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Friday, October 8, 2010

On Hockey

Getting on their marquee
Weekend poses 10-11 Friars’ greatest NC barometer


The conflicting causes will be common enough this weekend when the PC women host St. Lawrence tomorrow and Clarkson on Sunday. On both afternoons, a Five-Hour-Energy-sized gulp of redress will be on the line for a pair of teams coming off a slight chink in their national status.

Less than two weeks ago, all three parties concerned were either within the Top 10 or just on the borderline of the two most relevant preseason polls. The Friars tied New Hampshire for the final slot on USCHO’s exclusive leaderboard and joined the Saints among USA Today’s honorable mentions. Clarkson was No. 7 in the collective eyes of both panels.

At the start of this week, the idle Saints retained a few table scraps, but gained nothing by default. The Golden Knights did themselves no favors submitting to almighty Minnesota, the same team that terminated their first NCAA title run last spring, by a two-game score of 8-0. Those two losses docked them to the reserves list with a mere 16 and 17 votes from the two polls.

And Providence is now off the USA Today screen and sitting among five almost-theres, clinging to but one USCHO point in wake of a split with the comparatively plebeian Robert Morris.

“The game we lost to Robert Morris was a big game,” PC head coach Bob Deraney said of last Friday’s fall-from-ahead, 5-4 falter in the season opener. “You’ve got to win those games, and I think that fueled our fire for the next time we played them.”

With that very fuel, the Friars pulled no surprises by sparking itself right back to the .500 fence with a 5-2 lashing of the Colonials. Now is the time to sprint forward and start kicking plenty of ice chips over the remnants of that first night flop.

For Deraney, “now” would simply mean scrapping for the same nightly cause from now until all of the pre-tournament ice chips settle on March 6. But if the Friars want to hit the most telling springboard and set the most strident tone for themselves and the nation, “now” means right now, as in the next seven days.

“Somewhere along the way, we’re going to have to make up for our misstep (last) Friday night,” said the skipper. “Our kids know that. We know that as a staff. We can’t change what happened. All you can do is look forward to the next game and we’re very excited to take on St. Lawrence and Clarkson.”

Based on the platter of image-enhancing opportunities they have, specifically on the interleague front, there will be no chance more radiant for the Friars to assert themselves than this weekend. Barring unforeseen surprises from someone like Princeton, the Knights and Saints are the lone two teams capable of heavyweight status who will visit Schneider Arena this season until the Hockey East slate opens.

It is not a bad idea to throw next Friday’s excursion to Syracuse under the same “key matchups” heading. But beyond that, PC won’t be testing itself against any other nonconference rivals of this magnitude.

Neither of the forthcoming adversaries can quite understand that shortage. After this weekend, Clarkson will still have another four tussles with certified Top 10 challengers: UNH, Boston University, and Syracuse (twice). The Saints will have six more statement games, visiting the Terriers and Wildcats one time apiece, hosting Boston College for two nights, and paying a two-night visit to Mercyhurst.

Translation: if they are paying attention, and not taking too much or too little care, the Friars should have the upper hand in the way of incentive these next two days.

Of course, no one from without –especially anybody from the fourth estate- is going to extract such importunate ideas from within PC’s offices. You have better odds of cultivating fresh New England vegetables on Thanksgiving Eve.

When pressed to assess the special implications of the two games featuring Elite Eight veterans, Deraney insisted, “They’re all big, and I’m not giving you a line there.”

“College hockey is just so well-balanced right now that every game is important,” he added. “Whether (the opponent is) ranked or they’re not ranked, they all count towards our one and only goal and that’s (to make) the national tournament.”

Technically true enough. And as the half-full/half-empty upshot last weekend proves, the more winnable games are especially crucial to keeping whatever footing an aspiring powerhouse already has. There is always more to be lost than to be gained out of a bout with Robert Morris, Brown University, or Colgate.

For the moment, though, it is all about adding layers. The Friars’ focus should be hunting down those priceless national points, which tend to come with a free bonus parcel of confidence.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hockey Log

Buie feeling immediate power

The greater of the two opening statements is tough to judge. First, PC women’s rookie winger Corinne Buie nailed three goals over her first weekend of NCAA competition, including a dirty-nosed power play strike in Friday’s near-miss rally.

And then, yesterday, her numbers earned her a Hockey East rookie of the week laurel, ahead of even Boston University crowd-puller Marie-Philip Poulin, who stamped a 3-1-4 transcript (including two shorties) in her team’s set with North Dakota.

Come what may, the Friars’ third-liner does not deny, and vigorously appreciates, her rapid acclimation here.

“Coming into this week, I’m just excited to keep going at this level,” she offered. “Obviously, I feel a little more comfortable having put one in the net and now I’m just ready for this weekend’s tough games against St. Lawrence and Clarkson.”

Buie, who totaled seven shots on the weekend, hatched her goose-egg with 4:26 to spare in Friday’s 5-4 loss to Robert Morris, whittling a 5-2 deficit to 5-3 on PC’s second power play goal of the game.

The next day, shortly past the halfway mark of the third period, she was churning around the Colonials zone on a unit featuring the likes of Anderson, Ashley Cottrell, Alyse Ruff, and defender Jen Friedman dotting the umbrella. Just as RMU’s Jamie Joslin was being released from her two-minute sentence, Friedman imported a pass from Ruff and pelted goaltender Daneca Butterfield.

Buie was on the porch to bury the soapy rebound within six seconds of the power play’s expiration, expanding PC’s lead to 4-1 en route to a 5-2 triumph, which she sealed herself with an empty netter.

So no extra credit for that second strike, but enough credit for her nonetheless

“I’m really happy to be on the power play when I can be,” Buie acknowledged. “We’re still getting used to everything, but I think we’re developing it more and it should get better as we go.”

Although she has yet to collaborate on the scoresheet with her full-time, even-strength associates, Buie credited the likes of her fellow young-ins, sophomores Jessie Vella and Nicole Anderson, with helping her ease in to the college ranks.

“I really like working with them,” she said. “Vella is a really hard-working person, good defensively. Anderson has such a good shot and a long stick that when I pass to her she can always catch the puck.

“I just like them as people, too. Other than playing with them, they’re really nice and encouraging.”

O’Neill still supportive
No timetable has been determined for the return of Jean O’Neill, injured late in Saturday’s game after inserting a hat trick the previous night. Odds are she will be out for a while, missing the forthcoming home dates with St. Lawrence and Clarkson at the very least.

That aside, the senior co-captain graciously offered her take on this weekend’s importance for the Friars, who in the Saints and Golden Knights will confront the two most potent interleague rivals on their schedule.

“You want to go into every weekend with the same mentality,” O’Neill said yesterday. “Every game is important, whether it be a Hockey East game or any other team, so I think it’s just a matter of working hard in practice all week and doing the little things right and improving on what we did wrong the previous weekend and carrying over the good things we did. We had a good momentum-changer Saturday with the win, so I think that’ll help carry over.”

Forecasting firestorms
Counting the two McGill exhibitions, the Friars so far have launched no fewer than 39 shots on goal in a single game. The slimmest advantage they have had in a given shooting gallery was a plus-10 (41-31) in last Friday’s loss at Robert Morris.

It’s no coincidence, head coach Bob Deraney said whilst tumbling into a temporary cliché trap.

“Great offense comes from great defense and that’s what we’re all about. Our defense is what resulted in so many shots at the other end. So yeah, I think that shot differential will continue. That’s when we know we’re playing our type of hockey.”

Quick feeds: The Friars dropped just a few strides out of uscho.com’s revised poll this week, retaining one vote…Friedman, along with Maine’s Chloe Tinkler and Mercyhurst’s Pam Zgoda, are currently tied among all of the nation’s defenders with a median of 1.5 points per game…PC will resume practice today after taking a breather yesterday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On Hockey

Breadth and balance will buoy this team
Diversity key to PC women’s offense

Report based on Live Stats

PITTSBURGH- Well before the second intermission yesterday, all 17 Skating Friars in uniform had at least attempted a shot on goal. By that point, and by game’s end, everyone with the exception of Emily Groth and Jean O’Neill had pelted Robert Morris goaltender Daneca Butterfield once or more.

O’Neill’s emptiness under the SOG heading, in particular, may have been a tad startling in wake of her hat trick and four-point effort on Friday. But then again, the co-captain had doled out more than her share one night and a smattering of her mates took their collective turn the next.

Not so coincidentally, whereas Providence spilled multiple leads and lost, 5-4, on the night that their output didn’t trickle far beyond O’Neill, the Friars kneaded a redressing 5-2 victory yesterday with four individuals tuning the Robert Morris mesh and 11 personalities brushing the scoresheet.

Overall, with one meaningful weekend now in stone, the Friars have a combined 23 points shared amongst all 11 forwards to dress in their two-game set with the Colonials plus freshman defender Rebecca Morse and junior goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, who nabbed her fourth career assist whilst curtaining Saturday’s victory. And 16 skaters made at least two contributions to the weekend’s back-snapping bushel of 90 SOG.

This is what the priceless asset they call depth is all about, and this is what ought to be PC’s defining trait in its 2010-11 Hockey East crusade.

Boston College will have its Kelli Stack to bang in the bulk and feed her surrounding remoras. And the favored Boston University will have its volcanic strike force with Jenelle Kohanchuk, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Jenn Wakefield as the mere beginning.

Barring surprises, the Friars will not see anyone finish within even 10 or 15 points of those hot hands from the Hub.

So be it. Based on the progression and potential of each veteran forward, at least four of Bob Deraney’s pupils –Ashley Cottrell, O’Neill, Alyse Ruff, and Laura Veharanta- can make as many 35 points fall into place for themselves. Other returnees such as Jess Cohen and Nicole Anderson are capable of plunging into the 20-point range before the 33-game regular season is up. For the rest, forwards and defenders alike, the low-to-mid teens are a reasonable request, but more would be welcome.

If all of that happens, or something not far off the mark, Deraney should have the product he has been itching to harvest ever since he was rounding up the heavily leaned-on class of 2012. And it will happen if the Friars can keep up the fruitfully frenzied appetite they collectively showed yesterday.

The only aspect still squealing for attention is how quickly they start stuffing the basket. It took nearly 35 minutes, a wake-up call in the form of Colonial Cobina Delaney’s icebreaker, 54 cumulative attempts and 33 registered stabs before Anderson cracked the code. (Although, if the post didn’t have Butterfield’s back in the nineteenth minute of the opening frame, PC would have had the upper hand and rookie Corrine Buie would have had her second college goal in as many career games a little earlier.)

Once they had that icebreaker, though, the Friars were quick to avoid the same mistake that cost them the season opener on Friday. They collected swift insurance from Cohen, who broke the 1-1 tie Anderson had drawn 43 seconds prior, and from Kate Bacon, who tied rookie blueliner Rebecca Morse with six shots on the day.

Of the three full forward lines in action, the starting trinity of O’Neill, Ruff, and Abby Gauthier landed the fewest shots with six. But Ruff and Gauthier both penned their name on the scoresheet when they collaborated on temporary freelance forward Cohen’s go-ahead goal.

Ruff ultimately joined junior Jen Friedman (two helpers apiece) and Buie (two goals) in the day’s cozy multi-point club. Granted, the prospect of that becoming a regular occurrence is as likely as the Friars scraping out a median of 4.5 goals all season. But to reiterate, this team is more apt to be gauged based on the number of individual contributors than the number of individual contributions.

To date, the 2010-11 Friars have scored thrice on 39 shots against McGill, six goals on 44 shots at the same Marlets, four goals on 41 shots at RMU, then five on 49 bids versus the Colonials. That equals a four-game median of 4.5 goals on 43.25 shots for a 10.4 percent success rate.

The foremost reason one should expect the red light tempest to taper off a little is simply that there won’t be many more Robert Morris-esque cupcakes to savor (or carelessly regurgitate). Especially within Hockey East boundaries, most opponents will prove a little more resistant to the rubber blizzards PC has launched in its first two weeks of competition.

Still, the habit won’t hurt anything. And most critically, more players are gradually phasing themselves in to the equation. Morse along with fellow defenders Maggie Pendleton and Leigh Riley all etched multiple shots yesterday after having none on Friday. Similarly, the bottom half of the forward brigade was several strides ahead of its productivity in the McGill series.

More sources, more resorts, more reinforcement, more cushion. The Friars can be glad to have that assuming they prudently translate it to more wins prior Thanksgiving.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com