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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On Hockey

Problems started way out of the goal

It was most fitting that, with 1:49 to spare in the third period and again when there were 70 seconds to work with, PC women’s head coach Bob Deraney offered goaltender Nina Riley a breather and tasked a six-pack attack with trying to delete a 3-2 deficit against Maine.

The Friars, who ultimately whiffed on that elusive equalizer, had strained their freshman backstop more than enough already. They had subjected Riley to a flurry of six unanswered shots to start yesterday’s loss at Alfond Arena. In the latter half of the second period, they let the Black Bears take nine unanswered attempts, seven on net. Riley repelled all 15 stabs she faced in that middle frame, but only after the opposition had sculpted itself a 2-0 lead, the first such deficit Providence has endured all season.

What’s more, by the time Maine clicked first at 9:09 of the first period, giving it a 1-0 edge on the board and a 6-0 advantage in the shooting gallery, the game’s only power play had been granted to the Friars. But in that particular segment, between the 3:31 and 5:31 mark, PC’s lone shot was a wide attempt courtesy of Alyse Ruff. Meanwhile, the Mainers mustered two shorthanded pelts at Riley.

Riley’s classmate, Corinne Buie, put a belated splash on the team’s weekend-old power play drought when she converted and sawed a 3-1 deficit in half with 8:55 gone in the third. By then, spanning Sunday night’s 2-1 triumph and yesterday’s downturn, the Friars had spent a grand total of 22 minutes and 21 seconds with at least one extra body at their disposal. They failed to pounce on each of their first 13 opportunities and went completely shotless on four of them.

Late in yesterday’s second period, one of the rare moments when momentum was not a mirage, PC terminated its fifth power play 40 seconds prematurely with its second bench minor in less than three minutes. All that coming 38 seconds after Maine had killed a 42-second 5-on-3 disadvantage.

Maine remains the decisively least disciplined team in Hockey East with 14 penalty minutes per game, but is capable of luring its opposition to the bin just as regularly. Both trends carried over into the New Year, and in their two-night stay in Orono, the Friars took a cumulative 14 penalties, the Black Bears 15. PC went 1-for-14 on the power play, Maine 2-for-12.

Yesterday, Maine only had four extra-player opportunities over an aggregate 4:57 of clock time. In that limited window, they slipped five registered stabs at Riley, including three on one continuous buzz in the seventh minute of the second period. Riley answered all three of those, but not the one Maine senior Jennie Gallo dished out at 7:03 of the third while Ruff was serving a two-minute sentence for slashing.

Gallo’s upfront strike augmented a 2-1 edge to 3-1 and ultimately held up as the game-winner. But by all counts, the Friars could have put themselves on much thicker ice ahead of time.

Admittedly, this author forecasted a split in this series as soon as minute-munching mainstay Genevieve Lacasse was accepted onto Canada’s MLP Cup roster, precluding her presence on the Orono excursion and forcing two unripe stoppers in Riley and Christina England with a combined 4:48 minutes of prior experience to go on duty. That projection never wavered, mostly by virtue of the Black Bears’ steady improvement under first-year coach Maria Lewis.

After the fact, however, it is plain that Providence could have easily wrested away the better half of the wishbone. Everyone in black played uncharacteristically yesterday –Riley for the better, what with a 27-save performance in her NCAA debut, and her skating mates for worse with a season-low 16 shots on goal.

This strike force has compiled bigger bushels than that in single periods. Try, for instance, the last 20 minutes of Sunday night’s contest, when they heaved 19 pucks at Maine’s Brittany Ott. Although her valiance wasn’t enough to muster a rally, Ott did stop everything, raising questions about quality on the Friars’ part.

Roughly 19 hours thereafter, the issue morphed quickly to quantity. While leaving Riley to deal with 30 of the Black Bears’ 40 shot attempts, PC took 27 hacks, four of which were blocked while another seven went wide.

All that, and they still lost by only one. Imagine if the puckslingers had remembered to set their alarms earlier?

Better just take those wonders and apply them to the final chapter of “Surviving without the Scarborough Save-ior,” which will be Sunday’s venture to the chemically reactive Boston University.

The way it’s looking right now, PC’s best bet to take any BU booty is if Riley or England makes like Alissa Fromkin in the last meeting. Recall that, back on Nov. 6, Fromkin stood in for sparkling starter Kerrin Sperry and withstood the better part of a 14-shot, first period salvo en route to a 4-1 Terrier triumph.

Either that, or the Terrier strike force –which will still have Marie-Philip Poulin and Jenn Wakefield- could take an off night, much like the Friars did yesterday.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com