Everything else –or at least the 12 remaining interleague slots- is up to sheer speculation until further notice.

Here’s betting, though, that there will be no games lined up for Monday, October 25. Good sign for any fatalistic Friar Fanatics, whose team has endured three rancid defeats in as many years on that date (5-0 at Connecticut in 2007, 3-1 versus Boston College in 2008, and 5-1 versus Brown last year).

***
To paraphrase PC men’s coach Tim Army, who is known for stressing that “Games in hand are only effective if you win them,” experienced scorers are only effective if they come back hungry for more.

That being said, Bob Deraney will be the only WHEA coach returning all of his top five point-getters this fall. Although, Boston College and Boston University will not be far behind, each expecting to bring back Nos. 2-6 from their 2009-10 stat sheets. And the Commonwealth clubs will both be bringing in another certified sizzler in Olympic silver medalist Kelli Stack (BC) and New Hampshire transfer Jenn Wakefield (BU).

Still, for all three of those teams, there is nothing like having a thick packet of proven returnees to offer a mental cushion at training camp. And they’re all going to need it, seeing as six Hockey East teams are all returning at least one reliable goalie.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com