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Saturday, October 2, 2010

On Hockey

Protection was the Pitts
Failure to build costs confidence, game


PITTSBURGH- For the decisive phases of their regular season opener, the PC women’s hearts and minds were as fragile as their leads.

The longer of the Friars’ two advantages lived to be a mere 3:15. Conversely, the host Robert Morris Colonials held a single edge for a good 20:15 straight, in large part because they actually added on to it.

Such was never the case for the visitors, whose 5-4 loss last night resulted from a missing quantity of robustness they apparently neglected to buy in a Steel City gift shop before entering the Island Sports Center.

True, upon absorbing a toe-curling 5-2 deficit, the Friars screwed their lids back on and rekindled their productive flames for the final six minutes. But valiant cramming sessions will do them no favors making a first impression in the national polls, especially since this was against a team projected to finish just one step out of the cellar in College Hockey America.

Even if they had nailed the equalizer, the middle hunk of the game would still call for an emergency back-to-basics lecture before today’s rematch. And assuming they regroup to salvage a split in this series, the 1-1 showing is still all but bound to cost them a share of Top 10 territory in the coming week.

That will only be fitting as much as it may be acrid. For “favor” and all of its relatives extending to at least second cousins was conspicuously absent in the Friar Puck glossary all last night.

It didn’t help, psyche-wise, that after swiftly deleting 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, the Colonials nabbed their first lead of the night with a mere 15 ticks to spare till the second intermission. Nor did it help to know that go-ahead goal by Thea Imbrogno fell 13 seconds after they had whiffed on a power play. And it was anything but elevating for PC to see its celestial stopper Genevieve Lacasse, wearing her game time attire for the first time in her junior campaign, observe Opposite Night and repeatedly succumb to frostbite after stretches of inactivity in her zone.

But just the same, the Friars didn’t do much to compensate themselves or their newly anointed co-captain Jean O’Neill, who compiled a hat trick by spawning the two early leads and later sawing a 5-3 deficit with 2:13 remaining in the closing frame.

And data be darned, they did too little on too few occasions to pester Colonials sophomore goalie Kristen DiCiocco, who surprisingly earned the start ahead of the much riper Daneca Butterfield.

Of PC’s 41 registered stabs at the RMU cage, 20 were unloaded on the power play. Two more were recorded within the last 45 seconds, during which Lacasse was benched in favor of a six-pack attack. And another two were reaped on fleeting shorthanded rushes.

Nothing wrong with any of that, especially seeing as the Friars went a respectable 2-for-6 on the player-advantage. But consider the kicker: over the 42 minutes and 29 seconds they spent skating at even strength, more than two-thirds of the total game clock, the strike force mustered less than half (17 SOG) of what it did on the night as a whole.

Only once did DiCiocco need to act twice between whistles while playing 5-on-5. It happened late in the first period when she denied Ashley Cottrell and Laura Veharanta and then sent teammate Kelsey Thomas the other way to test Lacasse.

Granted, the Colonials did not stir up much of a cyclonic attack around Lacasse’s property, either. But they didn’t need to so much, seeing as four of their successful onslaughts lasted only one shot. The other simply consisted of Cobina Delaney collecting and cashing her own rebound.

Even a couple of power plays could have gone a little better. Between the 5:30 and 10:50 mark of the third period, with her team safeguarding a 4-2 edge, Thomas served a pair of two-minute sentences for tripping. But the Friars, conspicuously disconcerted and passively pining for the woebegone momentum, notched a mere three shots over those two chances. And within three minutes of Thomas’ second jailbreak, Providence took two unanswered penalties of its own and the Colonials’ Maria Stoa pounced for her second conversion of the night for the eventual clincher at 13:49.

Still, it all goes back to those pivotal moments after O’Neill had nudged her mates ahead. After she struck at 3:42 of the first, no whistles were blown and no shots were taken at either end until Dayna Newsom drew the knot for Robert Morris at 4:19.

When O’Neill restored the edge at 4:31 of the second, PC again failed to dare DiCiocco when she was most prone to cave in. It would be three more minutes before Cottrell took a shorthanded stab. And seconds later, Stoa made it 2-2.

For the next 26:03 of action, RMU outshot the Friars, 20-11, and outscored them, 3-0. Carve out that stretch and the shooting gallery would have read 30-11, the scoreboard 4-2, advantage Providence on both fronts.

But because they failed to pick up any traction, PC broke down and broke character. And as so often happens, the collective glitch jutted out the most.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hockey Log

Yung pleased to pitch in

In both of last weekend’s preseason friendlies against McGill University, no PC women’s defender mustered more than two shots on goal, save for senior Amber Yung. She leveled three at the likes of Taylor Salisbury on Friday and tested Andrea Weckham five times on Saturday.

And in Saturday’s come-from-behind 6-4 triumph, Yung’s puckslinging may have been the most clutch facet in the Friars’ kit. With his team ahead, 3-2, at the 4:49 mark of the second period, only 119 seconds after Ashley Cottrell had sawed a 3-1 difference, Martlets head coach Peter Smith decided to utilize his timeout.

So much for halting whatever shift in momentum Smith must have detected. Within seven seconds of the post-timeout face-off, Yung lined up along the far-center point, absorbed a pass from partner Maggie Pendleton, and nailed a bar-down equalizer.

One period later, with Providence on its fifth power play and a barren 0-for-4 on the advantage, Yung set up shop along the far circle-top and her slapper cleared a well-placed screen with 8:23 to spare, granting the Friars a 5-4 lead and herself the eventual game-winner. It was her first deciding strike in a collegiate game, exhibition or otherwise.

Could there be more of this to come? A greater improvement on the five goals she supplied last year, which buried an arid sophomore season?

“Just whatever helps my team win, I’m gonna do,” said Yung, who during another shift on Saturday was spotted going out of her way to grind for the puck behind the McGill cage a la Erin Normore.

“I don’t really care about my points, as long as we win.”

On the home front, where Yung is naturally expected to lead, PC held fort Saturday in part due to a staggering 17-0 advantage in the third period shooting gallery. Playing before two unripe goalies in Christina England and Nina Riley, the defenders grated McGill’s ammo to a fairly digestible 33 shots within the weekend’s first five periods. The only trouble worth noting was when England authorized two goals on four shots and gave way to Riley at 13:34 of Saturday’s opening frame.

And only in Saturday’s second period were the Marlets allotted more than 10 shots (11). In the other five stanzas, they took no more than eight.

Was there added motivation to make this a painless practice quiz for Genevieve Lacasse’s reinforcement tag team? Did the defensive brigade gain enough comfort being backed by the newbies?

“It goes both ways,” said Yung. “We helped out our goalie and the goalie saved our butts a couple of times too, so I think it was a good effort by both parties.”

Cohen back, O’Neill still to come

Sophomore forward Jess Cohen, out of commission all last week with the remnants of an offseason injury, was back in uniform for yesterday’s practice. Meanwhile her former linemate, senior Jean O’Neill, was still confined to the sidelines due to the same mild ailment that had her withdrawing from Saturday’s game during the second intermission. That puts her at least one day behind her original timetable for a rapid return.

Head coach Bob Deraney is still holding out hope that both players will be ready to give his team a quorum of 12 active strikers come Friday’s regular season opener at Robert Morris.

Tangled with poll Cats
The Friars tied age-old rival New Hampshire with 18 points apiece for No. 10 in yesterday’s uscho.com preseason poll. Boston University leads all Hockey East institutions with a No. 6 ranking (86 points) while Boston College ranks ninth in the nation with 32 points

Of the 11 non-WHEA teams featured in the preseason rankings, only two are included on PC’s schedule, but both are coming quick. Clarkson, ruled No. 7 with 51 pollster points, comes to Schneider Arena on Sunday, October 10, one day after a visit from St. Lawrence, who received an honorable mention with two points.

Quick feeds: Lacasse returned to campus yesterday after flying back from the five-day Hockey Canada National Team Evaluation camp in Calgary. She figures to return to her normal routine without delay… USA Today will release its preseason national poll today…Schneider Arena will host one home game for Boston’s new CWHL team, featuring PC alumnae Katy Beach, Cherie Hendrickson, Brittany Simpson, and Karen Thatcher. The still-yet-to-be-named Hub franchise –which commences its schedule against Burlington at the end of October- will host Montreal at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 28, five-and-a-half hours before the PC women battle Union.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On Hockey

Sizzling weekend for Bacon
Speedy winger, linemates bolster preseason sweep


Odds are Jim Gaffigan is not a major hockey fan, much less one following the women’s team at Providence College. But for the rink-going Friartownies who do exist, now may be the time to channel one of the food-loving funnyman’s most notable bits.

“I want more. More bacon.”

Kate Bacon, that is. The junior winger has entered this campaign as one of the heavily hyped class of 2012’s members still trying to really crack her chrysalis. And for what the somewhat slim window is worth, she exited this weekend of exhibition play with a 1-4-5 scoring log coupled with 12 shots on goal in two games.

More markedly, in yesterday’s come-from-behind 6-4 triumph over McGill University, Bacon not only led the Friars with a 1-2-3 transcript and a plus-3 rating. She also turned on her turbine blades with enough force to directly draw three of the six total infractions committed by the Marlets.

With a mere 12.9 ticks to spare in the first period, at which point McGill was savoring a 3-1 advantage, Bacon toured the puck along the far alley into enemy territory when defender Cathy Chartrand got her crook around her and paid with a two-minute sentence carrying over into the middle frame.

PC didn’t cash in on the fresh sheet, 5-on-4 advantage combo, but within a minute of Chartrand’s release, Bacon and Laura Veharanta set up linemate Ashley Cottrell for a deficit-cutting goal.

Later on, 10 seconds into a third period Friars’ penalty kill, Bacon tried to skate the puck beyond her own blue line, but was again impeded by Chartrand, who was flagged for interference. Chartrand’s illicit maneuver cost her team a whopping 1:50 worth of potentially tide-turning power play time. The fact that the Martlets were ultimately not credited with a single third period SOG could very well be attributed to the sudden loss of that power play.

And with 9:59 to spare, Bacon was advancing through the neutral zone when Logan Murray made the wrong kind of backcheck, bumping her from behind and receiving an interference minor. PC’s Amber Yung would score the deciding goal on the ensuing power play and, perhaps fittingly, Bacon was on the ice at the time.

“She is the fastest kid in college hockey,” asserted PC head coach Bob Deraney. “There is no doubt, hands down, it’s got to be undisputed. There is nobody who steps out on the ice and all of a sudden elevates the game the way she does with her speed. And yeah, I believe that’s something that’s going to be consistent throughout the year because she has also learned how to use it productively. It’s a credit to her.”

Bacon started producing yesterday on a play when she was late rounding out a line change and thus working with Abby Gauthier and Alyse Ruff by default. Hugging the biscuit deep to the left of the McGill cage, she momentarily darted with a fly’s sense of direction, but then found blueliner Rebecca Morse swooping in for a pass. Morse accepted Bacon’s feed and buried the game’s first goal to the right of goalie Andrea Weckham with 6:55 gone in the first.

After collaborating with her usual linemates to produce PC’s second goal, and after Yung slugged in an equalizer at 4:56 of the second, Bacon granted the Friars a new, 4-3 lead at 9:44. Hovering around the far side of the cage, she waited for Veharanta’s pass from behind and smuggled in a wraparound.

That would be all of the tangible contribution from the starting forward trinity this weekend. And all it consisted of was the aforementioned 1-4-5 log by Bacon, three goals from Cottrell, and a 1-3-4 line from Veharanta, who also made a good screen of herself on Yung’s game-winner.

“That’s why we put them together,” Deraney said. “They have all worked extremely hard. They all had skill, there’s no doubt about that, but the questions is how hard did they work in the offseason to become the players that they’re capable of becoming? And I think you’re just seeing them being rewarded for their hard work.”

“Ultimately,” he added, “they have a long way to go. They haven’t even come close to reaching their full potential and that’s the really exciting part that their having success now.”

If the 2010-11 season is to really unfold according to plan for the Friars, then Bacon currently stands as their ideal personification. After a decent 8-4-12, 111 SOG performance as a frosh, a few injuries early last year dulled her progression as she settled for 28 sophomore games with a 4-6-10 transcript and 54 registered shots.

If her chemistry with Cottrell –her former teammate with the U.S. U18 team- and Veharanta maintains its fizz, there is no reason to think she cannot hit double digits in both the goal and assist column. Likewise, as they reemerge one year riper with 13 juniors and seniors, there is no reason why the Friars shouldn’t at least come within tickling distance of a 20-win season, a prospect that has tantalized and eluded them since Bacon and her classmates first enrolled.

When asked for a 1-to-10 scale on his team’s preparation for their run, Deraney offered, “I think we’re about a five or a six, and I think that’s where you should be. You hope that you’re very best hockey is still far in the distance and that’s the way I see it. We have a lot to work on, a lot of great things to build upon.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com