Adjusting on the fly
In O’Neill’s absence, top six keeps thriving with tweaks
PC women’s hockey head coach Bob Deraney, safeguarding sensitive details surrounding his wounded co-captain the same way he once monitored Jack Parker’s net for Boston University, hugged the post tightly when the press tried to score more helpful details as to Jean O’Neill’s status.
Nothing but the bare basics was admitted. O’Neill is out indefinitely with a lower body injury. And for the moment, Providence will just have to subsist on whatever its 10 active forwards can collect.
“I was saying to my daughters last night, everyone has injuries and those aren’t excuses not to get things done,” Deraney said in the wake of yesterday’s 6-1 triumph over St. Lawrence at Schneider Arena.
Of O’Neill, he offered, “She is a very valuable player for us. Obviously, it’s going take a lot of players stepping up to fill the void of Jean O’Neill and we’re going to try to do the best we can. I thought our kids did a good job of that today and we just want to get her better and get her back in the lineup as quick as possible.”
Once that happens, the last thing any of O’Neill’s mates will want to do is retract what they appear to be building up as they press on without the senior winger who entered this year with a career scoring log of 26-29-55 in 102 games and had just set the tone for a fireworks finale with a hat trick on opening night last week.
Uncannily enough, Kate Bacon stood in for O’Neill on the starting left wing yesterday and pulled off the exact same feat. She thus leads the Friars with four goals in the wee stages of this season, including one power play strike, one shorty, and one game-winner.
And based especially on her portfolio, the speedy junior is on pace to potentially “upset” some preseason suspects for the team’s MVP award. Her four goals on the year already constitute one quarter of the 16 she has charged up since she enrolled two autumns ago. And with 13 shots on net –tied for the team lead with classmate Laura Veharanta- she flaunts a satisfying 30.8 success rate.
“Kate can play anywhere and make people around her better just because of her natural speed,” said Deraney. “But now she’s so much smarter. Her hands have caught up with her head and her feet.”
Meanwhile, Bacon’s new center, senior Alyse Ruff, and senior defender Amber Yung garnered three helpers apiece yesterday. All three of Ruff’s helpers and two of Yung’s were on Bacon’s scoring plays.
With that, Ruff –who by all counts still needs to wait until next week’s visit to Colgate to collect her own goal, as has been the case three years running- is off to her hottest start with five points in three games. Likewise, Yung is suddenly retaining a point-per-game median for the first time in her long stay on the Divine Campus.
Perhaps more importantly, the same holds true for Veharanta, whose line Bacon left to join the starting trinity with Ruff and Abby Gauthier. Veharanta, still working with Ashley Cottrell as her centerpiece but with freshman Corinne Buie filling the vacant wing, nailed the first two goals of her season for a 2-1-3 transcript.
In the four games –two exhibition, two regulation- that they spent as a unit, the Bacon-Cottrell-Veharanta line amassed a cumulative six goals, 15 points, and 55 SOG. Yesterday, with Buie in lieu of Bacon, the second line amassed three points and six shots together, along with a plus-2 rating each or better.
The first of Veharanta’s goals, which ultimately proved the game clincher, was the finishing touch of a two-on-one bolt initiated by Buie when she escorted the puck out of PC territory along the near wall. Buie ultimately found Veharanta waiting at the backdoor, where she buried a 2-0 lead with 11:38 gone in a volcanic opening frame (three goals on 16 SOG).
The point to take here: there is little to fear in the way of delicate line chemistry for these Friars, who are now averaging exactly five goals per game.
“We play interchangeable players,” said Deraney. “We really don’t put a lot of stock in line combinations, and what I mean by that is because of the way we play we can more people around and have them play primarily with a different group, but there really isn’t a transition time between that and you got to see that today.
“Veharanta is used to playing the offside (left wing), so this was a nice chance to get her back to the offside, move Buie up. And I think it keeps that line intact in terms of what they brought to the table.”
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org