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Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Hockey

They should make more shots count

Yesterday, for the sixth time this season but the first time in six games, the PC women discharged at least 35 shots on goal. And they could have upped that bushel well beyond 40 had they more fuel in the climactic phases of a narrow 3-2 Mayor’s Cup triumph at Meehan Auditorium.

“Narrow” is a much more operative term than “triumph” for this one, although given the Friars’ recent road woes and inconsistent output in the standings, there are still some luscious contents in this cup of lessons.

The Friars were leading the shooting gallery, 12-5, by the time Laurie Jolin scored her first of two goals to pull Brown University ahead, 1-0, with 16:11 gone in the first.

After defender Jen Friedman drew the 1-1 knot at 5:19 of the second, they issued quite the assertive follow-up flurry. Five different skating Friars pelted goaltender Katie Jamieson with six shots in a matter of two minutes. The madness was disrupted when a suddenly vulnerable Brown team went to the box on a roughing infraction to Kelly Kittredge. But there was still no mutation on the scoreboard.

By the second intermission, things were drawn at 2-2 and PC led, 28-17, in the way of registered stabs. Out of 17 active skaters, 14 had already taken at least one.

Translation: the quantity was there, the diversity in participation hardly warranted complaint, but there was not enough at the heart of the stats sheet to instill any due comfort to Bob Deraney’s coaching cabinet.

The tension only tightened in the last three quarters of the closing frame. When there were 14 minutes to spare in regulation, the Friars had 33 shots to the Bears 20. They mustered only three more afterward –the last one being Ashley Cottrell’s cathartic clincher in the final minute- with those shots each spaced apart by no fewer than four minutes. In that stretch, goaltender Genevieve Lacasse handled eight shots from the newly energized Bears.

Partial credit is owed to Jamieson for keeping it interesting early on, but PC owes every ounce of its acclaim to Lacasse for preserving the potentiality of a cardiac win. And going forward, the strike force owes its trusty backstop a return, or at least a halfway drive back, to the thick of October, when 40-plus shots and four-plus red lights on the other end were more the norm.

When the second period clock hits 10:00 during tomorrow’s tangle with Union at Schneider Arena, the Friars’ 33-game regular season schedule will be half-finished. And generally speaking, at this point, most anybody with fewer than five goals and/or 10 points on the year are those who could either stand to pick up the pace or elevate her own individual standards.

Junior Kate Bacon, who kindled a momentary 2-1 lead at 9:32 of the middle frame yesterday, is the PC Paramore’s only exception. Or at least the only undisputed one. Her latest goal is No. 12 in 16 games on the year, equating her combined output in 62 games as a freshman and sophomore.

Furthermore, Bacon has been doling out multiple servings of salsa-based rubber on a constant basis, her latest platter being a team-best seven shots yesterday. She now has 75 of those for an even 16 percent connectivity rate.

Not much more to assess over there. Bacon remains the team’s singular paradigm of quantity and quality. And Cottrell, last year’s top gun, is not far behind. She now has six strikes out of 50 shots for an exact 12 percent accuracy.

The Friars’ second- and third-busiest puckslingers, Corinne Buie (60 shots) and Laura Veharanta (56), are both still on pace to bag at least 10 goals before the playoffs. But there is no sense in settling down. And Buie, in particular, is slowly showing the need for a Bauer blow dryer to reverse the threat of freshman frostbite.

Everybody else just needs to let more out in the hopes of putting more in. Right now, everyone outside of the aforementioned has yet to reach 40 in her SOG column and they all have fewer than five tallies.

Collectively, the sub-Bacon crowd sketches a plain illustration of the team’s outlook, as did yesterday’s Divine City dance.

The prognosis: they’re good, but to meet their potential, they can’t afford to pass on a slight, simple upgrade.

At 10-5-1, the Friars are all but in a watertight position to take fulfilling confidence rather than frenzying consternation into the December deceleration. But odds are they will not find themselves escaping unscathed if they juggle with torches the way they did yesterday at any point in the Hockey East pennant race.

So instead of daringly juggling their acetylene sticks, they should refuel them and direct them solely at the adversary from here on out. No one in that dressing room needs to be told that Hockey East goalies are usually a tad tougher to mollify than Jamieson.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Hockey

Better by chances
PC offense redresses self by pouncing more


Outside the door to the PC women’s hockey locker room sits a simple, hand-drawn placard reading “0-0.” The attitude it preaches –in a novel diversion from the trite “no lead is safe” pep talk- is quite fitting for a team like this.

Through 14 games in their 2010-11 season, the Friars have gone up, 1-0, on 12 occasions. They have outscored their adversaries, 13-3, in the first period. And their defense, fifth in the nation with an average of 1.79 opposing goals per game, is especially reliable when granted a multi-goal cushion.

Such a luxury has technically not been lacking of late, but it has been a little less automatic than it was in the middle three weekends of October. When it doesn’t come, whiffed opportunities and foregone chances are to blame. In turn, a few radiant chances to win and opportunities to ascend the conference and national rungs have been spilled.

But yesterday, Bob Deraney’s strike force exploited an unlikely victim in Northeastern stopper Florence Schelling, using a productive jumpstart to set the pace for a 4-1 triumph at Schneider Arena.

It was the first time in seven total encounters that the Friars put more than three pucks behind the Swiss Save-ior. And it was the first time in six outings that they tuned anybody’s mesh more than thrice, after it had been the norm in their first eight games.

“I’m just glad to have our team back,” said Deraney. “I don’t know where they were the last couple of weeks, but we played the type of hockey today that I’d like to see on a consistent basis.

“It was fun to watch,” he added.

Rarely does such an assessment occur to someone with a direct stake in the action. Partisan and nonpartisan spectators can accept and indulge in the tension of a contest with leads and momentum prone to swaying at the rate of a New England weather forecast. But the people in control of the game want, well, more control of the game.

“It’s just important that we have the momentum right at the start of the game and when we get that first goal, we have to keep the momentum going from there,” said top gun Kate Bacon, who inserted her 10th and 11th goals of the season, both on the power play.

Amidst a timely nine-day break away from game action that ended on Tuesday, Deraney stated his desire to “not be our own worst enemy.” Indubitably, in the team’s five “non-wins” on the year, the offense has been PC’s foremost self-inhibitor simply because it was subconsciously satisfied with brittle, early 1-0 advantages.

But yesterday, Bacon and defender Rebecca Morse each beat Schelling a mere minute and 45 seconds apart before the game was nine minutes old. Bacon struck again at 3:06 of the second period, intercepting a Northeastern clearing attempt at the brim of the zone and snapping a low 5-on-3 conversion to the right of Schelling.

“We talked about it this week,” said Deraney. “We have created scoring opportunities, but we never really created scoring chances, and there’s a big difference. If you really looked at the quality of our opportunities, they weren’t scoring chances, they were just opportunities. Today, we tried to take those opportunities and turn them into chances, and because of that we were rewarded.”

The whole principle couldn’t be simpler. The greater the gap, the higher the pressure on the adversary to start kindling something of their own and the less time they have to do so.

“We let them jump out to a quick two-goal lead and it’s tough to bounce back from that,” said Huskies’ head coach Dave Flint. “Especially with the goaltending they have. You know you’re not going to get a bunch of goals against (PC goalie Genevieve Lacasse).”

Ironically, Flint was away serving as one of Mark Johnson’s U.S. Olympic sidekicks when, exactly one year to the date of yesterday’s meeting, his pupils deleted a 3-0 deficit and laced a 4-3 albatross around Lacasse and Co.

But those Friars were still thawing out from the residual numbness of growing pains. These Friars know how to keep their challengers in a deeper hole, assuming they dig it for them first.

Yesterday, Flint watched his pupils dig desperately through the third period, ultimately pelting Lacasse with 26 shots on goal. The Scarborough Save-ior repelled everything but a power play conversion via Katie MacSorley with 13:10 to spare.

With a game total 39 stops, Lacasse leap-frogged Molly Schaus of Boston College for the top save percentage (.945) in Hockey East. But it could have been a less pleasurable workout, perhaps one like the 20-shot second period against Dartmouth this past Tuesday or the 26-puck salvo via Boston University two weeks ago.

The difference this time: a bulkier differential in her favor on the scoreboard.

“I don’t know if you stress it,” Deraney said. “Every time you come that’s the goal, is to get one and just continue to build on it.”

Kind of like how the Friars got one more assertive victory –their first in a while- and would be wise to build upon that.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com