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Saturday, October 2, 2010

On Hockey

Protection was the Pitts
Failure to build costs confidence, game


PITTSBURGH- For the decisive phases of their regular season opener, the PC women’s hearts and minds were as fragile as their leads.

The longer of the Friars’ two advantages lived to be a mere 3:15. Conversely, the host Robert Morris Colonials held a single edge for a good 20:15 straight, in large part because they actually added on to it.

Such was never the case for the visitors, whose 5-4 loss last night resulted from a missing quantity of robustness they apparently neglected to buy in a Steel City gift shop before entering the Island Sports Center.

True, upon absorbing a toe-curling 5-2 deficit, the Friars screwed their lids back on and rekindled their productive flames for the final six minutes. But valiant cramming sessions will do them no favors making a first impression in the national polls, especially since this was against a team projected to finish just one step out of the cellar in College Hockey America.

Even if they had nailed the equalizer, the middle hunk of the game would still call for an emergency back-to-basics lecture before today’s rematch. And assuming they regroup to salvage a split in this series, the 1-1 showing is still all but bound to cost them a share of Top 10 territory in the coming week.

That will only be fitting as much as it may be acrid. For “favor” and all of its relatives extending to at least second cousins was conspicuously absent in the Friar Puck glossary all last night.

It didn’t help, psyche-wise, that after swiftly deleting 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, the Colonials nabbed their first lead of the night with a mere 15 ticks to spare till the second intermission. Nor did it help to know that go-ahead goal by Thea Imbrogno fell 13 seconds after they had whiffed on a power play. And it was anything but elevating for PC to see its celestial stopper Genevieve Lacasse, wearing her game time attire for the first time in her junior campaign, observe Opposite Night and repeatedly succumb to frostbite after stretches of inactivity in her zone.

But just the same, the Friars didn’t do much to compensate themselves or their newly anointed co-captain Jean O’Neill, who compiled a hat trick by spawning the two early leads and later sawing a 5-3 deficit with 2:13 remaining in the closing frame.

And data be darned, they did too little on too few occasions to pester Colonials sophomore goalie Kristen DiCiocco, who surprisingly earned the start ahead of the much riper Daneca Butterfield.

Of PC’s 41 registered stabs at the RMU cage, 20 were unloaded on the power play. Two more were recorded within the last 45 seconds, during which Lacasse was benched in favor of a six-pack attack. And another two were reaped on fleeting shorthanded rushes.

Nothing wrong with any of that, especially seeing as the Friars went a respectable 2-for-6 on the player-advantage. But consider the kicker: over the 42 minutes and 29 seconds they spent skating at even strength, more than two-thirds of the total game clock, the strike force mustered less than half (17 SOG) of what it did on the night as a whole.

Only once did DiCiocco need to act twice between whistles while playing 5-on-5. It happened late in the first period when she denied Ashley Cottrell and Laura Veharanta and then sent teammate Kelsey Thomas the other way to test Lacasse.

Granted, the Colonials did not stir up much of a cyclonic attack around Lacasse’s property, either. But they didn’t need to so much, seeing as four of their successful onslaughts lasted only one shot. The other simply consisted of Cobina Delaney collecting and cashing her own rebound.

Even a couple of power plays could have gone a little better. Between the 5:30 and 10:50 mark of the third period, with her team safeguarding a 4-2 edge, Thomas served a pair of two-minute sentences for tripping. But the Friars, conspicuously disconcerted and passively pining for the woebegone momentum, notched a mere three shots over those two chances. And within three minutes of Thomas’ second jailbreak, Providence took two unanswered penalties of its own and the Colonials’ Maria Stoa pounced for her second conversion of the night for the eventual clincher at 13:49.

Still, it all goes back to those pivotal moments after O’Neill had nudged her mates ahead. After she struck at 3:42 of the first, no whistles were blown and no shots were taken at either end until Dayna Newsom drew the knot for Robert Morris at 4:19.

When O’Neill restored the edge at 4:31 of the second, PC again failed to dare DiCiocco when she was most prone to cave in. It would be three more minutes before Cottrell took a shorthanded stab. And seconds later, Stoa made it 2-2.

For the next 26:03 of action, RMU outshot the Friars, 20-11, and outscored them, 3-0. Carve out that stretch and the shooting gallery would have read 30-11, the scoreboard 4-2, advantage Providence on both fronts.

But because they failed to pick up any traction, PC broke down and broke character. And as so often happens, the collective glitch jutted out the most.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com