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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Hockey

Clearing the ice on their outlook
Lengthy gap between games equals assessment time for PC women

No need to be shy about asserting it this time. The Friars’ pluses patently outnumber the minuses after their first dozen games of the 2010-11 season.

With a brief intermission at hand after the first period of their 33-game schedule –they don’t play again for another six days- the Friars are best advised to savor the sweet spots of the tone they have set and translate it to the energized pursuit of improvement.

It is rarely an accident when a team leaps out to an 8-3-1 start and, after six weeks of knocking on the door between the honorable mention section and the Top 10 leaderboard, is finally recognized in a relevant national poll. PC was tied for 10th with Harvard in the eyes of uscho.com, as told in Monday’s revision. And last night, the Friars picked up three more votes for a total of 13 in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll, four notches shy of the No. 10 Crimson.

One can argue that they ought to be 10-1-1 and might have crashed the rankings a tad sooner. But the fans’ ability to gripe over regurgitated cupcakes against Robert Morris and Rensselaer only speaks to this team’s promising posture.

Providence isn’t tops in any conventional category on the Women’s Hockey East stats spread, but the invaluable balance is plain. With freshman blueliner Maggie Pendleton’s assist on Corinne Buie’s goal Sunday, which for her redeemed a helper two games prior that was ultimately retracted, every Friar who has seen action this season now has at least one point to her credit. Among the New England Eight, only New Hampshire can make the same claim.

PC boasts a league-leading seven skaters with at least three goals, including co-captain Jean O’Neill, whose lower body injury has restricted her to merely two games played.

In a credit to their collective play on both sides of the puck, all but two Friars have a positive plus-minus rating. As a group, they are plus-19, second to no one on this coast.

And goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, the only Hockey East stopper to have consumed all of her team’s crease time, has handled her peerless workload well enough to rank second behind Boston College’s Molly Schaus with a .944 save percentage.

Lacasse is often the best personification of this program’s highs, lows, and medians. Suffice it to say, this is one of those moments. She like her teammates has earned the breather that comes with this nine-day gap between Sunday’s 3-1 triumph over Maine and the next extramural engagement with Dartmouth.

“The first third of the season is grueling from a school standpoint, a schedule standpoint, just-trying-to-get-acclimated standpoint,” said head coach Bob Deraney.

“These nine days we can use very effectively to work on the things that we need to, get the rest that we need to, and hopefully on the other side of it become a much better team. So we’re excited about it.

“The bottom line of the goal is to be a better team at the other side of the break.”

To that point, with this reward comes responsibilities. Beneath a passable 2-1-1 record over the last 10 pre-break days sat evidence of fall frostbite in the Friars. Deraney had his reasons for interchanging his top two centers, Ashley Cottrell and Alyse Ruff, going into last weekend’s action. His strike force had gone from nailing four-plus goals in each of its first five regular season ventures to reaping two or fewer in four of the last seven.

In fairness, defensive games are bound to increase in frequency as the Hockey East pennant race revs up. But more notably, in the last four games, including its first three against conference cohabitants, the PC power play went a cumulative 0-for-15, including six spilled opportunities in the first 40 minutes against Maine.

All that came after the 5-on-4 brigade converted nine of its first 50 chances, equaling an 18 percent success rate. That rate has since dipped to 13.8 percent.

Then again, it’s not as if the opportunities have been abundant of late. Over their first eight games, the Friars drew a nightly average of 6.25 infractions on the opposition, contrasted to a mere 3.75 in the latest four.

For that reason, it is vital that Providence recharge its flustering flare at even strength as much as it reheats the acetylene sticks for those numerical advantage segments.

Rest and reflection, on top of a standard block of about four or five practice days is exactly the recommended formula here.

“I know a lot of people feel a little run down,” said Ruff. “But we just need to make sure we keep playing the same way that we’re playing, keep the intensity up, and keep our legs fresh.”

“So it might be a nice break, but hopefully it won’t hurt us. And I don’t think it will because we are a pretty good team and we’re starting to come together as a team and starting to figure out who we are.”

Then the question is: how will they continue? Keep your eye on the cooler, but do not open until next Tuesday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com