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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