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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Hockey

Clearing the ice on their outlook
Lengthy gap between games equals assessment time for PC women

No need to be shy about asserting it this time. The Friars’ pluses patently outnumber the minuses after their first dozen games of the 2010-11 season.

With a brief intermission at hand after the first period of their 33-game schedule –they don’t play again for another six days- the Friars are best advised to savor the sweet spots of the tone they have set and translate it to the energized pursuit of improvement.

It is rarely an accident when a team leaps out to an 8-3-1 start and, after six weeks of knocking on the door between the honorable mention section and the Top 10 leaderboard, is finally recognized in a relevant national poll. PC was tied for 10th with Harvard in the eyes of uscho.com, as told in Monday’s revision. And last night, the Friars picked up three more votes for a total of 13 in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll, four notches shy of the No. 10 Crimson.

One can argue that they ought to be 10-1-1 and might have crashed the rankings a tad sooner. But the fans’ ability to gripe over regurgitated cupcakes against Robert Morris and Rensselaer only speaks to this team’s promising posture.

Providence isn’t tops in any conventional category on the Women’s Hockey East stats spread, but the invaluable balance is plain. With freshman blueliner Maggie Pendleton’s assist on Corinne Buie’s goal Sunday, which for her redeemed a helper two games prior that was ultimately retracted, every Friar who has seen action this season now has at least one point to her credit. Among the New England Eight, only New Hampshire can make the same claim.

PC boasts a league-leading seven skaters with at least three goals, including co-captain Jean O’Neill, whose lower body injury has restricted her to merely two games played.

In a credit to their collective play on both sides of the puck, all but two Friars have a positive plus-minus rating. As a group, they are plus-19, second to no one on this coast.

And goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, the only Hockey East stopper to have consumed all of her team’s crease time, has handled her peerless workload well enough to rank second behind Boston College’s Molly Schaus with a .944 save percentage.

Lacasse is often the best personification of this program’s highs, lows, and medians. Suffice it to say, this is one of those moments. She like her teammates has earned the breather that comes with this nine-day gap between Sunday’s 3-1 triumph over Maine and the next extramural engagement with Dartmouth.

“The first third of the season is grueling from a school standpoint, a schedule standpoint, just-trying-to-get-acclimated standpoint,” said head coach Bob Deraney.

“These nine days we can use very effectively to work on the things that we need to, get the rest that we need to, and hopefully on the other side of it become a much better team. So we’re excited about it.

“The bottom line of the goal is to be a better team at the other side of the break.”

To that point, with this reward comes responsibilities. Beneath a passable 2-1-1 record over the last 10 pre-break days sat evidence of fall frostbite in the Friars. Deraney had his reasons for interchanging his top two centers, Ashley Cottrell and Alyse Ruff, going into last weekend’s action. His strike force had gone from nailing four-plus goals in each of its first five regular season ventures to reaping two or fewer in four of the last seven.

In fairness, defensive games are bound to increase in frequency as the Hockey East pennant race revs up. But more notably, in the last four games, including its first three against conference cohabitants, the PC power play went a cumulative 0-for-15, including six spilled opportunities in the first 40 minutes against Maine.

All that came after the 5-on-4 brigade converted nine of its first 50 chances, equaling an 18 percent success rate. That rate has since dipped to 13.8 percent.

Then again, it’s not as if the opportunities have been abundant of late. Over their first eight games, the Friars drew a nightly average of 6.25 infractions on the opposition, contrasted to a mere 3.75 in the latest four.

For that reason, it is vital that Providence recharge its flustering flare at even strength as much as it reheats the acetylene sticks for those numerical advantage segments.

Rest and reflection, on top of a standard block of about four or five practice days is exactly the recommended formula here.

“I know a lot of people feel a little run down,” said Ruff. “But we just need to make sure we keep playing the same way that we’re playing, keep the intensity up, and keep our legs fresh.”

“So it might be a nice break, but hopefully it won’t hurt us. And I don’t think it will because we are a pretty good team and we’re starting to come together as a team and starting to figure out who we are.”

Then the question is: how will they continue? Keep your eye on the cooler, but do not open until next Tuesday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boston University 4, Women's Hockey 1

Friars fail to finish off BU

BOSTON- As uncontrollably eager as the PC women may have been to think otherwise, the Boston University Terriers could not be fazed frozen by any of the would-be speedbumps they faced yesterday.

“I think they had a very good game plan against us,” mused head coach Bob Deraney in the aftermath of a vinegary, fall-from-ahead, 4-1 loss at Walter Brown Arena. “Nothing that we didn’t know was coming. I just don’t think we handled it as well as we could have

The absence of their top three point-getters –Jenn Wakefield, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Tara Watchorn, all serving Team Canada in the Four Nations Cup- wasn’t enough to curb BU for a full 60 minutes. Neither was the added challenge of protecting an unripe goaltender in Alissa Fromkin, curiously getting the start in lieu of the hot-handed Kerrin Sperry.

Not even a five-minute bodychecking major issued to rookie blueliner Kaleigh Fratkin with 5:34 to go in a deadlocked second period could biff the Dogs into a suffocating, broken Whack-a-Mole hole. That was probably because the Friars never applied the mallet.

PC would squander four minutes of its all-you-can-score buffet on two penalties to Alyse Ruff and one to Rebecca Morse, and by the time Fratkin’s sentence was through with 34 ticks till intermission, Boston was savoring a 3-1 lead.

With five seconds to go, blueliner Kathryn Miller made it 4-1. By day’s end, the Friars had spent a cumulative 3:24 of clock time on the power play (three chances) when they could have spent as much as 7:27.

“I didn’t have a problem with any of the penalties that (the referees) called or the way they called them,” Deraney insisted. “Probably the worst thing that happened to us was getting that five-minute major penalty called against BU, because it looked that we kind of let down a little bit.

“That’s the one thing that we need to do a better job of: trying not to let down our guard. We trap ourselves that way. It’s that 10 minutes again that we talked about earlier in the year. There’s a 10-minute span where we just kind of get a little lost or a little loose, and all of their goals were scored in 11 minutes. It’s that 11 minutes where we’re learning to play a full 60 and until we do that, we’re still trying to find the team we’re capable of becoming.”

The prototype Deraney desires, or something close to it, was visible enough in the first period, wherein the Friars ran up a 14-4 edge on the shot clock and etched an early lead at the 5:30 mark.

Goaltender Genevieve Lacasse (season-high 41 saves) safely vacated her crease to play rolling BU dump-in and lobbed a feed up along the wall to Ashley Cottrell in front of the PC bench. Cottrell strode into the Terrier territory and roofed her third goal –and the Scarborough Save-ior’s third assist- of the season.

Cottrell’s strike, in effect, snapped an early rut of end-to-end air hockey-paced action in favor of a Friar-issued flurry. In response, Fromkin (27 saves) brought forth a strategy more conservative than the Tea Party. Within the last 10 minutes of the opening frame, four out of eight whistles were summoned when the BU stopper either lassoed in a shot or elected to smother a loose rebound or dump-in.

Accordingly, she kept her worthily poised mates in the game, and they put a 180-degree spin on everything in the middle stanza, discharging 26 shots at Lacasse, four behind Lacasse.

With 8:03 gone, not long after another brief segment of fleeting back-and-forth play, captain Holly Lorms snuck undetected into the deep and absorbed a feed from Meghan Riggs to slip home the equalizer.

And then, 40 seconds into the Friars’ major power play –as it happened, their last 5-on-4 chance of the day- Ruff was flagged for tripping. She was released as soon as Louise Warren shoveled a backhander into the top right corner of the net with 3:19 left in the period and still 2:45 left in the Fratkin penalty.

Morse drew a citation for holding 39 seconds thereafter and was joined right off the next draw by Ruff, booked for interference. Now with a 4-on-3 advantage available for as long as 1:57, the Terriers only needed 33 seconds to set up world class point patroller Catherine Ward, who magnetically absorbed the remnants of Lacasse’s stick save and slugged home her first NCAA goal.

Miller, credited with the lone helper on each of the previous two goals, collected her own on Jenelle Kohanchuk’s upward feed, which she drilled low from the right point into the opposite post to complete the eruption.

“They picked up the tempo of the game,” Deraney said of the decisive middle frame. “They started stretching, they started skating, things that we’re accustomed and that we usually handle well. But for some reason today, I don’t think we handled their adjustment as well as we could have.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Hockey Log
Black Bears looking better


BOSTON- For the University of Maine women’s hockey team, few developments are more indicative of improvement than a couple of early wins against opponents not called Sacred Heart.

The Black Bears and first-year coach Maria Lewis visit the Friars at Schneider Arena this afternoon at 4-5-0, their best nine-game start since they sprinted out to 5-2-2 in 2005-06, which was three coaches ago (Guy Perron, followed by one year under Lauren Streble, then three years of Dan Lichterman).

Although 18 of their 32 goals were scored over a two-game throttling of the independent Pioneers, the Mainers are still flaunting faint signs of long-term life on offense. Save for a 3-1 win at Niagara on October 22, they have capitalized on at least one power play every night for a respectable 22.8 percent success rate. And that includes three conversions a pair of growing-pain losses to almighty Mercyhurst.

Sophomore forward Brittany Dougherty, the Black Bears’ top point-getter with a 6-7-13 transcript through nine games, has already surpassed her rookie log of 3-6-9 in 28 games and only been barred from the scoresheet twice. Her classmate Chloe Tinkler already has two goals and three assists to her credit after mustering nothing but two helpers as a frosh.

Senior Jennie Gallo (8-3-11), along with juniors Myriam Croussette, Danielle Ward, and Dominique Goustis are likewise all on pace to cement quick and easy career years. It’s a notion with enough credibility, seeing as none of them have notched any fewer than three points in their first seven post-Sacred Heart games.

Finally, the potential to supplement the work of a sympathetic stable of goaltenders long relegated to 40-, 50-, or 60-plus shot nights from opponents who pace themselves to close victories.

“I’ve watched some tape on them. They work extremely hard, they make you earn everything,” said Friars head coach Bob Deraney. “We’re going to have our hands full. One of the best goalies in the league is coming in Brittany Ott. And we’ve got to play a lot better than we did (in yesterday’s 4-1 loss to Boston University), that’s for sure.”

Centers switched
Deraney tested his first major voluntary (i.e. not forced by injury) line chart tweaks yesterday, having centers Ashley Cottrell and Alyse Ruff swap lines. Cottrell started with Kate Bacon and Abby Gauthier on the wings while Ruff ran with Laura Veharanta and Corinne Buie after the two pivots had played the reverse roles for eight games.

“Just trying to create a little bit more offense for us,” Deraney said. “And I thought there were some good results that came out of it. But we’re trying to jumpstart our offense to go to another level. We haven’t scored a lot of goals lately.”

Sizzling Bacon cools

Bacon, still the top gun and now the only Friar currently boasting a point-per-game average higher than one, went scoreless yesterday for the first time since October 1, halting a nine-game production streak that saw her roll up nine goals –including one power play, one shorthanded, and one game-winner- and three assists. The opposing BU Terriers also confined Bacon to a mere three shots on net for the second time in as many meetings.

Quick feeds
: Bacon drew a five-minute major on an opponent for the second time in four games yesterday, when she absorbed a strident bodycheck from Kaleigh Fratkin during a footrace into the right corner of the BU zone. She previously endured a hit from behind via Princeton’s Rose Alleva back on October 23…The Friars scored the first goal for the ninth time in 11 games and are 5-3-1 in that scenario…Terriers goalie Alissa Fromkin, putting in her first appearance in a month after overcoming a lower body injury, earned her first win since she beat Maine in last year’s regular season finale…Providence was confined to one goal for the first time in 14 meaningful games, the last time being an identical 4-1 road loss to Connecticut on February 13 of last season…Veharanta led all Friars with five shots on goal while Jill Cardella, Lauren Cherewyk, and Catherine Ward registered seven apiece for BU…Gauthier was the only Friar to earn a plus-1 rating on yesterday’s scoresheet…Today’s opponent from Maine is the only team in Hockey East still yet to play overtime, to lose after scoring the first goal, or to win after shedding first blood.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com