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Friday, May 13, 2011

The 10 Best Women’s Hockey Games I Witnessed as a PC Student

Honorable mentions
November 16, 2008
– Providence 2, Connecticut 0: PC cashes in on the only seam at either end when Alyse Ruff deposits a 5-on-3 conversion from the porch for a 1-0 edge with 5:57 to go
January 24, 2009 – Providence 2, Boston University 0: Jean O’Neill’s plucky shot block sparks breakout that sets up Katy Beach’s clincher late in the third
November 27, 2009 – Providence 2, Wisconsin 2: Seesaw bout with Mark Johnson’s pupils decided by a trendy Nicole Anderson power play strike
March 6, 2010 – Connecticut 3, Providence 2: PC rallies from initial 3-0 hole, but Huskies hold fort to exorcise their postseason demons
February 6, 2010 – Boston College 4, Providence 2: Danielle Welch outscores Laura Veharanta, 3-2, and Melissa Bizzari tips in another Welch bid for the insurance

10. November 10, 2007: Providence 4, Vermont 2
This generation of Friars had a way of making “Cardiac Kids” the postgame refrain from head coach Bob Deraney. And one month into her career, Alyse Ruff set the tone for what would become her habit of performing CPR with a blade and a biscuit.

After the scrappy, stealthy Vermont Catamounts led 2-0 through 40 minutes, Ruff literally crashed goaltender Kristen Olychuck’s unscheduled party, cutting the lead to 2-1 17 seconds into the third whilst erroneously tumbling into the cage. Two minutes and two seconds later, she tipped in a power play conversion and prompted visiting coach Tim Bothwell to use his timeout.

It only took another five minutes for PC –which received at least one shot on goal from each of its 11 forwards- to complete its profile in persistence. Cherie Hendrickson, who led all forwards with seven SOG, converted a pass from Erin Normore (six shots) for the eventual clincher.

9. January 31, 2008: Providence 4, Boston University 3
In their third year as a varsity program, the pre-Poulin, pre-Wakefield, pre-pennant Terriers had a modest request for their first Hockey East playoff spot, though they showed it in flashy fashion. Holly Lorms and Sarah Appleton struck 52 seconds apart to give BU a 2-0 edge just before the halfway mark of an otherwise evenly matched first period. And it didn’t help the Friars cause to whiff on each of the game’s first two power plays, then went shorthanded themselves 54 ticks into the middle frame.

But 64 seconds after Kelli Doolin’s jailbreak, freshman Jean O’Neill sparked the turnaround, one-timing a centering feed from Mari Pehkonen. O’Neill, a regular Terrier tormentor as her career progressed, would later give PC a 3-2 lead at 1:29 of the third, though BU was holding fort as it continued to kill penalties and test Friars’ keeper Danielle Ciarletta as regularly as PC did Melissa Haber.

On only their second 5-on-4 chance of the night, the Terriers retied the game with 13:18 to spare in the third. But for the rest of the ride, the Friars ran up an edge in the shooting gallery (15-9 in the third) and would finalize the victory on Katy Beach’s end-to-end conversion with 5:51 remaining.

8. February 19, 2011: Providence 3, Vermont 2
When answering an interview in advance of the matchup, PC skipper Bob Deraney was genuinely energized to hear about the stakes in the penultimate game of the regular season. His Friars were one win away from clinching third place, the highest slot still available in the Hockey East playoff bracket. The opposing Catamounts were one loss away from missing the postseason.

“Great,” Deraney said. “The most dangerous people are the most desperate people.”

To start, though, only PC’s incentive was translating on the scoresheet. The Friars pestered celestial Vermont goalie Roxanne Douville with 16 first period shots and finally penetrated her for a 2-0 lead at 1:40 and 9:46 of the second. But Vermont and its veterans, besieged by perennial underachievement, bit back as expected. Junior Chelsea Rapin and seniors Celeste Doucet, Saleah Morrison, and Peggy Wakeham all brushed the scoresheet over two power play conversions to delete the deficit.

But the dramatist Catamounts, a little too late to perk up in their season and in the game, would pay their late fee in the final minute with the notice coming from Rebecca Morse. PC’s rookie blueliner, already with an assist on the day, spooned home the game winner from the slot with 37.8 seconds left.

7. November 21, 2008: Mercyhurst 3, Providence 0
Head coach Bob Deraney, rarely one to take a loss without at least a dollop of despondency, told this author of the almighty Lakers, “I don’t think they can play much better than they did tonight. Unfortunately, they were playing us.”

Even before the legacy of this contest reached hindsight, though, one could tell that by playing a complete game itself, Mercyhurst brought out the best in a rising PC stopper named Genevieve Lacasse. Staring down a strike force of otherworldly countrywomen and another Team Canada goaltending prospect in Hillary Pattenden, the Scarborough Save-ior turned in 51 saves, including 12 on Olympic gold medalist Meghan Agosta.

And for their part, the Skating Friars found the time, space, and energy to thrust 31shots at Pattenden and draw 10 penalties on the Lakers.

6. November 22, 2008: Providence 2, Niagara 2
The fiery Friars were scoreless on each of their first 64 shots in the first 115 minutes and 32 seconds of weekend action, their drought carrying over from a solace-stocked 3-0 loss to Mercyhurst the evening prior.

But once they perked up on a power play, and cut the Purple Eagles’ 2-0 lead on an Erin Normore conversion with 4:28 to spare, order was restored. Less than two minutes after Normore struck, PC drew another power play to end a 106-second shot-free, whistle-free segment. On the advantage, Laura Veharanta tested goaltender Jenni Bauer with a shot that prematurely sold the signal to the goal judge.

As it turned out, play continued even with the flickering light, until Alyse Ruff plunged at the rebound and swiped it into the near post for the equalizer with 1:43 left in regulation.

5. January 21, 2011: Providence 3, Boston College 1
No later than at the halfway mark of her college career was everyone convinced that Genevieve Lacasse would pour a full bottle of White-out all over PC’s goaltending record book and replace the contents with her own entries. But Boston College has all but singlehandedly hastened her pace.

Six weeks before she broke Jana Bugden’s all-time saves lead against these same Eagles in the Hockey East semifinals, Lacasse shook off Kelli Stack’s icebreaking shorthanded breakaway and proceeded to preserve a defiant 3-1 win at Schneider Arena. After PC usurped the lead on a power play strike late in the second and Rebecca Morse’s go-ahead goal 25 seconds into the third, it faced an inevitable reversal from the referee’s gale-forced whistle.

The Eagles, who had dealt with five unanswered penalties over the first 40 minutes, would be granted four unanswered power plays over the final 19:14 of regulation. In that span, they charged up an eye-rubbing 33 pelts on Lacasse, including 14 power play stabs, 11 of which fell between 9:05 and 12:54, when PC committed three infractions and was down two skaters for a full two minutes.

Yet nothing tuned the mesh. And after taking six of the game’s final seven shots, BC let Kate Bacon get away with a cathartic empty netter.

4. February 6, 2009: Providence 3, Northeastern 2 (OT)
The first installment of the Genevieve Lacasse-Florence Schelling rivalry could have gone exclusively to the Dogs. But the Friars, victims of a 1-0 Schelling shutout the preceding October, were just too dogged in their own right.

All but two of PC’s skaters recorded at least one stab at Schelling, amounting to a workload of 56. That’s 10 more than the Swiss Save-ior has dealt with in any other collegiate game, before or since.

And after the Huskies had scraped out a 2-0 lead –their goals sandwiching a washout of an alleged Friar goal that left would-be scorer Alyse Ruff and other PC personnel visibly piqued- the Friars finally cracked the Schelling code on Erin Normore’s power play tally with 9:21 gone in the second.

And before the fundamental details of that goal were ready for disclosure over the PA system, the season-high masses at Schneider Arena –complete with a rare visit from the pep band- exulted in Jean O’Neill’s equalizer at the 9:43 mark.

New game, sort of. Their oomph restored, the Friars continued to besiege Schelling, though she would stop each of the next 30 stabs, including 20 in a scoreless, penalty-free third period.

But in the bite-sized bonus round, one more international VIP, Finnish Flare Mari Pehkonen, seized her long-awaited chance to glow. With one minute left before a shootout, she accepted a feed from Abby Gauthier in the slot and spooned her game-leading eighth shot of the night through the roof to stamp the 3-2 Providence triumph.

3. October 29, 2010: Providence 2, Boston University 2
Providence was the first team to hold phenom Marie-Philip Poulin pointless in a Division I college game. Remember that.

But naturally, the upgraded, defending Hockey East champion Terriers had a few more prominent options to test the 6-2-0 Friars. In her first conference game with BU, New Hampshire transfer Jenn Wakefield treated the Friars no differently than when she was with the Enemy Epitome.

For her fourth and fifth career goals, and seventh and eighth points at PC’s expense she beat Genevieve Lacasse on a bullet from the far outer hash marks and later a chopper from the high slot to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. And it’s worth noting that defender Catherine Ward, Poulin’s teammate at the Vancouver Olympics, etched an assist on both tallies.

Other than that, though, Lacasse had an answer for the Terriers’ other 40 tries, including all six of Poulin’s, which tied Wakefield for the game lead. Meanwhile the Friars, who took more than half of their 29 total shots (15) in the first period, managed to smuggle an equalizer past the laser-beamed BU defense and rookie stopper Kerrin Sperry. As it happened, it was top gun Kate Bacon inserting her eighth goal of the season, and only nine games in at that.

2. March 5, 2011: Boston College 3, Providence 2 (OT)
All right, the final outcome was less than memorable for Friartownies, but one has to admit it was an exemplary serving of postseason hockey. The blood and sweat of the matchup’s most otherworldly players turned to thick ink on the scoresheet and each team had its turn rebounding from a third period deficit.

PC stopper Genevieve Lacasse stamped a personal record 58 single-game saves, a Hockey East postseason record for most blocks in a tournament game, and surpassed Jana Bugden on PC’s all-time leaderboard for 2,556 upon repelling BC’s 32nd bid of the game. A whopping 10 of those saves held back U.S. Olympian Kelli Stack, who needed two of her understudies to bail her out in regulation.

In an otherwise expectable goaltending duel between the Scarborough Save-ior and BC’s Molly Schaus, another Olympic veteran, a seven-minute, 27-second scoring spree saw rookie Eagles Melissa Bizzari and Taylor Wasylk sandwich strikes by the Friars’ Jen Friedman and Abby Gauthier for first blood and the game’s second equalizer.

And fittingly, in the resultant overtime, the decisive play entailed a one-on-one confrontation between one of the decorated goalies and one of the defiant clutch scorers. On her 11th registered bid of the game, Stack laced the 19th game-winner of her college career through a mousehole and into Lacasse’s cage.

1. November 8, 2009: Providence 2, Northeastern 1 (SO)
Who but PC’s Scarborough Save-ior and Northeastern’s Swiss Save-ior?

The first of only two Women’s Hockey East shootouts at Schneider Arena before the experimental format was repealed last summer remains the longest in league history. Most naturally, it was an arm-wrestling bout between Genevieve Lacasse and Florence Schelling.

After drawing a 1-1 knot in 65 minutes of standard hockey action, the rival netminders pitched two complete shootout shutouts –i.e. six scoreless rounds apiece.

In the top of the seventh, NU’s Danielle Kerr, ironically one of six Huskies not to etch an SOG in regulation or overtime, beat Lacasse low. But PC’s Alyse Ruff retorted with a stroll down Broadway and a trickler that somehow went through Schelling’s narrowing five-hole.

Another six rounds ensued, elevating the likelihood of an unlikely hero ribbon being doled out at day’s end. As it happened, it went to the Friars’ stay-at-home sophomore defender, Christie Jensen, who lacked a regulation goal in 44 career games up to that point.

For her turn in the bottom of the 13th, Jensen took on a Normorean guise as she looped from center ice to the left, then cut back to the middle en route to Schelling’s porch, where she lobbed the game winner into the upper right hand shelf.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The 10 Best Men’s Hockey Games I Witnessed as a PC Student

10. October 20, 2007: Holy Cross 6, Providence 4
Each team converted three power plays. The Friars closed a 2-0 pothole and deleted three one-goal deficits all within a four-strike second period. And then, Crusaders’ goaltender Ian Dams thwarted PC’s threat to usurp the lead, regained on the strength of Dale Reinhardt’s goal at 2:52 of the third, protected despite a 12-3 shooting edge to Providence in the closing frame, and cemented by Peter Lorinser’s last-second empty netter.

9. February 19, 2011: Boston University 1, Providence 0
On the one hand, the Friars’ discipline was less than commendable, seeing as they drew eight penalties on themselves as opposed to two on the Terriers. On the other hand, Alex Beaudry turned in another trademark irreproachable effort, repelling 13 out of 14 power play shots and 31 out of 32 overall to keep the game competitive for the full length. And Providence equated BU’s output with 32 pelts on opposing stopper Kieran Millan, including three shorthanded tries. The only difference was Millan blinked one time fewer.

8. January 22, 2010: New Hampshire 3, Providence 2 (OT)
After Alex Beaudry withstood all but two of 41 regulation shots, and after his skating mates deleted a 2-0 deficit to force the bonus round, New Hampshire counterpart Brian Foster had his turn repelling a frenzied Friar storm. PC launched three unanswered, but unproductive overtime shots before starting center Phil DeSimone won it for the Wildcats on a fleeting rush to the other end.

7. January 31, 2009: Providence 5, Merrimack 3
It was the last hurrah in a calendar month that momentarily replenished some optimism for the 2008-09 edition of the Tim Army Corps. One evening after tying Boston College, 2-2, before an overflowing home crowd and a NESN television audience, PC issued a balanced attack and set an early tone on the power play to pace itself past the Warriors.

All 18 skaters, save rookie blueliner Danny New, contributed to a bushel of 34 shots. Although, New still had some tangible input with an assist on junior captain John Cavanagh’s goal that made it 2-0 and gave PC a 2-for-2 success rate on the power play.

But on top of that, towering senior pivot Nick Mazzolini and Cavanagh both had a 100 percent connectivity rate, scoring on both of their stabs to help sculpt a 4-0 lead by the time there was 5:44 to spare in the second. Although Merrimack regrouped to wither that difference to 4-3, Mazzolini –already with a goal-assist value pack to his credit- added insurance to his game clincher on a partial breakaway tally with 2:32 left in the third.

That effectively curtained a 4-2-2 January run for the Friars, though they proceeded to go winless for the remainder of the year.

6. December 3, 2010: Providence 3, Maine 3
A regular Chumbawmba theme night from a Providence perspective. They got knocked down, then up again, and ultimately couldn’t be kept down.

The Friars thrice went down by a goal –all owing heavily to the celestial Spencer Abbott, who nailed two and aided the other Black Bear strike. But PC thrice drew a knot, culminating in Chris Rooney’s shorthanded breakaway with 4:50 remaining in regulation.

In the bonus round, goaltender Alex Beaudry dealt with seven Black Bear bids and literally held fort long enough to bar Maine’s Tanner House from converting the walkoff strike. Initial exhilaration from the visiting sector was usurped by the Friar faithful when replays confirmed the buzzer had beaten the biscuit to the mouth.

5. November 17, 2007: New Hampshire 5, Providence 4 (OT)
This one featured three lead changes, double-digit shot counts on both sides in each regulation stanza, and five individual multipoint performances. The post-game three-star custom was not nearly enough to do justice to the sparkling efforts from each party. And, for Providence in particular, neither was Hockey East’s continued refusal to recognize overtime losses as regulation ties.

Ultimately, though, the Friars had the right to feel a little stung as they led a 1-0 edge devolve into a 3-1 deficit and then seized a 4-3 edge on two goals 11 seconds apart midway through the third, only to let it all slip. More than anybody, Pierce Norton had a right to feel gypped after he had given his team two leads.

But PC could not fault itself too much on this night, for a quartet of Wildcats were simply too stubborn to be pushed over the precipice. Visiting stopper Brian Foster did his part with 41 saves –all in regulation- and New Hampshire’s searing forward line of James van Riemsdyk, Thomas Fortney, and Paul Thompson combined for 12 of their team’s 14 points.

4. February 9, 2008: Providence 4, Vermont 3 (OT)
For what it’s worth, the reported attendance at Schneider Arena was 2,121. And as it happened, PC’s No. 21, senior captain Jon Rheault, was the unquestioned man of the night. A first period shorthanded strike to etch a 1-0 lead, followed by an assist on Greg Collins’ goal 62 ticks into the middle frame, pole-vaulted Rheault into the 100-career point club.

After the Catamounts, who had surmounted Rheault’s goal the evening prior en route to a 2-1 win, deleted a 3-1 deficit to force overtime, the captain salvaged his own special night with a delightfully-timed Dalmatian point. With 14 seconds remaining in the sudden-death stanza, he set up shop on the porch and tilted point patroller Matt Taormina’s low rider home for his second walk-off goal in as many months.

3. December 29, 2007: Providence 5, Michigan State 3
Until the 13:18 mark of the second period, the Friars had whiffed on a cumulative 64 shots and been outscored, 7-0, by Great Lakes Invitational staples Michigan and Michigan State in 93:18 of weekend play.

That finally changed when, on a two-on-one break, freshman Kyle MacKinnon let a wrist shot wipe off the cross bar like a skateboarder descending a staircase. The puck plopped into the crease and patiently waited for an incoming Jon Rheault to rake the rebound behind an unprepared Jeff Lerg.

From there, despite falling behind again, 2-1, early in the third, the Friars firestorm’ only accelerated. After a 50-save shutout at the hands of Michigan’s Billy Sauer the day prior, they tested the Spartans nine times in the first, 15 in the second, and a cyclonic 21 in the third. That, combined with a little fatigue from their semifinal game and a general lack of incentive that visibly steamed MSU head coach Rick Comley, was just enough to blow the defending NCAA champion Spartans off their pegs.

In a matter of eight minutes and five seconds, three unanswered goals via John Cavanagh, Rheault, and MacKinnon morphed a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead and paced PC to a 5-3 victory. Fittingly, the nascent MacKinnon tacked on the insurance in the final minute, capping off his second multi-goal game of the month, and second of what would be seven in his career.

2. January 30, 2009: Providence 2, Boston College 2
It would be the only sellout that the House That Lou Built has seen this collegiate generation –for obvious reasons beforehand and for a justified reason thereafter.

Knowing for months that this bout with the defending national champions would be regionally televised on NESN, faces seen everywhere on campus except for the ice house overstocked the student section seeking a morsel of coveted face time. And if they took enough time to look at what the cameras were looking at, they watched a gritty grudge match that saw each team enjoy a momentary lead –BC in the first, PC in the second- before dueling goaltenders Alex Beaudry and John Muse clamped down and drew the final 2-2 knot.

1. February 19, 2010: Providence 5, Boston University 4
Neither party in this card had any cause to sympathize with the other. The host Friars were as few as two losses away from whiffing on a Hockey East playoff spot for the second year in a row. The defending national champion Terriers, ranked No. 19 in the country going into the weekend, needed every invisible point they could scrape out to salvage their hopes for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

Accordingly and appropriately, the concoction of those storylines produced a back-and-forth, lock-and-load bout. The Terriers struck twice to grab an assertive 2-0 upper hand by 8:45 of the first period, but the Friartownies’ spirits were percolated by the endless physicality that finally broke out in hives at the 9:00 mark. The previously unblemished penalty side of the scoresheet had five entries in the last 11 minutes of the opening frame, though PC failed to hit the board on three power play opportunities.

But starting at 2:14 of the middle frame, the special teams started holding sway. PC’s Kyle MacKinnon struck twice in separate 4-on-4 segments to saw two Terrier leads in half, and it was 3-2 with only 5:50 gone. Less than 14 minutes later, after the eye of the cyclone had passed through the Schneider pond, Matt Bergland gave the Friars their first conversion in seven power plays and a 3-3 tie to take into the final stanza.

The night had only begun. The third period alone saw an incomprehensible 17-16 edge in the shooting gallery for Providence, though BU bouncer Kevin Shattenkirk restored his team’s lead with a carry-over power play bullet just 97 seconds in. But on their eighth twirl, PC’s man-up brigade set up MacKinnon’s hat trick, drawing a 4-4 knot with 14:04 to spare.

From there, it only felt increasingly like the Skating Friars’ fun-sized answer to Game Six of Bruins-Canadiens 2008. The Friars’ nightlong persistence, combined with the Terriers’ incurable disciplinary ailment presaged a first-time and permanent lead for the scrappy home squad.

Lo and behold, during a 5-on-3 segment, with 5:25 to go, the MacKinnon machine fell inches short of the key conversion. He settled for an assist as Aaron Jamnick swooped in the extract the rebound and buried it through a screen of fallen columns, giving Schneider Arena its strongest dose of stimuli in at least two years.

PC was eliminated from playoff contention the following night at Agganis Arena, but it was a refreshing sendoff to the student rooters, who would miss the season’s final two home games due to spring break.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, February 21, 2011

On Hockey

Looking fit for a run again
Redressed Friars set an unmatched tone for playoffs

Within the final 30 days of the regular season, only three Women’s Hockey East games ended with a margin exceeding two goals.

On Jan. 22, the reigning champion Boston University thrashed Vermont, 4-0. Eight days later, the same pack of terrifying Terriers surpassed Connecticut, 4-1.

And then, yesterday, the Friars uncorked a long-absent collection of carbonation, pasting Vermont, 6-1, for a most timely return to the promising persona this team was flaunting throughout October.

With that, and a final regular season record of 21-11-1, PC has concocted its best overall transcript since the 2003-04 season. Anything they pick up in the postseason will automatically make this the Friars’ most fruitful campaign since 2002-03, when they sealed a 24-6-6 run with the inaugural Hockey East pennant in their clutch.

Ironically, in order to match that bushel of 24 wins, they would need to storm their way to another title this year. But head coach Bob Deraney (who when pressed on this topic yesterday once again insisted on counting his team’s exhibition games with McGill University for a gathering of 23 wins) has an even loftier pinnacle in mind.

“We stood here in April and we had a goal of 27 wins,” he said. “We’re four short, as far as I’m concerned, six short overall. And if you think about the NCAA championship game, it’s actually six wins away.

“So we’ve put ourselves in a position that our young ladies have worked extremely hard and dedicated themselves towards, so that now they have a chance to do some things this program has never done before. So it’s really exciting.

“But it’s not done. We know that. We’ve got a lot of work still to do.”

But by the looks of it, there is a not-so-small amount less to do than what this elastic group was facing as recently as two weeks ago. Just in time to enter the postseason on a high note, one Friar after another has either thawed out from a protracted phase of frostbite or continued to fuel her reheated acetylene stick.

In all, 12 skaters touched the scoresheet yesterday, six of them cultivating two points. At least one member of each forward line and each defensive pairing pitched in to the romp.

Most startlingly, not one of those contributions was credited to top gun Kate Bacon, who still sits comfortably atop the team leaderboard with 16-13-29 totals in 33 games. Nor did the team’s most fruitful point patroller, Jen Friedman, augment her aggregation of six goals and 15 assists on the year.

Hardly a one-woman or one-line show, these Friars are. Even with those two puckslingers two out of equation, they still posted their best margin of victory since an identical 6-1 throttling of St. Lawrence in Game No. 3 of the season and composed their best power play performance (2-for-5) since stomping Clarkson, 5-0, in Game 4.

“You can never score enough goals,” said Deraney. “The people you have putting the puck in the net, the more diverse your team is, the harder you are to defend, the more confidence they have.”

For many individuals, there was a cornucopia of confidence to return or reinforce yesterday. With a goal-assist value pack apiece, Corinne Buie –whose entire starting line was held pointless on Saturday- and Abby Gauthier both hit the net for the first time this calendar month. The rookie Buie’s strike made her the fourth Friar to hit double-digits in the goal column this season.

Stay-at-home blueliners Lauren Covell and Leigh Riley each earned a rare helper, Riley’s amounting to Ashley Cottrell’s icebreaker precisely one minute into the game and Covell’s setting up Gauthier’s to make it 3-0 at 3:47 of the second period.

And with the other assist on both Cottrell and Gauthier’s goals, six-foot sophomore Nicole Anderson kindled her first point-scoring streak since the third week of October. On top of that, classmate Jess Cohen smuggled home a power play conversion to conclude the Friars’ four-goal third period salvo and snap her agonizing 19-game goal-less skid.

Meanwhile, after a career-worst six-game hex, co-captain Alyse Ruff has now notched a helper in three of the last four games, all of them PC victories. Fellow formal leader Jean O’Neill once had a five-game freeze going, but has since posted 3-2-5 totals in the past two weekends.

Rookie blueliner Rebecca Morse has a three-game production tear in the works. Senior Amber Yung sprinkled another two assists yesterday for six in this month, a February point total matched only by junior forward Laura Veharanta, who is easily on her most stimulating run since the first half of her freshman season.

“Terrific,” Deraney said of the whole onslaught. “Obviously, Vermont has played extremely well over the last month of the season. They’re very stingy defensively.

“For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been working on goal-scoring and it think this was, not a culmination, but it is a sign that the hard work we’re putting in is starting to transform us into the players and the team I think we’re capable of being.”

Capable of even, say, derailing second-place Boston College in the semifinals (after a quarterfinal bout with Maine, of course) and setting themselves up for a title tilt with the Terriers that ought to equate or eclipse the entertainment value of their 2-2 draw back on Oct. 29?

Four months ago, this team looked like the best possible candidate to crash the presumptive Comm. Ave. block party that is the 2011 Hockey East championship. But now, upon sizing up everyone’s homestretch, that possibility is leaning more towards probability.

“We’re starting to get some continuity,” Deraney said, citing the once-missing health and production across his depth chart.

“That makes me really excited about the possibilities.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

A merry ending for England

Christina England accepted her routine reserve position well ahead of yesterday’s Senior Day contest, but was nonetheless prepared to improvise in case Father Fortune were to bless her. Namely, were the game to be wrested safely out of reach, she would have the opportunity to close the game for the PC women ahead of minute-munching starter Genevieve Lacasse.

“I kind of heard a rumor that (head coach Bob Deraney) was going to do that,” she said. “Two days ago, Genevieve had kind of secretly, accidentally told me.”

Through two periods, the Friars were safeguarding a 2-0 lead, sculpted within the first five minutes of the opening frame, and leaning on Lacasse to ensure Vermont’s 19-17 lead in the shooting gallery went to waste.

But moments after Lacasse repelled four Catamount power play shots early in the third, PC’s offense erupted like it hadn’t done since the first month of the season. And by the time Corinne Buie had made it 4-0 with 13:29 to spare, assistant coach Karen Thatcher approached England to inform her that her call was imminent.

Four minutes, 20 seconds, three Lacasse saves, and one other Providence goal later, it happened. The Schneider Arena masses drove up the dinning roars as Lacasse joined the round of fist-bumps at the bench and passed on good wishes to England, whose only other relief appearance at home was a five-minute stint in the October 2009 Mayor’s Cup mayhem.

“I’m really happy for her,” said Deraney. “She epitomizes the class and the dignity and respect of our program. I’m glad we were able to do that and the way we did it. It was only fitting that all of our seniors got an opportunity to play in today’s game.”

In nine minutes and nine seconds of crease time yesterday, England would face but two shots, one of which found a home via Catamount power play attacker Celeste Doucet with 2:43 to go. But naturally, that couldn’t do anything to tarnish the Friars’ encouraging postseason prelude.

Nor did it affect what will likely be England’s final transcript in the PC crease. Over four total regular season appearances, she consumed 93 minutes and 57 seconds of play and repelled 28 of 32 shots faced.

Her lone start-to-finish outing and only decision was earlier this season when, in Lacasse’s absence to represent Canada at the MLP Cup, England backstopped a 2-1 road win over Maine Jan. 2.

“That’s cool,” she said, sporting a gratified grin. “A 1-0-0 record is a good way to go out. I don’t have any losses against me, so it’s fine with me.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Women's Hockey 3, Vermont 2

Friars sip from last straw
Last-minute strike spoils Catamount comeback

Both teams had already traded turns splashing their respective power play droughts. The visiting Vermont Catamounts had deleted a 2-0 deficit for the first time in all of their 32 regular season games. And after her team had run up an 8-4 lead in the third period shooting gallery, Vermont’s Celeste Doucet was going off for slashing with 5:37 left in regulation.

On the spot, PC head coach Bob Deraney, knowing a radiant break when he sees one, took his team’s one allotted break in the action.

“It was probably going to be the last power play of the game based on the way everything was coming down,” Deraney said. “I wanted to make sure we were rested and we went over what their tendencies are and what we could exploit.

“I thought we had some unbelievable looks on the power play. And, hey, we just have to capitalize. (Because of) the fact that we’re getting those looks more consistently, now we can take the next step and start cashing in on them.”

If nothing else, through their fourth power play onslaught of the day, the Friars repossessed that soapy slab of momentum that was changing sides just a little less often than Brett Favre changes heart. They took seven of the game’s final eight shots on goal, the very last of which found a home courtesy of Rebecca Morse with 37.8 ticks remaining.

Pinching into the high slot, the freshman blueliner absorbed a backhand feed from left winger Laura Veharanta and spooned it over a seated Catamount goaltender Roxanne Douville, spelling the difference in a 3-2 victory at Schneider Arena.

“I was on the boards and somehow we kept it in,” Morse said recalling the clinching play. “Laura took it to the net, she shot, and for some reason, I knew it was going to come at me. I didn’t get it up as high as I wanted to, but luckily it went in.”

As it happened, a little fortune was a prerequisite for both of yesterday’s contesting squads. Douville (33 saves) kept her career-long shutout streak against the Friars alive through a turbulent first period, which saw her repel each of 16 stabs and personally summon 10 out of 20 total whistles.

After killing a carry-over bodychecking penalty to Kate Bacon to commence the middle frame, Providence finally cracked the Catamount rookie’s code at the 1:40 mark. Defender Amber Yung sent Alyse Ruff a breakout feed up the far alley and upon entry into the Vermont zone, the co-captain dished a lateral pass to Nicole Anderson, whose long-range wrister dodged Douville’s trapper.

Eight minutes later, with Saleah Morrison off for her own checking infraction, Bacon deposited her team’s first 5-on-4 strike in 11 chances. Her initial shot dinged off the opposite post but magnetically returned to her twig. With Douville vulnerably lured out of her crease, the slick Bacon curled around the goalie and buried her 16th tally on the year.

Their playoff prospects dissolving before their desperate eyes, the Catamounts perked right up. In the two minutes following Bacon’s goal, they took three unanswered shot attempts and drew a tripping call on Jess Cohen at 11:47. Within 17 seconds, Cohen was joined by Ruff (interference) and Vermont’s Chelsea Rapin slugged home a 5-on-3 conversion at 12:38.

A post-goal scuffle with Friars’ defender Jen Friedman landed Middletown resident Kailey Nash in the bin for roughing, revoking what would have been another 86 seconds of power play time for the Cats. From there through intermission, it was on Douville to answer five unanswered bids.

Vermont would not receive another invitation to test Genevieve Lacasse (21 saves) until they framed the Friars yet again at 4:41 of the third. Two-way grinder Lauren Covell went off for interference and Catamount senior Peggy Wakeham took three successive stabs, the last of which she smuggled in unassisted for the equalizer with 14:28 to play.

“Penalties played into their momentum,” said Deraney. “And I’ve got to tell you, I’m proud of the way our kids played. You can’t control what happened out there regarding the momentum switch. It had nothing to do with us. It had everything to with the breaks of the game. I don’t think Vermont ever took any momentum in this game by themselves.”

But moments after Lacasse neutralized their last assertive swarm of the day, blocking four consecutive shots without any stoppage, the Catamounts –likely a tad drained considering they dressed 14 skaters- effectively spilled the last of their thrust by virtue of Doucet’s penalty.

After that, only Nash got another look at the Scarborough Save-ior while the Friars continued to whittle around Douville, culminating in Morse’s decider.

“(The penalties) played a big part in this game, which they do in every game, really,” said Vermont head coach Tim Bothwell. “I honestly didn’t see that last penalty against us. There was a lot of marginal stuff today. It’s a tough game to referee, but you’ve still got to kill the penalties and they definitely had an effect on the ebb and flow of the game.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Next task is national relevance

The PC women have nothing further to gain in the Hockey East standings, yesterday’s 3-2 triumph over Vermont having ratified their claim to third place.

Not quite worthy of a ho-hum heckle, but not unexpected or original to the proud program, either. The Friars have now finished among the league’s top three for the eighth time in nine seasons. They have never finished any lower than fourth since entering the newfangled WHEA in 2002.

For something a little more ice-shattering, look up the team’s overall transcript. Yesterday’s win gave Providence its first 20-win campaign since 2004-05, the year of its first and still lone venture into the NCAA dance.

But, still lodged at No. 10 on the PairWise leaderboard, the 2010-11 Friars have more credits to fulfill if they are not to resort to the not-so-fail-safe automatic bid. For head coach Bob Deraney, that made the question as to the stakes in today’s regular season finale too obvious.

“Keep building a picture for the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We know we’ve been in the Hockey East tournament for a while now, so that hasn’t really been our focus, except trying to get the best seed possible. We’re still trying to create that NCAA championship resume, and that’s why (today’s) game is big.

“I know (Vermont is) going to play extremely hard to try to be the spoiler so we’ll be ready for the challenge, and I think we’ll play even better than we did (yesterday).”

Same game plan in goal
Contrary to previous seasons, wherein the opening shift on Senior Day has either been shared exclusively by seniors or at least featured each member of that year’s graduating class, goaltender Christina England will hold her usual post at one of the bench doors today.

With the aforementioned national record to think about, Deraney will give the same routine priority to junior Genevieve Lacasse.

“I’ve always coached it as a real game,” he said of the home finale. “It just so happened that those lineups turned out that way.

“If we didn’t do anything before the game, then that would be a way to honor our seniors. But because we do such a nice job before the game –honoring the seniors and their families and appreciate their contributions- I always approach it like a regular game.”

England, who saw no action but dressed for 30 games over her first two seasons, will not be exercising a redshirt option. She thus figures to conclude her stay on the Divine Campus with a pristine 1-0-0 record, her only decision in three separate appearances being a 2-1 win at Maine earlier this season on Jan. 2.

PC will return Lacasse and rising sophomore Nina Riley to constitute next year’s goalie guild. There is currently no indication of a third stopper on the team’s recruiting radar.

Anderson reignites
Nicole Anderson snapped a career-worst 12-game pointless streak by breaking the ice at 1:40 of yesterday’s second period. With that, the towering sophomore finally hit double digits in this year’s point column and instilled a little credibility to the latest line chart tweaks.

Two weeks ago, Deraney broke up the fettered trio of Anderson, Jess Cohen, and Jessie Vella, replacing Cohen at the pivot with senior Alyse Ruff. Three games later, effective yesterday, Vella was swapped out in favor of junior Abby Gauthier.

“I think we played really well together today and I think it should stay like that for a while,” said Anderson.

Who’s up next?
Entering the final day of the regular season, Northeastern, New Hampshire, and Maine are all potential quarterfinal visitors to Schneider Arena. The Hub Huskies are lodged in fifth place with 16 points, one ahead of the Black Bears and Wildcats.

A UNH win its season finale against Boston College combined with a Northeastern loss to Connecticut would have the Wildcats leapfrog the Huskies for fifth and thus send Dave Flint’s pupils here next weekend. Otherwise, the Huskies and Black Bears both have the tiebreaker, meaning if New Hampshire extracts any points today, but fails to surmount Northeastern, the Wildcats will be on tap for the Friars.

Conversely, if the Eagles win, UNH is out and Maine –which curtained its regular season yesterday- will be awarded its first postseason passport since 2006.

Quick feeds: Senior defender Amber Yung assisted on each of PC’s first two goals, giving her a dozen helpers on the year. Yung and Ruff shared a team-best plus-2 rating on the day…Kate Bacon and Rebecca Morse assisted on each other’s goals and all four of Morse’s goals this season have been on home ice against Hockey East cohabitants…For the second consecutive game, Laura Veharanta led all participating skaters with six shots on goal. Veharanta’s linemates, Bacon and Vella, registered five SOG apiece…Freshman winger Corinne Buie missed the first shift of the third period with her helmet out of commission. Cohen filled in for her…Junior defender Jen Friedman went pointless for the first time in four games…Today will be Gauthier’s 100th career game.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hockey Log

Preserving their purpose
Friars vie to enter postseason on a wave

A Thursday evening press release from the league holds that the PC women will host their Hockey East quarterfinal game a week from today at 2 p.m.

As of this morning, still no other pertinent details have cleared in the playoff picture. With three bottom feeders still eligible to claim sixth place and the two packs of Huskies from Connecticut and Northeastern engaged in a home-and-home series that will determine the other wild card site, the Friars do not yet know whom they will face next weekend.

But with a win today or tomorrow over the dogged-but-drowning Vermont Catamounts (1 p.m. face-off at Schneider Arena), they can instantaneously slim that pool down from five potentialities to two. One more loss will automatically send the Catamounts to another February spring cleaning while one more win will cement third place for Providence. That would mean dodging a date with UConn or NU and waiting on who wins the footrace between New Hampshire and Maine –currently sixth and seventh, respectively, and pried apart by a single point.

Whoever the eventual sixth-seeder is, it ought to be a comparatively shallow and drained adversary as opposed to either of the Huskies, who likely both have a little more bite in them than any Cats or Bears. Some draws are clearly preferable above others, then, right?

“Personally, no, because we should be able to beat all of the opponents that we face,” said Friars’ junior defender Jen Friedman.

“But (finishing third) should give us a bit of an advantage in terms of who we play down the line.”

Regardless, having rinsed out the vinegar of a season-worst three-game slide with last weekend’s sweep of UConn, which pole-vaulted them to the No. 3 slot to begin with, the Friars are honing a fastidious craving for momentum. They are riding their first non-carry-over win streak since New Year’s –before which they had charged up two five-game thrill rides- and there’s no time like the present to replenish that spilled contender’s persona than the last phases of the playoff tune-up.

“We definitely want to finish as high as we possibly can,” said top gun Kate Bacon. “I know we should be in third place. We deserve to be. And I think it would give us more momentum throughout the playoffs the higher we are. If we’re able to get third ahead of fourth, we want to do that, and I know we can.”

The last-minute tweaks on the conference tournament bracket are to say nothing of PC’s national posture. Considering their once-radiant transcript was pillaged by Generals January and February (14-5-1 at the break to 17-11-1 on Super Bowl Sunday) like a 19th century Scandinavian army, it is somewhat remarkable the Friars are now No. 10 in the prophetic PairWise rankings.

Any ascension to the coveted top eight, which would all but signify qualification for an at-large NCAA bid, is a negligible proposition. The strength of schedule between now and March 5 is too feathery for any string of wins to woo anyone. But by the same token, for the at-large bid to remain an option at all, there can be no missteps between now and the Hockey East semifinals.

That means productively savoring these last three extramural skates at Schneider Arena and certainly not conceding anything more to the plebeian Catamounts. PC already relearned that old lesson in a 1-0 falter at Gutterson Fieldhouse on Jan. 30, one of the more jutting bumps in the second half of their path.

“I know it’s going to be a tough game,” said Friedman. “Vermont is a team on the rise. They always put up a good fight in their game.

“But I know our team is really looking forward to the game and I think everybody is going to step up and play well, especially (considering) the last game we played against them when we fell short. That’ll give us a lot of motivation.”

Quick feeds: Vermont junior defender Kailey Nash, a Middletown native raring to play in her fourth and fifth college game in her native state, ranks second among Hockey Easterners with 57 penalty minutes. Maine’s Ashley Norum is tops in that category with 64 PIM. Nash is also last among all 16 skating Catamounts with a minus-14 rating on the year…Sophomore forward Erin Wente, the team’s leading goal-getter with eight strikes, is the only Catamount not in the plus/minus red. She bears an even rating…The Friars and Catamounts are both nursing protracted power play droughts spanning their last two-plus games. PC has deferred on each of its last nine 5-on-4 chances, UVM its last 12…Even if it whiffs on the postseason again, Vermont has already secured its most productive Hockey East campaign –collecting 12 points- since joining the league in 2005-06.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hockey Log

PC women looking fully forward
With sweep comes replenished optimism

Upon answering a phone interview yesterday afternoon while his pupils indulged in their first hard-earned Monday off in recent memory, Friars head coach Bob Deraney might as well have been reciting or pitching upbeat song lyrics.

The title/chorus/refrain: “…a sign of things to come.”

Indeed, a copious array of elements that defined the first half of PC’s 2010-11 enterprise simultaneously resurfaced over the weekend, particularly in Sunday’s 4-3 triumph over Connecticut at Rentschler Field.

After mustering no more than three goals per night throughout their iffy, nine-game January, the Friars concocted their best offensive outburst since thrashing these same Huskies, 5-1, Dec. 5. And the eight individual point-getters on Sunday’s scoresheet were the most they had since that same pre-Christmas feast at Schneider Arena.

With a playmaker hat trick, top gun Kate Bacon logged her first multi-point performance in 13 ventures and her fifth on the year. With a 1-2-3 log on the weekend, co-captain Jean O’Neill contributed in consecutive games for the first time in her fall-and-rise campaign. Explosive blueliner Jen Friedman has a season-best three-game point streak in the works while stay-at-home rookie defender Maggie Pendleton earned her second career helper Sunday.

Translation: the depth is beginning to flow back in at a comfortable, continuous rate.

“We’ve been working extremely hard on that and I think it’s a sign of things to come,” Deraney said.

The replenished strike force, most naturally, helped the Friars sculpt a better insurance policy than they have afforded themselves in the last month. Sunday was the first time since a 2-0 road win in New Hampshire Jan. 14 that they scored the game’s first two goals, triumphed after drawing first blood, and never trailed at any point. In the seven contests in between, they had won thrice by surmounting an initial 1-0 deficit, spilled a pair of 1-0 leads, and whiffed on two comeback efforts.

“It’s a sign of us getting healthy and creating some continuity in our lineup,” mused Deraney. “It’s just another sign of things to come. I don’t just think that, I know that.”

Having relocated that long-elusive, yet critical combination of an ambitious start and an assertive finish, Providence claimed consecutive victories for the first time in three weeks. It triumphed on back-to-back days for the first time since its first and only active weekend in December.

And it polished off a three-game season series sweep of UConn. That doubtlessly neutralized the residual vinegar from Jan. 3 and Jan. 15, when the Friars deferred their chance to similarly rake away all six points from Maine and UNH.

“It’s another sign of the growth for this team,” Deraney concluded.

Vermont a fitting foe
Already assured home ice for next weekend’s Hockey East quarterfinal, the only tangible gain for the Friars to claim in the immediate future is third place. They will only need one win in this weekend’s two-day visit from Vermont, which still lingers in the race for the final playoff spot but will be zapped from contention with another loss or UNH victory.

When enlightened to those contesting implications, Deraney responded with a genuine jolt of oomph in his voice.

“Great. That’s exactly what we want,” he said. “We want a team that has something on the line.

“You couldn’t ask for a better opponent. The most dangerous people are the most desperate people.”

Another laurel for Lacasse
One more first-time-in-some-time for the Friars: goaltender Genevieve Lacasse garnered her fourth Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week award, but her first since the December deceleration.

Lacasse, who stopped a cumulative 50 UConn shots over the weekend, is now 108 saves away from surmounting Jana Bugden for PC’s all-time lead. With as many as three guaranteed games left in the season, she will likely need to nudge the Friars into the Hockey East semifinals, if not the title game, to break the record before her junior campaign is up.

Quick Feeds: Sunday was the Friars’ first winning effort when giving up three goals…In back-to-back years, PC has swept its regular season series with the team that had ended its previous playoff run. The Friars took all six points from New Hampshire in 2009-10 after the Wildcats dislodged them from the 2009 postseason bracket…The forthcoming Catamounts are 2-1-0 since nipping the Friars at Gutterson Fieldhouse, 1-0, Jan. 30. All but one of their last 13 Hockey East games have been decided by two goals or fewer and rookie goaltender Roxanne Douville has let no more than two opposing shots slip by in any of her last five starts.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Hockey

They’re digging out, but must dig in deeper
Leadership, transition game re-emerging for PC women

Jean O’Neill is not walking through that door. Alyse Ruff is not walking through that door.

Wait a minute, yes they are. Perhaps you were just missing them in recent weeks, and it probably had little, if anything, to do with those new, gloomy-looking third jerseys their team has now sported thrice in the last seven games.

The PC women’s co-captains simply were not producing like themselves, which made them personify the nadir of the Friars’ 2010-11 season.

Entering yesterday’s action, O’Neill had not penned her name to any of the last five scoresheets while Ruff was nursing a six-game scoring drought, tied for a career worst. During that stretch, Providence had lost four out of six games, including of the last three, and scored a cumulative nine goals.

Fittingly, both the individuals and the team in question broke their hexes yesterday in a 2-1 overtime win over Connecticut that also cemented a postseason passport. While still far from a cure-all for the Friars’ frostbitten offense, yesterday’s developments mark a timely U-turn back in the right direction.

“Those are all really good things,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “But that’s not what we’re focusing on right now. We’re focusing on trying to play a better brand of hockey.”

Trailing, 1-0, for a full dozen minutes in the opening frame, the Friars looked a tad panicky as they sought an equalizer and tried to dodge the insidious notion of dipping to a four-game losing streak. And after failing to make the visiting Huskies pay for back-to-back icing infractions at the 19:23 and 19:32 mark, it appeared they would have to keep fidgeting through the first intermission.

But when freshman blueliner Rebecca Morse retrieved the remnants and yet a third UConn clear and shipped it up ice to Ruff, two profiles in persistence broke out. Ruff bolted along the near wall back onto enemy property and hit Jen Friedman with a diagonal feed to the left point.

Stationed on the UConn porch, O’Neill waited for Friedman to let loose and, with 1.2 seconds left, deflected the defender’s slapper home.

“That’s a great play all around,” said Deraney. “Things we work on in practice about finding the second wave, trying to one-touch it, things that we weren’t doing very well lately. It was nice to see us get rewarded for the effort we’ve put in practice on that.”

The goal, O’Neill’s seventh of an injury-chopped senior season, granted Ruff a team-leading 16th assist and doubtlessly pumped some invaluable momentum into PC’s tanks.

By day’s end, O’Neill had set up Jessie Vella’s walk-off goal and she skated off sharing the day’s best plus-2 rating with her co-captain, former Princeton Tiger Lilies teammate, and off-and-on linemate.

Over their first three seasons as Friars, O’Neill and Ruff shared a hand in 18 scoring plays, or 40 percent of O’Neill’s first 45 career points and 27 percent of Ruff’s first 66. The bulk of those collaborations were from the PRO Line days with Mari Pehkonen in 2007-08 and last season when Jess Cohen supplemented the starting trio.

Since O’Neill’s post-holiday return, the captains have been separated on the depth chart, but Ruff has assisted on two of O’Neill’s goals, the other coming on Jan. 9 at Boston University.

Simultaneously breaking their fetters yesterday might not compel Deraney to reconfigure the lines yet again, seeing as he just did that two weeks ago, but it does set a tone for a return to normalcy up and down the Friars’ roster.

“It’s always great playing with (Ruff) together on the power play,” said O’Neill. “She leads her line and we have other players stepping up on other lines, so it works out.”

It did yesterday, anyway. If Providence is to build upon this and verify its return to formidable status before the postseason, it will need more consistent tangible output from all classes and positions.

“I really think our captains have Cs and they do a good job, but I think we have a team of leaders,” said Deraney. “We expect leadership from everybody and we expect everybody to contribute to the success of the team. Obviously, the rest of the team takes that cue from our captains, and they do a wonderful job of leading by example.”

For their part, O’Neill, Ruff and their classmates can help the team’s cause by flaunting more of their unmatched seasoning. But for their own sake, they could stand to acknowledge the waning ice chips in their collegiate hourglass a little more.

The five seniors are the only active Friars to have suited up for a Hockey East championship game, which they lost, 1-0, to New Hampshire in March 2008. A return trip to the final frontier will only come if everyone –from the top of the hierarchy downward- relearns how to reward their reliable defense and finish more plays around the adversary’s net.

Assessing yesterday’s performance, Deraney said, “We attempted more shots (23) than they got on net (14) after the second period, so those are things we can correct right away.

“I thought defensively we played pretty well. Our honest effort on defense to get back and do the right things gives me a lot of optimism about going forward, because if you play good defense, good offense will come from that, and that’s what happened today.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Sudden death to Vella’s spell

On the final shift of the third period yesterday, Jessie Vella nearly sent a message straight to Old Man Overtime’s smartphone telling him he would not be required to visit Schneider Arena.

When she failed to deliver that, speedily churning the puck around the Connecticut cage and into the slot, only to watch her assertive backhander leap over the crossbar, her coach let her know she had whiffed on a particularly radiant opportunity.

“I kind of gave her evil eye and she kind of gave me the evil eye back,” said PC women’s skipper Bob Deraney.

No surprise there. The Pickering, Ont. product had just seen her goal-less streak extended to 22 consecutive 60-minute battles, dating back to Oct. 23. She was still without a non-empty netter since Oct. 9, two days before her home country’s Thanksgiving, equaling a hex of 27 regulation games.

But in the subsequent sudden-death stanza, long-awaited gratitude was right around the corner –specifically, the far corner of the Huskies’ zone- for Vella. Friars’ defender Amber Yung slugged the puck from the near point behind the net, where winger Jean O’Neill retrieved it and found Vella waiting on the porch.

A simple one-time snapper on O’Neill’s pass beat UConn goaltender Nicole Paniccia, ended the game, ended Vella’s drought, and wrapped up PC’s bid for a Hockey East playoff spot.

“I’m just really excited,” Vella said. “I’ve been working really hard and the whole goal of this weekend was to drive to the net, get there, work really hard, and sacrifice your body. I drove the net, Jean made a nice pass and we were rewarded for it, finally.”

Vella’s walk-off strike was her third shot on goal of the day, her fifth overall attempt, and her 24th SOG in her last seven games, nearly doubling her bushel of 25 from the season’s first 23 dates. Apart from that, save for an assist on Jan. 2, her contributions since New Year’s had been strictly intangible. But those included consistent stinginess on the penalty kill and using her turbine blades to draw regular opposing infractions a la top gun Kate Bacon.

“She put herself in a good position to score goals and just didn’t get rewarded for it,” said Deraney. “And that’s probably the least skilled play she made today, is the one she scored on. But if you keep going to the hard areas, you’re going to get rewarded, one way or another.

“Whether it’s fancy or whether it’s ugly, it doesn’t matter. It was nice to see her hard work get paid off. She had been putting a lot of pressure on herself because she’s a winner, she’s a competitor, and she wants to contribute to the success of this team as much as anybody.”

That desire had not been enough of late, until after Vella got that disgruntled glare on the bench.

Did it help?

“Definitely,” she said. “Coach is always there to inspire you and he definitely did inspire me in his own way, and it’s just nice to finally contribute to the team the way I know that I can.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hockey Log

Deraney will let new lines mold

In the past week, doubtlessly out of the urge to bump his forwards back up from the nadir of their 2010-11 campaign and to maybe find the right formula for the last month of the ride, PC women’s coach Bob Deraney made the season’s most drastic set of shuffles to his depth chart.

Between their 1-0 falter in Vermont last weekend and their subsequent 4-2 home loss to Boston College on Sunday, the Friars’ starting line of Jean O’Neill, Ashley Cottrell, and Corinne Buie was the only unruffled row on the depth chart.

So far, Deraney has had but one game to gauge the newest configurations. And with two-way skater Lauren Covell filling a void on the blue line for the still-ailing Christie Jensen on Sunday, the paint on this easel has still not been fully applied, let alone dried.

As a result, by all accounts, the same arrangements should be kept intact for the upcoming home-and-home series with Connecticut. With Jensen expected to return, Covell should focus exclusively on her offensive post, which would give the Friars a quorum of 12 forwards for the first time in four games and only the sixth time all season.

Only then, the skipper reasoned, will he have a cause to judge his own revisions.

“We’ve got to stick with it, see what it looks like,” said Deraney.

As it happened, Covell’s presumptive linemates, sophomores Jess Cohen and Emily Groth, pitched in a combined seven shots on goal while generally latching on with ringers from the top nine. Cohen’s four stabs at BC goaltender Molly Schaus were the most she has taken in a game since Nov. 2 at Yale, while Groth –returning from an injury that sidelined her for the team’s excursion to Vermont last weekend- recorded three SOG for a season high.

Above that, there wasn’t much to judge right away, for better or worse. The natural exception to that was the third unit, comprised of Laura Veharanta, Kate Bacon, and Abby Gauthier.

Veharanta led all participants in Sunday’s contest with six shots and tuned the mesh twice to irrigate her 10-game pointless drought. Her new linemates were on the ice for both of her goals, the second of which granted Bacon an assist.

Referring to Veharanta’s line in secret agent code language –identifying them by their uniform numbers and practice jersey colors- Deraney admitted that’s a start. Especially considering PC had gone scoreless for a cumulative 126 minutes and 13 seconds of play when Veharanta struck at 14:08 of Sunday’s second period.

“Obviously, the blue line scored some goals, the new combination of (Bacon, Veharanta, and Gauthier),” he said. “Really, two good individual efforts by (Veharanta), but still, you’ve got to create some continuity, have some patience.

“And, hey, we scored two goals. We haven’t scored two goals (in a single game) in a while, so that’s not bad.”

So far as the scoresheet will project, the Friars’ newfangled second line is the one most raring to ripen. Sandwiching the hot-then-cold senior pivot Alyse Ruff, sophomores Nicole Anderson and Jessie Vella are still looking for their first points since Dec. 5 and Jan. 2, respectively.

Vella once again flaunted her lately sharpened appetite for destruction on Sunday by charging up three shots while Anderson and Ruff mustered one apiece.

Quick feeds: With an assist on Veharanta’s first goal Sunday, junior blueliner Jen Friedman’s point total of 19 surpasses the 18 she aggregated over her first two seasons…The PC women’s hockey and women’s basketball teams are both scheduled to host their Connecticut counterparts at 2 p.m. this Saturday. Although a mass influx is expected down at Alumni Hall to see the team that recently won an NCAA hoops record 90 consecutive games, there is no indication that the Skating Sorority will change its face-off time, even if it means sacrificing a little fanfare…UConn took sole possession of third place in Hockey East and clinched a playoff spot with a 2-2 tie versus Northeastern on Sunday. With no more than eight points for anyone left to gain, the Huskies clinched by virtue of winning its season series with seventh-place Maine…One more win for the Friars or one more loss for the Black Bears assures PC its own postseason passport…With this Sunday’s bout scheduled to be played outdoors at Rentschler Field, the Huskies will ultimately go at least three weeks without a game at their official home barn. Safety concerns stemming from heavy snow accumulations on the roof of Freitas Ice Forum forced last Sunday’s UConn-Northeastern game to relocate to the XL Center in Hartford.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Monday, February 7, 2011

Boston College 4, Women's Hockey 2

Welch, Eagles overpower Friars
Comeback effort crumbles in third straight setback

The way things were going yesterday, the Friars had the very last two things they needed glowering at them within the final three-and-a-half minutes of the third period.

Her team trailing, 3-2, on the strength of a hat trick by Boston College forward Danielle Welch, co-captain Alyse Ruff was flagged for hooking with 3:22 to spare. And less than a minute into her sentence, Ruff watched helplessly as the puck found none other than Welch’s blade on the straightaway point.

Welch unleashed a searing slapper that brushed off the stick of teammate Melissa Bizzari and over the mitt of besieged Providence goaltender Genevieve Lacasse (20 saves) with 2:35 left. It was the Eagles’ second power play conversion on five opportunities, as opposed to one connection the Friars mustered over seven chances.

And, naturally, it was the dagger in a vinegary 4-2 loss at Schneider Arena, amounting to a season-worst three-game skid.

So, as far as head coach Bob Deraney was concerned, never mind the fact that Laura Veharanta splashed her 10-game scoring drought with a pair of goals to briefly pull even at 2-2. Never mind that PC did what only one other team (Quinnipiac on Oct. 22) has done by deleting a multi-goal deficit at the hands of BC.

In the words of Matt Foley, it didn’t amount “to jack squat!”

“It just appears to be we’re standing still,” Deraney said. “This is very disheartening for me because I’m the coach and it’s a direct reflection on me. We are the exact same team right now as we were when we came back from Christmas. What have we been doing in the last month?

“I don’t take any solace at all. We’re supposed to be playing our best hockey now, and we’re not.”

However much of it they dug on their own, the Friars tumbled into an early hole in the opening frame. On the day’s first power play, with PC rookie Rebecca Morse caged for boarding, Welch tipped Ashley Motherwell’s low-riding point shot home to open the scoring with 5:09 gone.

Earning their first 5-on-4 segment 49 seconds later, the Friars proceeded to test visiting stopper Molly Schaus (29 saves) five unanswered times and owned the shooting gallery, 10-4, for the next 12 minutes.

But even with bountiful in-your-face pressure, Schaus wouldn’t yield, and moments after repelling a low straightway bid from Amber Yung, she watched Welch one-time a diagonal feed from Mary Restuccia past Lacasse for a 2-0 cushion with 1:46 till intermission.

“We weren’t playing very well at that point in the game, so you really don’t deserve to get those types of breaks,” Deraney said. “They played with a little bit more purpose than we did and that’s why they ended up jumping to a lead.

“I thought in the second period, we kind of took over and that’s what led to us getting back into the game.”

Over the first 14 minutes of the middle frame, Providence went on a 14-2 SOG romp, six of those bids distributed over three more power plays, including two on a 71-second 5-on-3 advantage.

Red daylight finally broke at the 14:08 mark, when Veharanta strolled with Jen Friedman’s feed into the high slot and slipped it through Schaus’ five-hole, giving the PC power play its first conversion in six tries.

Restuccia was cited for bodychecking merely 33 ticks thereafter, but the Friars’ lone shot attempt, courtesy of Morse, was blocked. That effectively ended another laborious outing for the Eagles’ penalty killing brigade, and their lead was still intact.

“Our PK has been doing great all year long, and to continue that is great for our team and I think our kids really feed off it,” said BC coach Katie King. “It’s tough when you get that many penalties called. It seems to be a trend for our team lately, so we’ve got to really get out of that habit, but our PK has done a great job.”

Likewise, Lacasse and Co. were, if only temporarily, up to the task when the zebras turned their whistles on them. And in between two successful kills, Veharanta nailed her equalizer at 3:35 of the third, traveling up the near wall out of her own zone and roofing a long-range wrister over Schaus’ blocker.

But at 8:14, Welch wreaked another dose of havoc in the slot, taking Kelli Stack’s drop pass and slugging the winner over Lacasse’s trapper.

None other than Veharanta tried to answer without hesitation. Off the very next draw, she swooped down to Schaus’ estate from the far lane, but her sixth and final bid of the day was swallowed by the otherworldly goaltender.

“We’ve got re-learn how to get a lead and keep building on it,” she said. “We’ve been struggling with that, so hopefully we can start doing that again soon.

“We needed that third goal today, but it didn’t come.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Veharanta reignites
Junior winger lone star in Friars’ loss

Laura Veharanta sat motionless on the threshold of a third consecutive double-digit-point campaign for precisely nine weeks.

After an insurance goal in a 4-2 home win over New Hampshire Dec. 4 upped her bushel to nine points in 18 games, a pointless outing versus Connecticut, a four-week respite, and a barren January formulated a 10-game drought for the winger who once led the PC women with a 16-15-31 log as a rookie in 2008-09.

That elusive 10th point finally arrived yesterday afternoon in the form of Veharanta’s first power play goal of the season. After Molly Schaus had denied her thrice, including twice on previous power plays, Veharanta beat Boston College’s stronghold goaltender for the first time in six career meetings, hitting the five-hole at 14:08 of the second period, sawing a 2-0 deficit in half.

Proving she had a little traction, Veharanta –who took a team-leading six shots on goal in the 4-2 loss- would later pull a 2-2 knot with 3:35 gone in the closing frame. Linemate Kate Bacon won a defensive zone face-off back to blueliner Amber Yung, who made a forward shipment to Veharanta along the near wall.

Veharanta would singlehandedly tour the puck from zone to zone and roofed the equalizer on a long-range wrister, bringing her up to an 8-3-11 scoring transcript on the year.

In the midst of cracking through her chrysalis, Veharanta bailed a quartet of playmakers out of their own personal fetters. With assists on her first strike, two-way junior Lauren Covell garnered her first point in 20 games, dating back to Oct. 23, while the normally prolific point patroller Jen Friedman earned her second helper in three games after going arid in her previous five outings.

Meanwhile, Bacon, still PC’s top gun with 24 points on the year, averted what would have been a season-worst three-game scoreless skid. And Yung now has two assists in her last five ventures after previously trudging through a 10-game hex.

“It’s great when you get scoring from different people,” said Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney. “We’ll take scoring from anybody. It was just nice to see Laura take ownership today and try to contribute. We need more people to do that.”

Yesterday was also Veharanta’s third multi-goal effort of the season –on top of Oct. 9 versus St. Lawrence and Nov. 2 at Yale- and the fifth of her career.

Stack silenced
Kelli Stack, the face of BC’s offense and now the all-time leading scorer in Hockey East regular season action, failed to tune the mesh for the first time in five games. Although she assisted on Danielle Welch’s third goal, her own strike would have tied her with former teammate Allie Thunstrom for most in a single WHEA season (21).

Stack’s most stimulating chance to light the lamp firsthand fell with 1:37 remaining in the second period, when teammate Taylor Wasylk blocked Yung’s shot and initiate a counterattack. Floating down the left alley, Stack soaked in Wasylk’s feed and skated to within prodding distance of Friars’ goalie Genevieve Lacasse.

Lacasse held her post to summon a whistle and the officiating crew went to video review to confirm Stack had not scored. But with the assist, barring a post-season encounter, the BC Olympian will still finish her college career with seven goals and 18 points in 13 games against Providence.

Jensen sits once more
Junior defender Christie Jensen, still flushing out the remnants of an injury that has kept her out of game action for two weeks, took part in yesterday’s warm-up period, but made a game time decision to return to the sidelines.

“Hopefully, by doing that, she’ll be with us for the long haul,” said Deraney. Translation: Jensen should be available for practice this week and will be ready to resume extramural action by Saturday afternoon, when Connecticut drops in at Schneider Arena.

The art of drawing
Jessie Vella drew three of BC’s seven infractions, although none of them precipitated any power play goals.

With 5:46 remaining in the first period, Danielle Doherty was found guilty of holding Vella back as she tried to push through neutral ice. In the final minute of the same stanza, Meagan Mangene pursued a little too much contact as she and Vella stepped over the Eagles’ blue line, earning herself a two-minute sentence for interference.

And at 3:12 of the second, Mary Restuccia committed a flagrant tripping foul that sent Vella sliding into the boards along the PC bench and herself to the bin, giving the Friars a two-player advantage for 71 seconds.

Quick feeds: Of the 11 full-time forwards to suit up for Providence yesterday, co-captain Jean O’Neill was the only one not to register a shot on goal…Alyse Ruff lost 17 of her 26 face-offs and went pointless for the sixth consecutive game, tying a career-worst drought that spanned Jan. 12-26, 2008…Veharanta, Cohen, and Emily Groth were all credited with three shots on goal in the second period…Veharanta and senior defender Leigh Riley were the only Friars to earn a positive plus/minus rating. Seven other PC skaters, including all five starters, finished one point in the red…BC’s Dru Burns and Restuccia each charged up two assists.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On Hockey

Home cooking the perfect formula
PC women can close strong with heavy home slate

The Friars have had a savory succession of six days –their longest stretch of non-game days since the holiday break- to ice and thaw out every physical and emotional sore stemming from the nadir of their season.

In hindsight, it falls a few strides shy of an utter shock that a few lesions have surfaced amongst Bob Deraney’s students. And the explanation barely brushes the fact that vertebral goaltender Genevieve Lacasse was missing for the first three, or that co-captain Jean O’Neill was re-gelling her way into the top six, or even that three bodies (Christie Jensen, Emily Groth, and Amber Yung) went down over last weekend’s setbacks at Boston College and Vermont.

In a nine-game slate in the month of January, PC was home for only two engagements, those being a 2-1 falter to New Hampshire and 3-1 triumph over BC. The rest of the way, between seven games in six enemy venues, the Friars compiled a 3-4-0 portfolio, surrendering 13 goals while cultivating eight for themselves.

By all means, it ought to replenish a little mettle to know that, of their five remaining games in the Hockey East playoff derby, four will be on the Divine Campus. The other, a week from today versus Connecticut, will barely require an hour-long bus ride and be in an environment –Rentschler Field- just as unfamiliar to the hosts.

No more missed classes, no more sleeping outside one’s dorm or apartment room, and barely any more bus legs until after the ice chips have settled on the playoff picture. It will all help, assuming recent history is a passable prophet.

On the road this season, the Friars are on the .500 fence in the way of both an 8-8-0 transcript and a cumulative 37-37 score. Conversely, at Schneider Arena, they bear a 9-2-1 record, outscoring their adversaries, 41-15.

Deraney, who accepts the half-full road glass, is hardly surprised by the more radiant performances in the House That Lou Built and wouldn’t have expected much less.

“Even when I was a player at BU, I always thought it was very challenging to play there, and I can’t really explain why,” he said.

“Obviously, we love having our fans there and we owe it to them to make sure they leave happy with another win.”

But, he added, “There’s no guarantee (the trend will continue), especially the way we’re playing right now.”

True enough, Providence is coming off its second string of three away games in eight days, during which they mustered three goals for a median of one. Previously, in the first week of January, they went an identical 1-2-0 in a two-night visit to Maine and a day trip to Boston University, but compiled seven strikes for an average of 2.33 per night.

So, venues aside, the Friars are still overdue to rekindle many of their acetylene sticks. But when they take the ice for this afternoon’s bout with BC, they will certainly not have fatigue or any related nuisances clutching and grabbing them up neutral or in the opposing slot.

All they will have to surmount is a flock of Eagles –record-breaking scorer Kelli Stack, laser-beamed goalie Molly Schaus, and all- raring to wrap up a first-round bye. All that would take is a win combined with a Northeastern triumph over Connecticut.

Just the same, with Maine’s loss to Vermont last night, the Friars can wrap up their playoff berth by bumping BC. Not to mention, they could capitalize on a generous mulligan –having stayed in the No. 9 slot of every relevant national poll even in the aftermath of last weekend- and send out a bold-faced memo by wresting the regular season wishbone away from the sixth-ranked Eagles.

Afterwards, it will be all about asserting their supremacy over two ostensible underlings in UConn and Vermont. Although tied for third with PC in the conference standings, Heather Linstad’s pupils still have yet to prove themselves capable of staying with a heavyweight for 60 minutes, as evidenced by Friday, when their 2-0 lead over BC at the second intermission devolved into a 3-2 overtime loss. And the Catamounts, like a smudgy CD, are once again picking up belated traction in part because of a recent gift from Providence.

Even if they whiff today, the Eagles are virtually bound to confirm their free pass to the Hockey East semifinals, as are the first-place Terriers. All buffs based beyond the Comm. Ave. neighborhood might as well let that wish go before it gets too ripe.

But by settling down and redressing while they can, the Friars should, with relative facility, claim a hard-earned bonus contest at Schneider for the wild card round. By then, if all goes according to logic, they will be around 13-2-1 or 12-3-1on their pond and sculling along a timely stream of momentum.

Sure beats having to cram on cramped bus legs, does it not?

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Friday, January 28, 2011

Women's Hockey Feature

Author’s note: In a nod to The Hockey News and the recent release of its annual Goalie’s Issue, the Free Press offers this list of the top ten Genevieve Lacasse highlights so far in her sparkling PC career, one that will likely see her rewrite the program’s goaltending record book and may pilot her to a steady job on the international platform.

1. January 8, 2011
Granted, her praetorian guards did their overwhelming part by issuing a 60-shot, six-goal salvo on Sweden goaltenders Sara Grahn and Valentina Lizana. But Lacasse didn’t exactly let up in the gold medal game of the MLP Cup, her first international tournament, repelling all 37 shots she faced for the shutout and the title. Lacasse would finish the tournament with a seamless 2-0 record, complete with 55 saves for two goose-eggs.

2. January 21, 2011
Purportedly poised for a storming succession of penalty kills –after all, visiting Boston College had taken each of the game’s first five whistles- Lacasse watches as three of her teammates are simultaneously stuffed in the sin bin with 9:06 remaining in regulation and a 2-1 advantage on the line.

By the time the Friars are finally back to full strength after three minutes and 49 seconds of shorthanded action, the Eagles have unloaded 11 power play shots, yet still trail. They will continue to own the shooting gallery, 10-2, in the final 7:06 of regulation, but Lacasse will match a career high with 51 saves and a head-turning 3-1 win for PC.

3. November 8, 2009
Surprise, surprise. The short-lived shootout’s grand hurrah was built around the rivalry between Lacasse and Northeastern’s Florence Schelling.

Locking masks for the third time in their respective careers at Schneider Arena, the Scarborough Save-ior and the Swiss Save-ior yield one goal apiece through 65 minutes. Likewise, they both blink in the same seventh round of the shootout –that is, after playing impeccably through six innings, the equivalent of two ordinary shootouts.

The bout continues through yet another six rounds, and after Lacasse denies the Huskies’ 13th bidder, Casie Fields, Friars’ stay-at-home defender Christie Jensen beats Schelling on a swooping roofer to give PC the walk-off.

4. November 21, 2008
A Cyclopean Mercyhurst strike force permeated with Canadian ambassadors, including 2006 Olympian Meghan Agosta, extracts a hard-earned 3-0 win at Schneider Arena. But from PC’s perspective, it is a rare losing effort that calls for not even a single ice chip of redress. The almighty Lakers run up the shooting gallery, 54-31, but cannot beat the Friars’ rookie stopper until Agosta –who scores twice on an improbable 14 SOG- smuggles the biscuit between a slim five-hole at 2:56 of the second period.

More than anything, Lacasse’s 51-save effort –a quantity matched only once so far- confirms that she is the nucleus of the Friars’ future and their heavily leaned-on class of 2012.

5. February 21, 2009
In the four games leading up to the regular season finale at Boston College, all of them regulation losses, PC’s bid for a first-round bye in the new Hockey East playoff format had rapidly devolved into a struggle just to salvage home ice for the preliminary round. With the Friars needing two points in their own right, plus a New Hampshire win over Connecticut the following day, to cement fourth place, Lacasse tussles with BC’s celestial stopper Molly Schaus to a shootout. After Ashley Cottrell converts PC’s first bid, Lacasse denies the explosive Allie Thunstrom, Kelli Stack, and Mary Restuccia to rake away the requisite two-point package.

6. January 10, 2009
Offensively speaking, New Hampshire could not say it didn’t try to extend its 14-game unbeaten streak (11-0-3) with the rival Friars. Out of 14 available skaters, 12 of them combine for a 43-shot blizzard, including 11 by two-way connoisseur Courtney Birchard and six from the searing Jenn Wakefield. But Lacasse has an answer for them all and her skating mates blind Kayley Herman with the red light en route to a 5-0 Providence victory at Schneider Arena.

7. December 5, 2009
Upon stopping the aforementioned Birchard’s bid during a second period penalty kill, Lacasse ascends to the No. 3 slot on PC’s career saves leaderboard with 1,211 in only her 47th game.

Oh, and she ultimately backstops the Friars to a 4-1 triumph, the first road win at the Whittemore Center by any WHEA team.

8. November 29, 2008
In her first Mayor’s Cup game at Meehan Auditorium, Lacasse posts the Patrick Roy Hat Trick. She stamps her second career shutout with 37 saves, assists on Katy Beach’s clincher in the 1-0 triumph, and takes her first two-minute minor for tripping at 3:54 of the first period.

Since then, she has blanked 10 other adversaries and attained six more helpers, but has avoided any citations from the zebras.

9. October 23, 2008
Egregious miscommunication by the Friars amidst a neutral zone scrum in the first minute of overtime leaves Yale forward Bray Ketchum free to break in for the winning strike. Only that winning strike never comes to fruition as Lacasse gets her blocker on the disc and redirects it over her crossbar and into the left corner. No additional shots are taken at either end and the 2-2 deadlock stands pat through the final buzzer.

10. October 29, 2010
None of her previous challengers had managed to keep Boston University’s otherworldly rookie Marie-Philip Poulin off the scoresheet. In her first seven NCAA games, the Canadian Olympic hero had already logged a 9-7-16 transcript.

But in the first Hockey East game of the season for both teams, PC and Lacasse confine Poulin to six shots on net, none in the net, and no helpers as part of a mutually satisfying 2-2 tie at Schneider Arena.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hockey Log

Vella shooting for bigger game
Still nursing goal drought, but taking more tries

Jessie Vella has not tuned an opposing cage since she inserted an empty netter versus Princeton Oct. 23. The last time she beat a real live goalie in extramural game action was Oct. 9 versus Maxie Weiz of St. Lawrence.

Since her last goal, she has charged up 31 shots on goal over a span of 18 games and just a little more than three full months. Her only tangible contributions in that stretch have been three assists, the most recent being in the PC women’s first game back from their holiday respite in Maine Jan. 2.

But it is worth noting that, after she sprinkled 17 of the aforementioned 31 shots across a tedious episode of 15 games, Vella has more recently pelted the opposing stopper 14 times in her last three ventures. Over an important U-turning weekend that saw PC stamp its first pair of consecutive victories since New Year’s, she tested a pair of Olympians –Boston College’s Molly Schaus and Northeastern’s Florence Schelling- five times apiece.

The two world class stoppers grounded all of those bids. Nonetheless, Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney sees the sophomore third-line winger breaking out of her long-standing chrysalis in the near future.

“She’s gonna score soon, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I think she’s saving them for the most critical time of the season, and that’s pretty soon.

“And once she gets some goals, it’s going to be a handful.”

If that happens, it would plug one of the last outstanding voids on the PC checklist as it enters the climactic phases of the Hockey East pennant race. For as long as Vella and her fellow sophomores and linemates Nicole Anderson and Jess Cohen have been cuffed, the Friars have consistently subsisted on contributions from their top six forwards and generous offerings from blueliners Jen Friedman and Rebecca Morse.

As evidenced by a recent mild downturn in team production –their goals-per-game median dipped below 3.00 for the first time on Sunday- the Friars need at least one more reliable trio to ensure their odds at a merry March.

For Vella’s part, the determination to step up and pen her name back on the scoresheet is already in place. It flickered in Sunday’s game when she took two stabs on her first shift, one face-off after Northeastern had taken a 1-0 lead. And she has made no secret of her extra drive in practice.

“Yeah, definitely,” she said. “I’ve been trying to work on my confidence with the puck, getting on the ice when no one else is on and working on my shot.

Of the end to her drought, she added, “It’s coming, I know it is. I think the hard work will start to kick in at some point or other, but I’m hoping I can score sooner rather than later.”

After a belated start to her college career owing to an ACL injury sustained playing soccer in the spring of 2009, Vella came out hustling as a freshman last season. She would ultimately pitch in five goals and seven helpers in 21 appearances, including three two-point efforts.

This year, her production pothole and team-worst minus-5 rating (tied with Anderson) has done little to curb her ice time. Having suited up for all 26 games to date, Vella’s most radiant asset has been her contribution to the penalty kill, which was the patent backbone to both Friar victories over the weekend.

In the Friars 2-1 road win on Sunday, the Huskies were allotted three unanswered power plays after Corinne Buie had roofed the go-ahead goal for Providence. But the hosts were allotted merely two SOG within those three segments. Their lone attempted shot on their second power play, off the twig of Dani Rylan, was blocked by Vella, who also made an assertive, all-her-might clear of the zone amidst Friday night’s 5-on-3 deficit against BC.

“Anybody who can appreciate the game of hockey appreciates the things she does,” said Deraney. “She does a lot of things that don’t show up on the scoresheet, but that her teammates and coaches certainly appreciate.”

Double crown
Goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, already a three-time Defensive Player of the Week, was named the league’s top overall performer of the week yesterday, owing largely to her improbable 33-save third period against BC. Overall, the Scarborough Save-ior repelled 86 out of 88 shots faced over the weekend, elevating her league-best save percentage to .945, No. 3 in the nation behind Cornell’s Amanda Mazzotta and Minnesota’s Noora Raty.

Meanwhile, PC garnered its third Hoc key East “Team of the Week” laurel of the season.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hockey Log

Rare breed of redemption
Jensen, PC women fixed own wound to top BC

Junior defender Christie Jensen yielded the grandmother of all giveaways –at least in terms of competing against the stingy Boston College- during the second period of Friday night’s bout at Schneider Arena. But much to her gratitude, she would repeal the consequences on an identical set-up within six minutes of action.

Patrolling the near point amidst the Friars’ third of five unanswered power plays, Jensen fumbled the puck as she attempted a routine lateral feed to defensive partner Amber Yung. With a Jaws-like sense of opportunism, Eagles’ scoring nucleus Kelli Stack vacuumed the biscuit and bolted uncontested down Broadway to cash in a shorthanded strike, giving her team a 1-0 edge at the 12:24 mark.

Up to that point, PC had attempted a total of seven shots over two-plus power plays. Three of those were repelled by goaltender Molly Schaus, one went wide, and another three were blocked –including, as it happened, one by Jensen that Stack stepped up to squelch moments before her goal.

“For some reason, we were worse when we were up a player than we were when we were down a player and we’ve really got to pay attention,” said Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney. “We know they try to score shorthanded and they did (on Friday) and we’ve just got to make stronger plays on the power play. Other than that, I thought we played a pretty strong game.”

On its fifth and final 5-on-4 segment of the night, Providence did flaunt a little more purpose, pelting Schaus seven times in merely two swirls with one whistle. And when the remnants of the seventh shot, which came off of Yung’s blade, made their way back to the brim of the BC zone, Jensen would have her reprieve.

Stationed on the far point this time, Jensen handed things over to Yung, who’s straight-lined, low-riding snapper found Abby Gauthier open along the near post. With three ticks to spare on Eagle forward Ashley Motherwell’s sentence for high-sticking, Gauthier tipped the equalizer behind a patently unprepared and likely shagged-out Schaus.

The goal amounted to the stay-at-home Jensen’s fifth assist of the season, a new career high, and her third point in the last four games. More critically, it put a reverse 180-degree spin on the course of the game, an eventual 3-1 triumph, merely five minutes and 38 seconds after her blunder had given the visitors the upper hand.

Second chances of the sort are, at best, an anomaly against BC. Friday was the first time this season that the No. 7-ranked Eagles lost after initially drawing first blood and their first falter out of 14 games when Stack tunes the mesh.

“It definitely felt good,” Jensen said. “I was able to learn from my mistakes, not moving the puck fast enough on the power play, and I was definitely told that on the bench after the first goal and was just working on moving it faster on the second goal. It was awesome.”

Another key clash
Friday’s result doubtlessly had something to do with the Friars ascending two spots to No. 9 in the telltale PairWise rankings, along with BC’s minor slippage to the No. 8 seed. Translation: those two parties are all but one interchange shy of earning and spilling their respective chances for an at-large NCAA passport.

In a three-way knot for 10th place is PC’s next adversary from Northeastern, which will host today’s 4 p.m. face-off at the Kingston Bog. In a perfect parallel to their national posture, the Huntington Hounds are also one rung and two points behind the Friars in the conference standings.

Translation: the Friars can claim a prize pack of virtually quadruple value with a win today. The stakes consist of more credit in the Hockey East and national postseason races as well as a few ice chips kicked directly in the Huskies’ faces.

Or, as Deraney would rather put it, just more ground gained. Period.

“They’re all important, and it’s not a line,” he said. “We’re at 16 wins overall and we’re trying to build a resume. Stumbling last week against New Hampshire and (two weekends) before against Maine, those are games that you have to try to make up some way down the road.

“When you come back from (Christmas) break, every game’s important. They’re all relevant and they all have meaning. It doesn’t matter where (the opponents) are in the standings. You’re just trying to get a resume to get into the national tournament and have two options to get there.”

The Huskies are bound to come out with a similar appetite for redress as they vie to halt a two-game losing streak. Yesterday, at Matthews Arena, they deleted 2-0 and 3-2 deficits, only to lose in overtime, 4-3, to the slowly recovering Wildcats.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com