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Monday, October 11, 2010

On Hockey

Net access still a cinch
Stingier opponents not cutting Friars’ output


“Replay!” was the refrain from PC women’s head coach Bob Deraney for nearly half a minute when play stopped at the 10:05 mark of yesterday’s second period. His towering forward Nicole Anderson had just drawn a hooking minor on Clarkson’s Carly Mercer whilst swooping to the net, but in his eyes, she had already stuffed the puck home.

Deraney finally got the replay he requested, in the eyes of referees Paul Driscoll and Derek Zuckerman there was no conclusive evidence to back his claim. And so, the Friars settled for the power play that would have been cancelled had Anderson’s goal been verified.

But a mere 14 seconds off the ensuing draw, Deraney watched another breed of replay. It was an active rerun of a previous 5-on-4 strike with Jen Friedman and Anderson collaborating on the center point and right wing, respectively, to feed Alyse Ruff, who nailed it home from the slot.

Guess the disapproval of Anderson’s would-be conversion really sparked the Friars there, did it not?

“I don’t think they were (extra) motivated. We just know how to grind,” said Deraney. “Okay, so we didn’t score there. We go out with the same enthusiasm whether it went in or it didn’t go in. We’re going to go back out with the same objective which is to score goals as quick as we can. So there wasn’t any motivating factor there. It was just us executing.”

Come what may, those visually identical goals, coming at 2:25 and 10:19 of the middle frame, certainly sparked the Friars. They spawned a 2-0 lead en route to a 5-0 victory at Schneider Arena.

As it happened, Ruff’s goals were the only two registered stabs that the power play brigade could muster on five opportunities. The rest of the time, the Clarkson defense deployed the same basic laser-beamed wall that also confined the puckslinging Friars to a mere 18 total shots on the game. That’s nine fewer than what they lobbed at St. Lawrence on Saturday and a distant downturn from the 90 they charged up over two games against Robert Morris.

But while the ammo is coming out at an exponentially lower rate, the explosive results on the scoreboard remain steady. Providence has yet to pack any less than four goals in a single regular season game, flaunting a nightly median of five.

And yesterday, when it seemed somebody had finally cracked their code, Clarkson owning the first period shooting gallery 14-2, the frenzied Friars ran up a productive sugar rush to the point where opposing starter Lauren Dahm was forked out in favor of freshman Erica Howe. (Sophomore Emily Groth finished her off when she scored her first collegiate goal for a 3-0 edge at 13:13 of the second. It made for three goals on eight second period shots at Dahm.)

Dahm, who went 23-11-5 and sat comfortably among the nation’s top 10 stoppers in every vital category last season, is now personifying her team’s startlingly lifeless start. She is 0-4-0 coupled with a 3.74 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. Yesterday, upon surrendering three goals on 10 shots in 33:13 minutes, she failed to finish what she started for only the second time since the start of last year. The other was just 10 nights ago at almighty Minnesota.

Considering the Gophers’ part in that barometer, perhaps more credit is owed to the PC strike force, which sniffed and promptly thrived on a shot of momentum to dismantle the Golden Knights goalie.

“First of all, she’s a terrific goaltender,” Deraney said. “I just think we made some unbelievable plays. Those first two goals, you can’t draw them any better. You’re looking at a shot from the slot that is basically with a lot of people moving in front. She really didn’t have a chance on either one. I would like to rather look at our execution than her not being up to the challenge.”

Barring any more jolts, favorable or unfavorable, to the active roster in the near future, Providence is likely to continue with its top umbrella power play unit with forwards Ruff, Anderson, Ashley Cottrell, and Corinne Buie up front and Friedman dotting the lone point. For what the slim two-week window is worth, they are already the most dependable quintet Deraney has deployed with the player advantage.

Most distinctively, out of PC’s five power play strikes this year, yesterday’s are the only two to be inserted within the first minute of the opponent’s sentence. It took one 45-second round of cycling after Brittany Mulligan sat down for Ruff to one-time the icebreaker through Dahm’s five-hole. And it required a mere 14 ticks before Ruff snapped another conversion glove-side.

Contrast that with the 1:50, 1:25, and 1:36 it took the Friars to convert in previous games and explain the improvement.

“I think our kids are doing a good job of identifying what (the opposing penalty kill is) giving us and not trying to force it and just making things happen based on what they’ve decided to give us,” said Deraney. “It’s not so much that we score so quick as that we’re making the right reads.”

Not to mention, squeezing through smaller seams just enough times to hoist the upper hand, an ability this energetic bunch will need down the road when games grow increasingly defensive.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com