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Friday, October 8, 2010

On Hockey

Getting on their marquee
Weekend poses 10-11 Friars’ greatest NC barometer


The conflicting causes will be common enough this weekend when the PC women host St. Lawrence tomorrow and Clarkson on Sunday. On both afternoons, a Five-Hour-Energy-sized gulp of redress will be on the line for a pair of teams coming off a slight chink in their national status.

Less than two weeks ago, all three parties concerned were either within the Top 10 or just on the borderline of the two most relevant preseason polls. The Friars tied New Hampshire for the final slot on USCHO’s exclusive leaderboard and joined the Saints among USA Today’s honorable mentions. Clarkson was No. 7 in the collective eyes of both panels.

At the start of this week, the idle Saints retained a few table scraps, but gained nothing by default. The Golden Knights did themselves no favors submitting to almighty Minnesota, the same team that terminated their first NCAA title run last spring, by a two-game score of 8-0. Those two losses docked them to the reserves list with a mere 16 and 17 votes from the two polls.

And Providence is now off the USA Today screen and sitting among five almost-theres, clinging to but one USCHO point in wake of a split with the comparatively plebeian Robert Morris.

“The game we lost to Robert Morris was a big game,” PC head coach Bob Deraney said of last Friday’s fall-from-ahead, 5-4 falter in the season opener. “You’ve got to win those games, and I think that fueled our fire for the next time we played them.”

With that very fuel, the Friars pulled no surprises by sparking itself right back to the .500 fence with a 5-2 lashing of the Colonials. Now is the time to sprint forward and start kicking plenty of ice chips over the remnants of that first night flop.

For Deraney, “now” would simply mean scrapping for the same nightly cause from now until all of the pre-tournament ice chips settle on March 6. But if the Friars want to hit the most telling springboard and set the most strident tone for themselves and the nation, “now” means right now, as in the next seven days.

“Somewhere along the way, we’re going to have to make up for our misstep (last) Friday night,” said the skipper. “Our kids know that. We know that as a staff. We can’t change what happened. All you can do is look forward to the next game and we’re very excited to take on St. Lawrence and Clarkson.”

Based on the platter of image-enhancing opportunities they have, specifically on the interleague front, there will be no chance more radiant for the Friars to assert themselves than this weekend. Barring unforeseen surprises from someone like Princeton, the Knights and Saints are the lone two teams capable of heavyweight status who will visit Schneider Arena this season until the Hockey East slate opens.

It is not a bad idea to throw next Friday’s excursion to Syracuse under the same “key matchups” heading. But beyond that, PC won’t be testing itself against any other nonconference rivals of this magnitude.

Neither of the forthcoming adversaries can quite understand that shortage. After this weekend, Clarkson will still have another four tussles with certified Top 10 challengers: UNH, Boston University, and Syracuse (twice). The Saints will have six more statement games, visiting the Terriers and Wildcats one time apiece, hosting Boston College for two nights, and paying a two-night visit to Mercyhurst.

Translation: if they are paying attention, and not taking too much or too little care, the Friars should have the upper hand in the way of incentive these next two days.

Of course, no one from without –especially anybody from the fourth estate- is going to extract such importunate ideas from within PC’s offices. You have better odds of cultivating fresh New England vegetables on Thanksgiving Eve.

When pressed to assess the special implications of the two games featuring Elite Eight veterans, Deraney insisted, “They’re all big, and I’m not giving you a line there.”

“College hockey is just so well-balanced right now that every game is important,” he added. “Whether (the opponent is) ranked or they’re not ranked, they all count towards our one and only goal and that’s (to make) the national tournament.”

Technically true enough. And as the half-full/half-empty upshot last weekend proves, the more winnable games are especially crucial to keeping whatever footing an aspiring powerhouse already has. There is always more to be lost than to be gained out of a bout with Robert Morris, Brown University, or Colgate.

For the moment, though, it is all about adding layers. The Friars’ focus should be hunting down those priceless national points, which tend to come with a free bonus parcel of confidence.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com