• Check out the Free Press founder's new Rhode Island/New England sports blog
  • http://providencesportsscribe.blogspot.com/

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Hockey

Their breakout passes
PC Women get dirty, rewarded in first exhibition


The other skate never dropped on the Friars this time. The visiting McGill University team could not rerun its tornadic comeback from last year’s preseason encounter, when the Martlets deleted a 3-0 PC edge and bagged six third period goals en route to a 7-4 victory.

Instead, an identical 3-0 lead just negligibly dropped to a 3-1 Providence triumph at Schneider Arena last night. This even after the Friars might have depleted their tanks following a 26-4 shooting edge (and 2-0 scoring edge) in the second period. Even with unripe senior goaltender Christina England taking the very first start-to-finish shift of her college career. And even when, with the 3-1 differential in place, a pair of penalties to Abby Gauthier and Jen Friedman with 8:19 remaining instantly broke PC’s disciplinary record out in hives and led to a 72-second 5-on-3 penalty killing segment.

In breaking out their game night attire for the 2010-11 season, the Friars simply masked the blemishes and held up a petit platter of promise in a few key areas. The most prominent, all-encompassing of those areas would be the ability to defend a lead against a potent and adamant adversary.

“Every season is a new season,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “That’s exactly what you expect as a coach. You expect you got better from a year ago.

“I have to tell you, we didn’t talk anything about what happened (last year). It was just us trying to be better, and I think tonight proved that our kids worked extremely hard in the offseason.”

No two individuals made a more glistening first impression last night than England and Laura Veharanta. England, 52 weeks removed from letting the Martlets score four goals on eight shots in a mere 9:27 of crease time, stood in for the away-on-business Genevieve Lacasse and repelled 16 of 17 bids throughout the night. In a major credit to her praetorian guards, her sweatiest period was an eight-shot, eight-save opening frame and she rarely faced much of a sustained swarm.

Accordingly, England’s test was resisting frostbite and not letting the lead shatter with her psyche once McGill got on board via Logan Murray at 5:48 of the third. She seemed to meet that wager.

“I think we played really good defense. I think Christina had to make some saves and she made some saves when we needed them,” said Deraney. “We are a team and we should be able to play anybody on the ice at any given time and that’s what tonight displayed.”

Meanwhile, Veharanta opened the scoring at 13:11 of the middle frame by polishing off a three-zone, two-on-one tear with Kate Bacon and notched an assist just 2:14 later. She thereby submitted her first multi-point game since penning a 2-1-3 transcript in last year’s McGill exhibition.

On the surface, that two-and-two equation may not make for the most favorable omen. But whereas last season Veharanta was on a regal ride of lofty expectations, she enters this autumn with unadulterated determination after her 13-goal, 19-point sophomore downturn.

“There were a lot of people I was really happy for, Laura being one, Kate Bacon being another, Christina England being another,” said Deraney. “You can see they worked extremely hard this summer to prove something and I’m glad they had a chance in the first game to show that their hard worked paid off.”

Veharanta’s classmates and linemates, Bacon and Ashley Cottrell, joined her in the night’s two-point club, Cottrell nailing PC’s other two goals on four shots.

As for the other 14 skating Friars, well, there was comfort to be taken in the reminder that this was merely a vaudeville act with one more of its kind to come this afternoon.

Starting senior winger Jean O’Neill led all PC puckslingers by contributing eight of the team’s 39 SOG. Her pivot Alyse Ruff, who set up Cottrell’s second strike from the far circle-top, took six stabs at Martlets’ goalie Taylor Salisbury. Bacon recorded seven, a tantalizing suggestion that she has rekindled her heavy shooting habits.

But even with their overloads of ammo, none of those three tuned the mesh last night, and beneath the top six, no Friar forward was credited with more than one shot. Amber Yung was the lone blueliner with multiple shots.

Then again, there’s time for refinement. That time is between 4:00 and 6:00 this evening.

“Our skill level isn’t where it needs to be,” Deraney granted. “But at this time of year, it’s your character that gets you through, and I think we displayed a tremendous amount of character tonight.”

Indeed, it carried them through a full 60-minute tussle with the Canadian answer to any one of the three WCHA bigwigs.

So then, what’s the next test?

“I expect tomorrow will be just as tough and that’s why we scheduled (McGill) back-to-back,” Deraney said. “We need to learn how to play 48 hours, 120 minutes. Tomorrow’s going to be a better test for our conditioning, their conditioning, and we’re going to be in a better place, there’s no doubt in my mind, afterward.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Hockey

Double drilling makes for progressive step
Extra preseason bout should hone Friars a little better


Ladies and gentlemen, your PC women’s hockey schedule tweak of the year.

Two years ago, it finally occurred to head coach Bob Deraney that handing his pupils their game time attire for one Sunday in September, then putting it back in storage for another two weeks of strictly internal tune-up did nothing to achieve an early winning flow. The solution: get the PWHL scrimmage over with, and then keep up the rhythm by starting intercollegiate competition within the next week.

Last season, it came time to sack the underage Canadian visitors, for they were anything but an accurate simulation of a fellow college program. Enter in their place CIS powerhouse McGill University for one night, after which Maine was atop the Friars’ agenda.

But in the ice-chipped wake of yet another costly losing October, Deraney has enacted another slight preseason reformation for the 2010-11 campaign. The same Martlets who last September deleted a 3-0 deficit en route to a 7-4 exhibition triumph are here for both tonight and tomorrow night.

The chief rationale: while engaging a Canadian college heavyweight for one night fittingly replicates a single NCAA game, holding two bouts with the same team makes for a better simulation of a typical weekend of college hockey action.

“If you look at our schedule, we’re playing back-to-back (every weekend) the whole month of October,” said Deraney. “With that being said, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to have a team like McGill, one of the best teams in Canada, come down and play two games that really don’t hurt our record one way or the other, but allow us to get used to playing back-to-back against a quality opponent.”

Technically, much the same way today’s airlines will nibble some $25-50 off your credit card for checking an additional bag, adding a second preseason game comes with a slight fee. For the first time since Deraney’s rookie year in 1998-99, the Friars will play one regular season game less than the maximum allotment of 34.

And inevitably, the said sacrifice will have to be a nonconference game. This, from at least one angle, means slightly less of an opportunity to make an all-important interleague impression on the national pollsters.

On the other hand, Deraney was apt to note that many of the programs his team emulates –i.e. the ones who are usually all but placing their stamp on an at-large Elite Eight bid when they are also stamping their Christmas cards- have always done more with less on the nonconference table.

“There’s a lot of teams that play less games,” he said. “Teams like (Minnesota-Duluth) and Harvard and UNH, they consistently play not a full schedule, so I don’t think one less NCAA game is going to affect us one way or the other. And that went into our factoring when we decided to play two exhibition games.”

Ultimately, if the Friars are to buck the tiresome trend of stalling early in the year and then paying the price when they whiff on the Hockey East pennant, they just have to be skillfully, mentally, and psychologically sharp when the time comes to play those crucial nonconference games. (By the way, the first eight of their regular season games are all against CHA and ECAC foes.)

What better way to acquire that fiery baptism than to twice tangle with a team that had just won 86 straight CIS games before losing their national title to Alberta last spring?

And what better time than now for Providence to ditch its comfort zone to the furthest possible extent? After all, reigning team MVP Genevieve Lacasse is in Calgary for the weekend amongst the other 63 of Canada’s best active female pucksters. And Deraney indicated yesterday that the Scarborough Save-ior will also miss three games in early January while her Canadian U22 team pursues the MLP Cup.

This means Christina England will have to add a less negligible sum of minutes to her resume, which currently contains but 4:48 worth of NCAA crease time. Likewise, rookie Nina Riley will have to break in her pads without delay.

“It’s extremely critical for everybody’s development,” said Deraney of this weekend’s scrimmage series. “We can’t rely on Genevieve to win us games. If we’re relying on our goalie to win us games night in and night out, then we’re not the good team that I think we’re capable of becoming.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the goalies to show what they can do and I think it’s also an opportunity to show what we can do without Genevieve. Obviously, Genevieve is very valuable to this success of this program, but we have to make sure we’re not relying (solely) on her. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn how to play without her, because that’s going to happen.”

“That’s what happens when you recruit great players. You have to expect them to leave, but at the same time, it gives an opportunity for other people to step up.

“And this is an opportunity early on, and not to pay a heavy cost.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com