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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