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Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Hockey

Matchup was “knot” what it promised

For one party, the unsurpassed tradition saturating its rivalry with New Hampshire is irrevocable. For the other, everyone by now ought to have carpal tunnel from underlining November 20, when the revamped women’s Battle of Commonwealth Avenue has its first showcase of the season. Both programs alike have their reasons for healthy, mutual spite with Northeastern.

But last night’s 2-2 draw between Providence College and Boston University at Schneider Arena confirmed an equal, if not greater, matchup concocted with succulent mirror imagery and intensity.

Going in, the Terriers and Friars alike were just polishing off the most productive Octobers either incumbent coach has ever enjoyed. Now at 6-2-1, Bob Deraney is enjoying his best start in 12 years on the Divine Campus. BU’s founding father Brian Durocher has his program off to its best start in its six-year history at 6-1-1.

Why? Both teams are overstocked on offense. Both have stability in the cage. Both are keen and capable on each side of the special teams’ spectrum. Both have shown that they prefer to omit the word “quit” in their dictionary.

And especially in the wake of last night’s seesaw sibling-smoocher, both know they have their wrinkles to flatten in advance of their rematch a week from today up at Walter Brown Arena.

“They’re obviously a well-coached team, and they play real hard,” said Durocher. “Early in the game, I thought every time we got near the puck, they got a stick on it or had an arm or a hand on us and we weren’t quite ready to match their intensity. So for 10 minutes, they were kind of in charge and giving us fits. After that, I think we got grounded and played a pretty good game.”

When asked what he expects next time around, Deraney said, “Two heavyweight fighters in the middle of the ring duking it out. They have great players, we have great players, they’re going to execute, we’re going to execute. Whoever makes the most of those opportunities is the one who’s going to win.”

Last night, the Friars had the bulk of the early opportunities. Freshman blueliner Rebecca Morse spawned them a 1-0 lead at 14:46 of the first and PC drew each of the game’s first three power plays all within the first 11 minutes of the middle frame.

Trouble was, BU is not one to be fazed by 1-0 deficits. After last night, the Terriers are 3-1-1 when authorizing the first goal and they have only trailed by multiple goals once this season.

Furthermore, their penalty kill is tops in the nation with a 95.6 success rate. And in those three shorthanded segments, they blocked four out of seven PC shot attempts and forced two others to go wide.

On the flip side, once the Friars started going to the box, they awakened a thawed-out, star-studded strike force. In two unanswered deployments, Boston’s top power play unit –comprised of Jenn Wakefield, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Jenelle Kohanchuk up front with Lauren Cherewyk and Tara Watchorn patrolling the points- leveled seven shots at PC stopper Genevieve Lacasse.

The seventh of those went in off the stick of Wakefield, who one-timed Catherine Ward’s feed from the far outer hash marks into the opposite shelf with 1:03 left in the second.

Apart from that and Wakefield’s go-ahead goal with 3:59 gone in the third, Lacasse stood firm for a 40-save dolphin show. Of the Terriers she met this past summer at Team Canada camp, she repelled four other Wakefield stabs, blocked all six bids by Poulin, and four each from Kohanchuk and Ward.

“She played fantastic,” said Durocher. “We got a lucky goal, the second one, which took a lucky bounce and was in the toughest spot to stop. I don’t think she nor anybody else saw it bounce, but it did.

“You take herself and (Molly) Schaus and (Florence) Schelling at BC and Northeastern, and we’re going to have a run at tough goalies as the year goes along, that’s for sure.”

That would be something for the Terriers and Friars –averaging 4.25 and 3.78 goals per game, respectively- to each bear in mind during the Hockey East pennant race. They taught each other that lesson last night in their first intraleague contest.

BU freshman Kerrin Sperry nearly enhanced her young career record to 6-0-0, denied the full two-point package only by Providence speedster Kate Bacon’s equalizer with 8:25 to spare in regulation.

Then again, Sperry may have endured her first loss had the Friars sculpted a heftier lead during their 15-shot flurry in the first. Or if they had poked one in on one of four power plays. Or if, at 8:47 of the second, Jessie Vella had put on the brakes in time to avoid a crease violation that waved off a delayed-penalty goal that would have made it 2-0.

“Put a couple of goals in there, and maybe it’s a different game,” said Deraney. “Against a team like that, when you get opportunities to score, you need to score. If you don’t, it could come back to haunt you. That’s what happened tonight.

“But a lesser team, too, when they went ahead, 2-1, would have said ‘Hey, good effort tonight. Let’s look forward to the next game.’ Not our kids. They’re going to fight until somebody tells them they can’t fight any longer.”

Complementing that, Durocher and Co. can ask for little more than a better jumpstart and a slightly more assertive finish next Saturday. It will be especially crucial for his pupils to step up while Poulin, Wakefield, and Watchorn represent their country at the Four Nations Cup.

“I expect both teams to be playing hard and we’ve got to ramp it up right from the get-go,” he said. “We’re going to have to play a smart game, an intelligent game, and make sure we match their intensity.”

As if these two weren’t matching each other enough already, another good promotional omen for Hockey East.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com