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Saturday, September 18, 2010

On Hockey

Future much more now or never
Scrutiny should only rise for PC women’s 2012 class


As soon as PC women’s hockey head coach Bob Deraney summons his pupils to take a knee before the Plexiglas whiteboard at today’s opening practice, there will be more formal Friartown moments behind than ahead for Genevieve Lacasse, Ashley Cottrell, Jen Friedmen, and their five class of 2012 sisters.

In mid-December of 2007, when he was still half-finished confirming his next collection of newbies, Deraney memorably likened the incoming posse to that of 2005. You know, the class that set the still-unsurpassed standard of the Deraney era by sweeping through four conference pennants and culminating in the Friars’ first passport to the NCAA tournament.

As of their midterm, things have not gone quite in accord with the syllabus for this qualitative and (to a certain extent) quantitative group. Although in each of its first two seasons the now-junior class has produced the Friars’ leading scorer, their starting goalie, and a towering defensive stalwart, it has not helped to cultivate another crown or Elite Eight bid.

A perfectly explicable year of “growing pains” in 2008-09 left little improvement from the recent databases, but still enough of an impression that everyone would soon bolster a genuine resurgence as soon as they ripened. Lacasse was now the consensus crease keeper, Laura Veharanta had an acetylene stick, Cottrell was a promising playmaker, and Friedman was a first-unit defender.

Last year, many of the said elements escalated, a few others receded. But still nothing amounted to lasting glamour. The Friars pulled off quite the District-Five-to-Ducks turnaround in the regular season, but then left things off on a letdown when a rabid Connecticut team stormed into Schneider and Heimliched their home ice advantage, 3-2, in the Hockey East semifinal.

To be fair, when they were scrupulously scrapping to sculpt their legacy, the likes of Rush Zimmerman, Danielle Bourgette, and Amy Thomas never had to deal with any sort of Boston University or Vermont team (both rivals landed under the Hockey East heading within months of the 2005 class’ graduation). Nor were Boston College and Northeastern anything quite like the threat they pose in the present day.

But try telling that to a Divine Campus devotee like Lacasse, who went so far early in her freshman campaign as to cast aside her patriotic Team Canada mask in favor of a lid depicting the Rhode Island State House flanked by caricatures of her netminding ancestors Sara Decosta and Jana Bugden.

For the players, a ring is a ring, two rings are two rings, and an utter lack thereof is an utter lack thereof.

So for the anointed revivalist class, the first of two years on the upper half of the maturity echelon is the time to put their collective picture in focus. Some members, particularly the exponentially prolific Cottrell and unflagging Lacasse, are advised to look forward and not think too much. Others, most visibly Veharanta, will want to grip the opposing fists of one more (16-15-31 totals) and less (3-9-12) memorable season and hoist the former as representing her true self.

And beneath those who have made for stronger media magnets, there are four other juniors vying to stabilize their game and cement their indispensable roles. Lauren Covell went from an arid freshman forward to an effective sophomore blueliner (nine assists). Stay-at-home defender Christie Jensen recompensed an abysmal minus-10 rating circa last Thanksgiving and formulated a sound tandem with rising senior Amber Yung. More of the same will be in order from those two.

Up front, a once-bouncy puckslinger (111 shots on goal as a frosh) in Kate Bacon lost some of her touch last year to off-and-on injuries that cost her seven games and couldn’t offer an indication of improved accuracy. And everyone is still waiting for Abby Gauthier, the former volcano at St. Mary’s of Lynn, to crack her college chrysalis after seeing her roll up gentle 3-7-10 and 4-5-9 scoring logs.

Every one of them has a customized level to step up to, but as a group the 2012ers should be expected to flaunt their overwhelming seasoning this year. Strictly among skaters, the 2010-11 Friars will return the most NCAA experience of any Hockey East team with an aggregate 975 games played between 15 individuals. The junior class alone accounts for 485 –or 49.7 percent, a fingernail less than half- of those games. And they account for 66 (41.7 percent) of the team’s 158 returning goals.

Behind all of that, the keystone Lacasse is fresh off a summer of international progression, which ultimately led to her invitation to next week’s Team Canada national evaluation camp, as was announced yesterday. When she is not otherwise preoccupied with future Eh Team odysseys, she will be here building on her arguably easy trek to revise the Friars’ goaltending record book. She is already more than halfway en route to surpassing Bugden’s career minutes (6631:57), appearances (115), and saves (2,555).

Delivering PC’s next Hockey East playoff title and/or impaling their flag securely on the national leaderboard to woo the selection committee is a whole other matter than asking these eight players to at least fuse and consistently prove their mellowness in 2010-11. But given their jutting presence on the roster and the stats sheet on both sides of the puck, a shortcoming in step-upmanship would only stick their team in neutral.

If the 2012ers were not the Friars topmost key to restoring regality before, they are now.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com