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Friday, September 24, 2010

On Hockey

Double drilling makes for progressive step
Extra preseason bout should hone Friars a little better


Ladies and gentlemen, your PC women’s hockey schedule tweak of the year.

Two years ago, it finally occurred to head coach Bob Deraney that handing his pupils their game time attire for one Sunday in September, then putting it back in storage for another two weeks of strictly internal tune-up did nothing to achieve an early winning flow. The solution: get the PWHL scrimmage over with, and then keep up the rhythm by starting intercollegiate competition within the next week.

Last season, it came time to sack the underage Canadian visitors, for they were anything but an accurate simulation of a fellow college program. Enter in their place CIS powerhouse McGill University for one night, after which Maine was atop the Friars’ agenda.

But in the ice-chipped wake of yet another costly losing October, Deraney has enacted another slight preseason reformation for the 2010-11 campaign. The same Martlets who last September deleted a 3-0 deficit en route to a 7-4 exhibition triumph are here for both tonight and tomorrow night.

The chief rationale: while engaging a Canadian college heavyweight for one night fittingly replicates a single NCAA game, holding two bouts with the same team makes for a better simulation of a typical weekend of college hockey action.

“If you look at our schedule, we’re playing back-to-back (every weekend) the whole month of October,” said Deraney. “With that being said, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to have a team like McGill, one of the best teams in Canada, come down and play two games that really don’t hurt our record one way or the other, but allow us to get used to playing back-to-back against a quality opponent.”

Technically, much the same way today’s airlines will nibble some $25-50 off your credit card for checking an additional bag, adding a second preseason game comes with a slight fee. For the first time since Deraney’s rookie year in 1998-99, the Friars will play one regular season game less than the maximum allotment of 34.

And inevitably, the said sacrifice will have to be a nonconference game. This, from at least one angle, means slightly less of an opportunity to make an all-important interleague impression on the national pollsters.

On the other hand, Deraney was apt to note that many of the programs his team emulates –i.e. the ones who are usually all but placing their stamp on an at-large Elite Eight bid when they are also stamping their Christmas cards- have always done more with less on the nonconference table.

“There’s a lot of teams that play less games,” he said. “Teams like (Minnesota-Duluth) and Harvard and UNH, they consistently play not a full schedule, so I don’t think one less NCAA game is going to affect us one way or the other. And that went into our factoring when we decided to play two exhibition games.”

Ultimately, if the Friars are to buck the tiresome trend of stalling early in the year and then paying the price when they whiff on the Hockey East pennant, they just have to be skillfully, mentally, and psychologically sharp when the time comes to play those crucial nonconference games. (By the way, the first eight of their regular season games are all against CHA and ECAC foes.)

What better way to acquire that fiery baptism than to twice tangle with a team that had just won 86 straight CIS games before losing their national title to Alberta last spring?

And what better time than now for Providence to ditch its comfort zone to the furthest possible extent? After all, reigning team MVP Genevieve Lacasse is in Calgary for the weekend amongst the other 63 of Canada’s best active female pucksters. And Deraney indicated yesterday that the Scarborough Save-ior will also miss three games in early January while her Canadian U22 team pursues the MLP Cup.

This means Christina England will have to add a less negligible sum of minutes to her resume, which currently contains but 4:48 worth of NCAA crease time. Likewise, rookie Nina Riley will have to break in her pads without delay.

“It’s extremely critical for everybody’s development,” said Deraney of this weekend’s scrimmage series. “We can’t rely on Genevieve to win us games. If we’re relying on our goalie to win us games night in and night out, then we’re not the good team that I think we’re capable of becoming.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the goalies to show what they can do and I think it’s also an opportunity to show what we can do without Genevieve. Obviously, Genevieve is very valuable to this success of this program, but we have to make sure we’re not relying (solely) on her. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn how to play without her, because that’s going to happen.”

“That’s what happens when you recruit great players. You have to expect them to leave, but at the same time, it gives an opportunity for other people to step up.

“And this is an opportunity early on, and not to pay a heavy cost.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com