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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