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Monday, October 11, 2010

On Hockey

Net access still a cinch
Stingier opponents not cutting Friars’ output


“Replay!” was the refrain from PC women’s head coach Bob Deraney for nearly half a minute when play stopped at the 10:05 mark of yesterday’s second period. His towering forward Nicole Anderson had just drawn a hooking minor on Clarkson’s Carly Mercer whilst swooping to the net, but in his eyes, she had already stuffed the puck home.

Deraney finally got the replay he requested, in the eyes of referees Paul Driscoll and Derek Zuckerman there was no conclusive evidence to back his claim. And so, the Friars settled for the power play that would have been cancelled had Anderson’s goal been verified.

But a mere 14 seconds off the ensuing draw, Deraney watched another breed of replay. It was an active rerun of a previous 5-on-4 strike with Jen Friedman and Anderson collaborating on the center point and right wing, respectively, to feed Alyse Ruff, who nailed it home from the slot.

Guess the disapproval of Anderson’s would-be conversion really sparked the Friars there, did it not?

“I don’t think they were (extra) motivated. We just know how to grind,” said Deraney. “Okay, so we didn’t score there. We go out with the same enthusiasm whether it went in or it didn’t go in. We’re going to go back out with the same objective which is to score goals as quick as we can. So there wasn’t any motivating factor there. It was just us executing.”

Come what may, those visually identical goals, coming at 2:25 and 10:19 of the middle frame, certainly sparked the Friars. They spawned a 2-0 lead en route to a 5-0 victory at Schneider Arena.

As it happened, Ruff’s goals were the only two registered stabs that the power play brigade could muster on five opportunities. The rest of the time, the Clarkson defense deployed the same basic laser-beamed wall that also confined the puckslinging Friars to a mere 18 total shots on the game. That’s nine fewer than what they lobbed at St. Lawrence on Saturday and a distant downturn from the 90 they charged up over two games against Robert Morris.

But while the ammo is coming out at an exponentially lower rate, the explosive results on the scoreboard remain steady. Providence has yet to pack any less than four goals in a single regular season game, flaunting a nightly median of five.

And yesterday, when it seemed somebody had finally cracked their code, Clarkson owning the first period shooting gallery 14-2, the frenzied Friars ran up a productive sugar rush to the point where opposing starter Lauren Dahm was forked out in favor of freshman Erica Howe. (Sophomore Emily Groth finished her off when she scored her first collegiate goal for a 3-0 edge at 13:13 of the second. It made for three goals on eight second period shots at Dahm.)

Dahm, who went 23-11-5 and sat comfortably among the nation’s top 10 stoppers in every vital category last season, is now personifying her team’s startlingly lifeless start. She is 0-4-0 coupled with a 3.74 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. Yesterday, upon surrendering three goals on 10 shots in 33:13 minutes, she failed to finish what she started for only the second time since the start of last year. The other was just 10 nights ago at almighty Minnesota.

Considering the Gophers’ part in that barometer, perhaps more credit is owed to the PC strike force, which sniffed and promptly thrived on a shot of momentum to dismantle the Golden Knights goalie.

“First of all, she’s a terrific goaltender,” Deraney said. “I just think we made some unbelievable plays. Those first two goals, you can’t draw them any better. You’re looking at a shot from the slot that is basically with a lot of people moving in front. She really didn’t have a chance on either one. I would like to rather look at our execution than her not being up to the challenge.”

Barring any more jolts, favorable or unfavorable, to the active roster in the near future, Providence is likely to continue with its top umbrella power play unit with forwards Ruff, Anderson, Ashley Cottrell, and Corinne Buie up front and Friedman dotting the lone point. For what the slim two-week window is worth, they are already the most dependable quintet Deraney has deployed with the player advantage.

Most distinctively, out of PC’s five power play strikes this year, yesterday’s are the only two to be inserted within the first minute of the opponent’s sentence. It took one 45-second round of cycling after Brittany Mulligan sat down for Ruff to one-time the icebreaker through Dahm’s five-hole. And it required a mere 14 ticks before Ruff snapped another conversion glove-side.

Contrast that with the 1:50, 1:25, and 1:36 it took the Friars to convert in previous games and explain the improvement.

“I think our kids are doing a good job of identifying what (the opposing penalty kill is) giving us and not trying to force it and just making things happen based on what they’ve decided to give us,” said Deraney. “It’s not so much that we score so quick as that we’re making the right reads.”

Not to mention, squeezing through smaller seams just enough times to hoist the upper hand, an ability this energetic bunch will need down the road when games grow increasingly defensive.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On Hockey

Adjusting on the fly
In O’Neill’s absence, top six keeps thriving with tweaks


PC women’s hockey head coach Bob Deraney, safeguarding sensitive details surrounding his wounded co-captain the same way he once monitored Jack Parker’s net for Boston University, hugged the post tightly when the press tried to score more helpful details as to Jean O’Neill’s status.

Nothing but the bare basics was admitted. O’Neill is out indefinitely with a lower body injury. And for the moment, Providence will just have to subsist on whatever its 10 active forwards can collect.

“I was saying to my daughters last night, everyone has injuries and those aren’t excuses not to get things done,” Deraney said in the wake of yesterday’s 6-1 triumph over St. Lawrence at Schneider Arena.

Of O’Neill, he offered, “She is a very valuable player for us. Obviously, it’s going take a lot of players stepping up to fill the void of Jean O’Neill and we’re going to try to do the best we can. I thought our kids did a good job of that today and we just want to get her better and get her back in the lineup as quick as possible.”

Once that happens, the last thing any of O’Neill’s mates will want to do is retract what they appear to be building up as they press on without the senior winger who entered this year with a career scoring log of 26-29-55 in 102 games and had just set the tone for a fireworks finale with a hat trick on opening night last week.

Uncannily enough, Kate Bacon stood in for O’Neill on the starting left wing yesterday and pulled off the exact same feat. She thus leads the Friars with four goals in the wee stages of this season, including one power play strike, one shorty, and one game-winner.

And based especially on her portfolio, the speedy junior is on pace to potentially “upset” some preseason suspects for the team’s MVP award. Her four goals on the year already constitute one quarter of the 16 she has charged up since she enrolled two autumns ago. And with 13 shots on net –tied for the team lead with classmate Laura Veharanta- she flaunts a satisfying 30.8 success rate.

“Kate can play anywhere and make people around her better just because of her natural speed,” said Deraney. “But now she’s so much smarter. Her hands have caught up with her head and her feet.”

Meanwhile, Bacon’s new center, senior Alyse Ruff, and senior defender Amber Yung garnered three helpers apiece yesterday. All three of Ruff’s helpers and two of Yung’s were on Bacon’s scoring plays.

With that, Ruff –who by all counts still needs to wait until next week’s visit to Colgate to collect her own goal, as has been the case three years running- is off to her hottest start with five points in three games. Likewise, Yung is suddenly retaining a point-per-game median for the first time in her long stay on the Divine Campus.

Perhaps more importantly, the same holds true for Veharanta, whose line Bacon left to join the starting trinity with Ruff and Abby Gauthier. Veharanta, still working with Ashley Cottrell as her centerpiece but with freshman Corinne Buie filling the vacant wing, nailed the first two goals of her season for a 2-1-3 transcript.

In the four games –two exhibition, two regulation- that they spent as a unit, the Bacon-Cottrell-Veharanta line amassed a cumulative six goals, 15 points, and 55 SOG. Yesterday, with Buie in lieu of Bacon, the second line amassed three points and six shots together, along with a plus-2 rating each or better.

The first of Veharanta’s goals, which ultimately proved the game clincher, was the finishing touch of a two-on-one bolt initiated by Buie when she escorted the puck out of PC territory along the near wall. Buie ultimately found Veharanta waiting at the backdoor, where she buried a 2-0 lead with 11:38 gone in a volcanic opening frame (three goals on 16 SOG).

The point to take here: there is little to fear in the way of delicate line chemistry for these Friars, who are now averaging exactly five goals per game.

“We play interchangeable players,” said Deraney. “We really don’t put a lot of stock in line combinations, and what I mean by that is because of the way we play we can more people around and have them play primarily with a different group, but there really isn’t a transition time between that and you got to see that today.

“Veharanta is used to playing the offside (left wing), so this was a nice chance to get her back to the offside, move Buie up. And I think it keeps that line intact in terms of what they brought to the table.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

PC PK leaves Saints feeling empty

With 14:09 remaining in regulation yesterday, the PC women started pushing their luck with a 4-1 lead when freshman defender Maggie Pendleton was flagged for interference, already the team’s second infraction of the third period.

Suddenly, St. Lawrence head coach Chris Wells summoned goaltender Maxie Weisz to the bench in favor of an eccentrically early six-pack attack. Up to that point, the Saints had whiffed on all but one out of 30 stabs at PC stopper Genevieve Lacasse and had missed on their last five power play shot attempts.

That trend continued for the moment as Kayla Sullivan shanked a bid wide while Friars’ defender Amber Yung blocked Lauren Brozowski’s shot. But down two skaters and unprepared for the surprise scenario, Providence could not clear its zone long enough until the Saints did it for them, ultimately forcing Weisz back into the net at 7:19 when an offside play brought the face-off back into the visitors’ territory.

Less than four minutes after her jailbreak at the 7:51 mark, Pendleton was in the bin again for hitting from behind. With that, the Saints forked Weisz out yet again, still with 8:20 work of clock time to start nibbling at a potentially brittle three-goal cushion.

But Lacasse denied three separate bids by Michelle Zimmerman, then one by Brooke Fernandez. And then, 65 minutes into the kill, the Friars’ Kate Bacon carried a feed from Alyse Ruff out of harm’s way and activated her turbine blades en route to an empty netter, augmenting the lead to 5-1 with only 7:15 left.

“I actually think that was a turning point in the game,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “I didn’t realize it right away but it just showed some desperation by St. Lawrence. I thought it was a very interesting tactic by them, and good teams will capitalize on that opportunity and we capitalized on it.

“We put the game out of reach at that point. We proved we’re a good team because they gave us an opening and we basically put the nail in the coffin there.”

Maybe not so coincidentally, the Saints, their hope-deprivation suddenly elevated, did not so much as attempt another shot in the 55 seconds of power play time they still had. After Pendleton was released, they would distribute two far-between shots, both repelled by Lacasse, before they pulled Weisz yet again and watched as Laura Veharanta golfed home an extra dagger all the way from her own end with 3:05 to spare.

“That 6-on-4 goal, that’s a character goal,” said Deraney. “They score there, they make it 4-2. Instead, we make it 5-1 and the game is over. Great teams find a way to exploit that opportunity and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com