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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