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Monday, January 4, 2010

On Hockey

Ruff wraps another gift for PC women

St. Cloud, Minn.- It was Game No. 21 in the Friars’ 2009-10 endeavor and it fell on birthday No. 21 for the young woman who sports No. 21 on the back of her sweater.

Even for nonbelievers in hockey-based omens, therefore, yesterday has to go down forever as Spooky Sunday, seeing as Alyse Ruff pumped home both goals in PC’s 2-0 triumph over Minnesota State, granting herself a savory 3-1-4 weekend transcript and the team a 1-0-1 record in their excursion to the Easton Holiday Showcase. (Just remember, though, this is the player who in each of three collegiate seasons has not gotten her scoring groove on until she has lit one up on Colgate, so Friartownies might be advised to petition the Red Raiders for next autumn’s season opener.)

Already an elder stateswoman on the Friars’ relatively youthful offense and a convert from wing to center as of her junior campaign, Ruff seems to have settled on a new production line flanked by her classmate and off-and-on partner Jean O’Neill and progressive rookie Jess Cohen. The newly molded threesome combined for 10 registered shots on St. Cloud State in Saturday’s tempestuous 4-4 tie, then collaborated on yesterday’s decider on a power play with 2:06 gone in the second period.

By day’s end, Ruff, O’Neill, and Cohen had launched 11 of PC’s 31 total stabs at Mavericks’ goaltender Alli Altmann, who between Ruff’s two strikes had engaged in a nearly excruciating air hockey-paced battle with Genevieve Lacasse, who would turn away all 31 shots issued by MSU to salvage her first shutout since opening night of this season.

Ruff’s dagger goal, inserted with 10:05 to spare in the third period, would grant ex-linemate Arianna Rigano her fourth assist on the year and stay-at-home junior defender Leigh Riley her second point. It also added on to the junior pivot’s history of timely, breath-granting tallies.

The timing, execution style, and implications of yesterday’s insurance goal virtually matched that of last year’s Hockey East quarterfinal versus Connecticut. That day, the Friars subsisted on Laura Veharanta’s icebreaker from the 0:14 mark of the opening frame all the way until there was 10:10 gone in the third when none other than Ruff characteristically halted on the porch of goaltender Alex Garcia and waited to spoon home Erin Normore’s pass from behind the net.

Of course, that play had its own identical ancestor. Less than four months prior, the same visiting UConn team would victimized with the third period more than half-gone and a salivating PC strike force on the power play attack. Six seconds after a 5-on-3 morphed into a 5-on-4, Ruff capped the power play cyclone by tilting home a feed from Veharanta, spawning a 1-0 edge en route to a 2-0 triumph. It would be her third decider in as many Providence wins.

Overall, having now played in all 93 possible games and charged up a 31-22-53 log in her career, Ruff has stamped seven game winners plus one equalizer. Out of 31 total goals, 17 have come in the third period, including six of her seven this season.

On eight separate occasions since orientation, she has spotted the Friars a one-goal edge. Another four times, she has augmented a brittle lead to a cozier two tally difference. She has thrice sawed a two-goal deficit in half, and five other times she has pulled a knot on the board. (Remember when she singlehandedly deleted that 2-0 Vermont lead in the third period back on November 10, 2007, effectively paving the way to a 4-2 victory?)

Perhaps most enticingly, though, Ruff has contributed consistently and substantially on the power play, having poured on 21 career points in that situation, including a 4-4-8 log this season –second only to Ashley Cottrell for the team lead- and a 2-1-3 showing this weekend.

And much to head coach Bob Deraney’s delight, the power play wealth has diversely spread beyond Ruff. Cottrell has four goals and 10 points when PC is at least one player up, Veharanta and Nicole Anderson each have six points, O’Neill and Amber Yung five. As a team, over their last nine outings, the Friars have connected on 14 of 52 opportunities, swelling their connectivity rate from 11.9 to 18.9 percent in that span and placing them second in the league behind New Hampshire in the power play department.

That situation could still be a little more rewarding. After all, under altered circumstances, Providence might have pounced on a late invitation to put St. Cloud State to rest on Saturday and allow Ruff’s unassisted conversion to stand as the winner. Instead, they slipped and settled for a bittersweet draw.

No matter. For Ruff in particular, the do-over worked rather well yesterday. Now all heads shall turn to this coming weekend’s two-game home series with Cornell. That would be the team which, one year ago today, happened to spill a 3-0 lead and allowed the likes of Ruff to score twice and polish off an exhilarating 4-3 win for the Friars.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On Hockey

It’s finish or be finished
Report based on Live Stats

St. Cloud, Minn.- Make no mistake, there was a lot to like about the way the PC women broke out of their Christmas chrysalis and recharged the ignition for the climactic phase of their season. When yesterday’s ice chips settled and the ink ran dry on the scoresheet at the National Hockey Center, there were three power play goals, four Friars with multi-point efforts, only three minor penalties, shots on net from 14 out of 18 skaters, a 35-save workout by Genevieve Lacasse, and an invisible but invaluable nonconference point.

But still, that solitary point could have had a partner. A real deal victory could have been stamped late in the third period on yet another power play strike with St. Cloud State’s Lisa Martinson locked away for cross-checking and only 3:46 to spare.

Nothing doing. Jennifer Friedman –one of the Friars’ two-point scorers on the day- fired the lone shot during that 5-on-4 segment while the Huskies threw out a few shorthanded attempts at the other end, adding a bit of a breeze to their eighth and final PK.

Moments later, with St. Cloud having deployed the six-pack attack in the final minute, a one-woman show they call Felicia Nelson inserted her fourth goal of the day to ultimately draw a 4-4 knot.

The more these kinds of outcomes transpire, the more apparent it is that every tie is half-full and half-empty at once. Providence has now consumed 20 of its 34 regular season contests and, at 5-7-8 overall, still has more ties than it does either wins or losses. To have that kind of a statistical peculiarity at so late a stage is akin to preteen ballplayers still using a tee.

Scan over the Friars’ list of accomplishments thus far. Only once have they achieved back-to-back wins, that being on opening weekend versus Maine in October. Likewise, they have only once had to swallow a succession of losses, those being at the end of October in the form of 5-1 and 3-1 decisions versus Brown and Boston University.

Neither wins nor losses have been more than two in a row this season. Conversely, PC has managed to chalk up one three-game tying streak and, reaching all the way back to their final game in 2009, have another string of brother-smooches in the works.

Yesterday’s welcome-back icequake presented the big picture rather well. The Friars are on a fence dividing Puck Purgatory and Paradise and, whenever tilted in one direction or the other, tend to take a few whiffs of the air, then saddle back up into limbo.

Nelson planted a fast and furious 1-0 lead for the Huskies at 4:14 of the opening frame, burying the very first meaningful shot Lacasse had seen in three weeks. Then the Friars took a few gulps of spiritual Rockstar, drew two quick penalties and scored twice on as many power play shots for a 2-1 edge with only 8:28 gone.

The rest of the ride revolved around the alternating tasks of protecting a brittle one-goal lead and restoring it every time Nelson messed up the works. Along the way, top point-getter Ashley Cottrell scooped up two assists, indicating no loss of life in her hot twig. A cold Jess Cohen picked up a helper, giving the rookie her first point in five games. Sophomore Abby Gauthier, who came in with but three points in 18 games and was filling in for an absent Laura Veharanta on Cottrell’s line, charged up an encouraging goal-assist value pack, as did junior Alyse Ruff.

Ruff, who will work on her twenty-first birthday in today’s tangle with Minnesota State, nearly bagged herself an early present in the form of a go-ahead goal early in the third. It was PC’s third power play conversion on six tries and the clutch capstone student’s seventh power play point on the year.

And it could have been the seventh game-winner of her career, if this were only football and the benches cleared for handshakes with 30 seconds still on the clock. Or if only the Friars had converted on their next power play that fell 43 seconds later or on the next one that came within the final five minutes.

Or if only they had not slipped into submission early in the middle frame, when Lacasse withstood eight unanswered shots in the first six minutes until Christie Jensen went off for interference and Nelson deleted a 2-1 lead on her team’s only power play connection of the day.

Ultimately, neither side could quite polish off the W within the standard 60 minutes or in the nailbiting overtime that saw two registered shots at each net. And so, everyone was left, at best, in Tevye mode.

In PC’s case, on the one hand, handfuls of scorers pounced at the right moments and Lacasse –with three instances of help from the pipe- kept everything afloat. On the other hand, they didn’t do enough to get what they really needed.

On the other hand, one more slip or one less heroic feat would have spelled a crushing catastrophe.

On the other hand, for a program of their ambitions, they’ve simply had more than their share of this for one season. As you may recall from the license plate of a fictitious local Minnesotan, Gordon Bombay, the Friars are at a point where the mantra should be, “Just win.”

They showed yesterday that they have all the particles. Now they need to finish the product.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com