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Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Hockey

Matchup was “knot” what it promised

For one party, the unsurpassed tradition saturating its rivalry with New Hampshire is irrevocable. For the other, everyone by now ought to have carpal tunnel from underlining November 20, when the revamped women’s Battle of Commonwealth Avenue has its first showcase of the season. Both programs alike have their reasons for healthy, mutual spite with Northeastern.

But last night’s 2-2 draw between Providence College and Boston University at Schneider Arena confirmed an equal, if not greater, matchup concocted with succulent mirror imagery and intensity.

Going in, the Terriers and Friars alike were just polishing off the most productive Octobers either incumbent coach has ever enjoyed. Now at 6-2-1, Bob Deraney is enjoying his best start in 12 years on the Divine Campus. BU’s founding father Brian Durocher has his program off to its best start in its six-year history at 6-1-1.

Why? Both teams are overstocked on offense. Both have stability in the cage. Both are keen and capable on each side of the special teams’ spectrum. Both have shown that they prefer to omit the word “quit” in their dictionary.

And especially in the wake of last night’s seesaw sibling-smoocher, both know they have their wrinkles to flatten in advance of their rematch a week from today up at Walter Brown Arena.

“They’re obviously a well-coached team, and they play real hard,” said Durocher. “Early in the game, I thought every time we got near the puck, they got a stick on it or had an arm or a hand on us and we weren’t quite ready to match their intensity. So for 10 minutes, they were kind of in charge and giving us fits. After that, I think we got grounded and played a pretty good game.”

When asked what he expects next time around, Deraney said, “Two heavyweight fighters in the middle of the ring duking it out. They have great players, we have great players, they’re going to execute, we’re going to execute. Whoever makes the most of those opportunities is the one who’s going to win.”

Last night, the Friars had the bulk of the early opportunities. Freshman blueliner Rebecca Morse spawned them a 1-0 lead at 14:46 of the first and PC drew each of the game’s first three power plays all within the first 11 minutes of the middle frame.

Trouble was, BU is not one to be fazed by 1-0 deficits. After last night, the Terriers are 3-1-1 when authorizing the first goal and they have only trailed by multiple goals once this season.

Furthermore, their penalty kill is tops in the nation with a 95.6 success rate. And in those three shorthanded segments, they blocked four out of seven PC shot attempts and forced two others to go wide.

On the flip side, once the Friars started going to the box, they awakened a thawed-out, star-studded strike force. In two unanswered deployments, Boston’s top power play unit –comprised of Jenn Wakefield, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Jenelle Kohanchuk up front with Lauren Cherewyk and Tara Watchorn patrolling the points- leveled seven shots at PC stopper Genevieve Lacasse.

The seventh of those went in off the stick of Wakefield, who one-timed Catherine Ward’s feed from the far outer hash marks into the opposite shelf with 1:03 left in the second.

Apart from that and Wakefield’s go-ahead goal with 3:59 gone in the third, Lacasse stood firm for a 40-save dolphin show. Of the Terriers she met this past summer at Team Canada camp, she repelled four other Wakefield stabs, blocked all six bids by Poulin, and four each from Kohanchuk and Ward.

“She played fantastic,” said Durocher. “We got a lucky goal, the second one, which took a lucky bounce and was in the toughest spot to stop. I don’t think she nor anybody else saw it bounce, but it did.

“You take herself and (Molly) Schaus and (Florence) Schelling at BC and Northeastern, and we’re going to have a run at tough goalies as the year goes along, that’s for sure.”

That would be something for the Terriers and Friars –averaging 4.25 and 3.78 goals per game, respectively- to each bear in mind during the Hockey East pennant race. They taught each other that lesson last night in their first intraleague contest.

BU freshman Kerrin Sperry nearly enhanced her young career record to 6-0-0, denied the full two-point package only by Providence speedster Kate Bacon’s equalizer with 8:25 to spare in regulation.

Then again, Sperry may have endured her first loss had the Friars sculpted a heftier lead during their 15-shot flurry in the first. Or if they had poked one in on one of four power plays. Or if, at 8:47 of the second, Jessie Vella had put on the brakes in time to avoid a crease violation that waved off a delayed-penalty goal that would have made it 2-0.

“Put a couple of goals in there, and maybe it’s a different game,” said Deraney. “Against a team like that, when you get opportunities to score, you need to score. If you don’t, it could come back to haunt you. That’s what happened tonight.

“But a lesser team, too, when they went ahead, 2-1, would have said ‘Hey, good effort tonight. Let’s look forward to the next game.’ Not our kids. They’re going to fight until somebody tells them they can’t fight any longer.”

Complementing that, Durocher and Co. can ask for little more than a better jumpstart and a slightly more assertive finish next Saturday. It will be especially crucial for his pupils to step up while Poulin, Wakefield, and Watchorn represent their country at the Four Nations Cup.

“I expect both teams to be playing hard and we’ve got to ramp it up right from the get-go,” he said. “We’re going to have to play a smart game, an intelligent game, and make sure we match their intensity.”

As if these two weren’t matching each other enough already, another good promotional omen for Hockey East.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hockey Log

Friars: BU just another adversary

Where the fans should be seeing stars tonight, Bob Deraney and his pupils plan to simply see a band of skaters wearing a uniform different from their own.

Where pollsters see the potential for the Friars to hop over the dasherboards separating them from the Top 10 crowd, the pucksters just see another opportunity to whet their blades.

Really? Is there no absolutely aroma of intrigue behind the fact that the reloaded Boston University Terriers will come back to Schneider Arena for the first time since raising the Women’s Hockey East playoff trophy here last March and give the Friars their first league test of the season? Not to mention, the fact that PC is likewise offering the No. 5-ranked, 6-1-0 Terriers their first intraleague opponent?

“Just looking forward to our next game, no matter who it’s against,” said Deraney. “We come to play and we want to play the best. That’s what we talk about all the time. We wanted RPI to bring their best (last Friday), we wanted Princeton to bring their best (last Saturday), and we want BU to bring their best, because the only way you’re going to get better is if people play their best against you.

“We don’t want people to have a crappy night. We want people to bring their best because whether you win or lose, it doesn’t matter, it’s going to make you a better team.”

The last time BU confronted a Women’s Hockey East cohabitant was a revolutionary battle at Schneider Arena, culminating in a 2-1 overtime win over Connecticut for the program’s first conference crown.

Nearly eight months and one Cyclopean recruiting spree later, the Terriers come to start defending their title with the likes of ex-New Hampshire Wildcat sizzler Jenn Wakefield, Canadian Olympic hero Marie-Philip Poulin, and graduate defender Catherine Ward, another gold medalist from the Vancouver Games.

All has gone according to plan in the first month of action for Brian Durocher’s capstone class. Poulin –the scorer of both goals in Canada’s 2-0 gold medal triumph over the United States- leads the NCAA with nine strikes and the team with 16 points. Wakefield boasts an 8-5-13 transcript in her first seven college games since transferring from Durham.

As a team, the Terriers have had 11 different scorers contribute to a median of 4.57 goals per game. The power play likely still has yet to hit its stride, but already has a 21.9 percent success rate. On the flip side, Poulin, Wakefield, and junior defender Tara Watchorn have combined to give the team a frightful pile of six shorties.

BU has even hinted at answering its topmost question in the crease. Freshman goaltender Kerrin Sperry is a seamless 5-0-0 and has authorized merely eight goals on 107 shots faced.

That should be plenty from goal line to goal line to test the 6-2-0 Friars and their own nascent well-rounded roster. And while the collective data probably anoints Boston as the favorite on all betting lines, Providence may have one advantageous X-factor in goaltender Genevieve Lacasse.

The Scarborough Save-ior enters tonight’s matchup armed with familiarity. She spent large ice chips of her summer, as well as the last weekend of September, training under the Mighty Maple Leaf with the likes of Poulin, Wakefield, Watchorn, and reckonable BU junior Jenelle Kohanchuk.

Yet even from Lacasse, the word on the matchup still translates to “nothing special.”

“We’ve been doing a little bit of trash talking, I guess,” she said. “It helps a little bit, I know their moves, but who knows if they’re trying to play mind games? If they’re not going to pull their moves on me, pull something different? So I’m just trying not to think about it, pretend like they’re any other opponent.”

Lacasse was pressed further to imagine a potentially bigger-than-usual audience tonight, which would be drawn particularly by the presence of Poulin.

“It might,” she said. “I’m excited for it. Whatever comes our way, we’ll take it.”

Quick feeds: Last year, BU won the season series with the Friars for the first time since its 2005 inception, claiming two of the three meetings. Counting their two Hockey East playoff wins, the Terriers are 3-7-0 all-time at Schneider Arena…In her two seasons at UNH (2007-09), Wakefield mustered an aggregate 3-2-5 scoring log in seven meetings with Providence…Both BU alums, Deraney and Durocher will ironically square off only two nights after their former college coach –men’s skipper Jack Parker- received a share of the 2010 Lester Patrick Award at the TD Garden. Parker, who has taught the Terrier men since 1973, was honored on Wednesday along with fellow recipients Jerry York (Boston College men’s coach), Cam Neely (Hall of Fame player and former Bruin), and Dave Andrews (president of the AHL).

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hockey Log Extra: Writer's backcheck

Author’s note: In its NHL Team Reports section, the current edition of The Hockey News is having its contributors “look back at their favorite moments covering their team.” In a nod to that, the Free Press offers a similar report on the PC women’s team.

Nobody who was on hand November 8, 2009, when Schneider Arena morphed into the OK Corral, can still rightly stand by the notion that defensive hockey is dull hockey.

The budding personal rivalry between Friars goaltender Genevieve Lacasse and Northeastern stopper Florence Schelling hit a fast new height when the contesting sophomores pushed their third career showdown to a 13-round shootout.

Schelling had already repelled 36 regulation shots, Lacasse 27. Each only had to deal with one opposing stab in the five-minute overtime to retain a 1-1 tie and secure at least on Hockey East point for her respective team.

Odds are nobody was thinking about a record-length shootout when the 65th minute of standard hockey action expired. But if, in that second year of shootout usage in the league, one had to guess the goaltending card that would set a runaway record, which other two goalies would one pick?

The first six shooters on each side whiffed. By that point, the record was already in place, but there was still not a single red light in the bonus round.

Then, in the top half of the seventh, Northeastern’s Danielle Kerr nudged the Friars to the brink of gut-socking defeat by beating Lacasse on a low-rider shot. But PC’s Alyse Ruff coolly countered by cutting down Broadway and letting the vital equalizer trickle through Schelling’s five-hole.

Another five scoreless rounds ensued. And by the time Lacasse denied Casie Fields, the Huskies 13th shooter, the Friars –shorthanded by an ongoing smattering of injuries- were but four rounds away from returning to Nicole Anderson at the top of the order.

In the meantime, stay-at-home defender Christie Jensen was spontaneously tapped to try her luck, and with all the open ice, she would reveal an inner portion of herself that neither 5-on-5 nor 4-on-4 nor even, most likely, 2-on-2 would ever permit.

Jensen –who at the time had no regulation goals in her career- took the puck from the center dot and made a dramatic swoop to her left, making no use of the smoothed lane the Zamboni had left specifically for her and her fellow shooters. She gradually cut back to center until she was face-to-face with Schelling, and spooned the game-winner over the Swiss phenom’s catching glove.

A hard-earned two-point package for the victors, well-deserved partial credit for the runner-ups. A bout like that can irrefutably justify what is often maligned as the “loser point.”

Epic battle? That’s an understatement. This author was quick to dub this contest “A Game Worth 10,000 Words.” That is, if we only had the space for it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Women's Hockey 4, Princeton 0

Coming back together
Friars stay buckled, tame Tigers


When his pupils went into yesterday’s second intermission carrying a brittle 1-0 edge and still nearly half of a five-minute, all-you-can-score buffet courtesy of a hitting-from-behind major to Princeton defender Rose Alleva, PC head coach Bob Deraney opted to screen the Zamboni in the dressing room. Namely, the choice between the specter of squandering the juicy combination of a fresh sheet and interminable power play or cashing in for a bonus breath of momentum.

“You don’t want to talk about that because what happens is, if you don’t score, now all of a sudden, it takes on a different meaning,” Deraney said.

The urge to repel any pressure only heightened at 1:58 of the third period, when Abby Gauthier’s power play goal was placed under review to confirm it was not converted on a high-stick.

While referees Bill Doiron and Robert Tisi made the crucial call upstairs, Deraney huddled his entire team at the bench.

“I said to them, no matter what happens, if they call the goal back, it doesn’t matter, just continue to compete and that’s what I was most proud of. For 60 minutes, we were able to compete as hard as we did from start to finish. Much different than last night.”

As it happened, the goal stood, granting the Friars a 2-0 lead. And in the 18:02 of clock time that remained, they paced themselves to an assertive 4-0 triumph at Schneider Arena, rapidly redeeming Friday’s fall-from-ahead, 3-2 loss to Rensselaer.

“It was really nice because we all played together this game,” said Gauthier, credited with her second goal in as many nights. “(On Friday), we were playing really individualistic. Today we played together, and my goal came from all my teammates. It just shows you can’t do it alone.”

Some of the common themes from the Friars’ previous three weekends back on display after Friday’s hiatus: a few power play strikes, one or two double-digit shot bushels in a single period, a point for at least one member of each full forward line, and a final margin of three goals or more.

“It was really good,” said goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, who charged up a game total 35 saves for her 11th college shutout.

“We played great defense. All over the ice, we were really quick. First period, we dominated. We just started off way better than (Friday). (Friday’s) game wasn’t us at all. Today we came out and showed who we really were.”

After a relatively uneventful first period, characterized chiefly by minimal penalty calling and a digestible flurry of 16 shots at Princeton stopper Cassie Seguin (40 saves), the Tigers turned around and stirred the better half of the offense through most of the middle frame.

But the Friars, bolstered by Lacasse’s 17-save performance, constantly salted the ice for their opponents. All but one of Princeton’s four second period power plays, including a rich 1:57 carry-over from the opening frame, was terminated prematurely by an infraction of their own. That slippery slew climaxed in the five-minute sentence to Alleva, drawn by Kate Bacon as she went to retrieve the remnants of her shorthanded bid.

“I guess it was just a momentum builder,” said center Ashley Cottrell. “We always talk about keeping our feet moving, using our speed to our advantage, and if we use our speed, take them wide. That draws penalties and it always works to our advantage.”

Amidst the cunning power play chopping spree, all five skating Friars touched the puck en route to their icebreaker at 6:24 of the second. Christie Jensen made the moving breakout feed from in front of her net to fellow blueliner Jen Friedman. Venturing up the far lane, Friedman found Laura Veharanta, who carried the disc into Princeton territory and left a drop pass for Corinne Buie, whose shot was guided into the opposite corner of the cage by Cottrell’s tip.

Once Gauthier broadened the lead by swatting home Bacon’s bloop shot from the opposite post, Providence increasingly flustered the Tigers. Within 40 seconds of Gauthier’s goal, Krystyna Bellasario was whistled for a blunt checking infraction, having blown both mitts in the face of Nicole Anderson in the near corner of the Friars zone.

Less than six minutes later, successive tripping and checking minors to Sally Butler and Paula Romanchuk gave PC a 32-second 5-on-3 segment. With 19 seconds left in Romanchuk’s sentence, Anderson won a face-off back to Lauren Covell, who fed her point partner Friedman for a blast over Seguin’s trapper, making it 3-0 with 10:08 to spare.

When 3:29 remained, a fresh-out-the-box Jessie Vella finalized the 4-0 upshot when she absorbed Cottrell’s pass along the near wall and strolled in to bury an empty netter.

“Obviously, we were hoping that we had learned a lesson from (Friday’s) game and I think we did,” said Deraney. “We played well from offense to defense to where our goaltending was superb to our special teams where our power play scored two goals, which is terrific, and we obviously shut them down on the penalty kill. It was a total team effort.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Friedman puts defense on board

Although none of his blueliners had contributed firsthand in the first seven games of his program’s offensive renaissance, PC women’s head coach Bob Deraney was quick to commend their combined 20 assists and additional intangible contributions.

“I think we’ve gotten tremendous shots from the point,” he said. “And that’s what we want to see. Our defenders have taken good shots, but they haven’t hit the net.”

That finally changed at 9:52 of the third period yesterday when Jen Friedman, the nation’s leading helper coming into the weekend with nine assists, slugged a high-flying puck from the near wall over the glove of Princeton goaltender Cassie Seguin. As it happened, fellow junior defender Lauren Covell was credited with her second assist on the play.

And there was a slight positional role reversal in Friedman’s goal. Deraney singled out one of his forwards, Jessie Vella, for promptly bolting the face-off circle to screen Seguin, all within the three seconds it took for the puck to drop and to ultimately find its way home.

No point for Vella there, but an integral part of the goal, Deraney said.

“That’s a terrific shot, and a lot of people won’t see it with Vella going to the net and basically taking away the goalie’s eyes. And it’s just a great shot by Friedman to walk into it and put it top shelf.”

Friedman’s goal was her fourth power play point of the year, already matching both her freshman and sophomore totals.

Cottrell steps back up

Junior center Ashley Cottrell, the team leader last season with 14 goals and 31 points, stamped her first multi-point game of the season with a goal-assist value pack yesterday. With that, she bumped her 2010-11 scoring transcript to 2-3-5 through eight games.

Although still a few strides behind six of her teammates and not yet producing at quite the pace most had expected, Cottrell takes comfort in the depth of her crew.

“I don’t think there was any pressure (on me),” she said. “Points don’t really matter to anyone on the team as long as we’re winning, working together as a group.”

Cottrell, the only player to attain a plus-2 rating yesterday, does have one jutting distinction. After posting the icebreaker in yesterday’s 4-0 win, she has two clinching strikes on the year, joining her with teammate Alyse Ruff and only 10 other NCAA skaters already with multiple game-winners.

Towers tangle
Sophomore forward Nicole Anderson had not received a penalty prior to yesterday’s game. That changed promptly on her first shift when she had a chippy encounter with her fellow six-footer, Princeton defender Sasha Sherry, behind the Tigers’ net. Both were escorted to the sin bin for coincidental roughing minors at the 2:40 mark.

The injured Jean O’Neill and freelance forward Emily Groth are now PC’s last two skaters yet to do time for a single offense this season.

PK perfect again

In all four of their regular season home games, the Friars have gone 21-for-21 on the penalty kill. The Princeton power play came up empty yesterday on five opportunities, whiffing on eight total shots.

The Tigers’ promising moment came after PC’s Laura Veharanta was called for cross-checking at 3:52 of the second period. They mustered a cyclonic three stabs within 25 seconds, but by then their 5-on-4 time had ended prematurely with Paula Romanchuk going off for slashing.

On the other side of the special teams’ spectrum, the Friars piled on 17 power play shots –their most since heaving 20 at Robert Morris on October 1- over nine opportunities, converting twice.

Quick feeds: Ruff was retroactively credited with an assist on Abby Gauthier’s goal in Friday’s 3-2 loss to Rensselaer, keeping her tied with Friedman for a team-leading 10 points…Kate Bacon launched a team-high nine shots on goal yesterday and extended her point-scoring streak to seven games with an assist on Gauthier’s third period goal…PC and Princeton played an aggregate five minutes and 13 seconds of 4-on-4 action…As a team, the Friars own the best plus-minus rating in Hockey East at a collective plus-15…The defending Hockey East champion Boston University is next on PC’s agenda, slated to visit Schneider Arena this Friday. The Terriers tied a program-record six-game winning streak yesterday, warding off Clarkson at Walter Brown Arena, 3-2.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com