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Friday, January 28, 2011

Women's Hockey Feature

Author’s note: In a nod to The Hockey News and the recent release of its annual Goalie’s Issue, the Free Press offers this list of the top ten Genevieve Lacasse highlights so far in her sparkling PC career, one that will likely see her rewrite the program’s goaltending record book and may pilot her to a steady job on the international platform.

1. January 8, 2011
Granted, her praetorian guards did their overwhelming part by issuing a 60-shot, six-goal salvo on Sweden goaltenders Sara Grahn and Valentina Lizana. But Lacasse didn’t exactly let up in the gold medal game of the MLP Cup, her first international tournament, repelling all 37 shots she faced for the shutout and the title. Lacasse would finish the tournament with a seamless 2-0 record, complete with 55 saves for two goose-eggs.

2. January 21, 2011
Purportedly poised for a storming succession of penalty kills –after all, visiting Boston College had taken each of the game’s first five whistles- Lacasse watches as three of her teammates are simultaneously stuffed in the sin bin with 9:06 remaining in regulation and a 2-1 advantage on the line.

By the time the Friars are finally back to full strength after three minutes and 49 seconds of shorthanded action, the Eagles have unloaded 11 power play shots, yet still trail. They will continue to own the shooting gallery, 10-2, in the final 7:06 of regulation, but Lacasse will match a career high with 51 saves and a head-turning 3-1 win for PC.

3. November 8, 2009
Surprise, surprise. The short-lived shootout’s grand hurrah was built around the rivalry between Lacasse and Northeastern’s Florence Schelling.

Locking masks for the third time in their respective careers at Schneider Arena, the Scarborough Save-ior and the Swiss Save-ior yield one goal apiece through 65 minutes. Likewise, they both blink in the same seventh round of the shootout –that is, after playing impeccably through six innings, the equivalent of two ordinary shootouts.

The bout continues through yet another six rounds, and after Lacasse denies the Huskies’ 13th bidder, Casie Fields, Friars’ stay-at-home defender Christie Jensen beats Schelling on a swooping roofer to give PC the walk-off.

4. November 21, 2008
A Cyclopean Mercyhurst strike force permeated with Canadian ambassadors, including 2006 Olympian Meghan Agosta, extracts a hard-earned 3-0 win at Schneider Arena. But from PC’s perspective, it is a rare losing effort that calls for not even a single ice chip of redress. The almighty Lakers run up the shooting gallery, 54-31, but cannot beat the Friars’ rookie stopper until Agosta –who scores twice on an improbable 14 SOG- smuggles the biscuit between a slim five-hole at 2:56 of the second period.

More than anything, Lacasse’s 51-save effort –a quantity matched only once so far- confirms that she is the nucleus of the Friars’ future and their heavily leaned-on class of 2012.

5. February 21, 2009
In the four games leading up to the regular season finale at Boston College, all of them regulation losses, PC’s bid for a first-round bye in the new Hockey East playoff format had rapidly devolved into a struggle just to salvage home ice for the preliminary round. With the Friars needing two points in their own right, plus a New Hampshire win over Connecticut the following day, to cement fourth place, Lacasse tussles with BC’s celestial stopper Molly Schaus to a shootout. After Ashley Cottrell converts PC’s first bid, Lacasse denies the explosive Allie Thunstrom, Kelli Stack, and Mary Restuccia to rake away the requisite two-point package.

6. January 10, 2009
Offensively speaking, New Hampshire could not say it didn’t try to extend its 14-game unbeaten streak (11-0-3) with the rival Friars. Out of 14 available skaters, 12 of them combine for a 43-shot blizzard, including 11 by two-way connoisseur Courtney Birchard and six from the searing Jenn Wakefield. But Lacasse has an answer for them all and her skating mates blind Kayley Herman with the red light en route to a 5-0 Providence victory at Schneider Arena.

7. December 5, 2009
Upon stopping the aforementioned Birchard’s bid during a second period penalty kill, Lacasse ascends to the No. 3 slot on PC’s career saves leaderboard with 1,211 in only her 47th game.

Oh, and she ultimately backstops the Friars to a 4-1 triumph, the first road win at the Whittemore Center by any WHEA team.

8. November 29, 2008
In her first Mayor’s Cup game at Meehan Auditorium, Lacasse posts the Patrick Roy Hat Trick. She stamps her second career shutout with 37 saves, assists on Katy Beach’s clincher in the 1-0 triumph, and takes her first two-minute minor for tripping at 3:54 of the first period.

Since then, she has blanked 10 other adversaries and attained six more helpers, but has avoided any citations from the zebras.

9. October 23, 2008
Egregious miscommunication by the Friars amidst a neutral zone scrum in the first minute of overtime leaves Yale forward Bray Ketchum free to break in for the winning strike. Only that winning strike never comes to fruition as Lacasse gets her blocker on the disc and redirects it over her crossbar and into the left corner. No additional shots are taken at either end and the 2-2 deadlock stands pat through the final buzzer.

10. October 29, 2010
None of her previous challengers had managed to keep Boston University’s otherworldly rookie Marie-Philip Poulin off the scoresheet. In her first seven NCAA games, the Canadian Olympic hero had already logged a 9-7-16 transcript.

But in the first Hockey East game of the season for both teams, PC and Lacasse confine Poulin to six shots on net, none in the net, and no helpers as part of a mutually satisfying 2-2 tie at Schneider Arena.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hockey Log

Rare breed of redemption
Jensen, PC women fixed own wound to top BC


Junior defender Christie Jensen yielded the grandmother of all giveaways –at least in terms of competing against the stingy Boston College- during the second period of Friday night’s bout at Schneider Arena. But much to her gratitude, she would repeal the consequences on an identical set-up within six minutes of action.

Patrolling the near point amidst the Friars’ third of five unanswered power plays, Jensen fumbled the puck as she attempted a routine lateral feed to defensive partner Amber Yung. With a Jaws-like sense of opportunism, Eagles’ scoring nucleus Kelli Stack vacuumed the biscuit and bolted uncontested down Broadway to cash in a shorthanded strike, giving her team a 1-0 edge at the 12:24 mark.

Up to that point, PC had attempted a total of seven shots over two-plus power plays. Three of those were repelled by goaltender Molly Schaus, one went wide, and another three were blocked –including, as it happened, one by Jensen that Stack stepped up to squelch moments before her goal.

“For some reason, we were worse when we were up a player than we were when we were down a player and we’ve really got to pay attention,” said Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney. “We know they try to score shorthanded and they did (on Friday) and we’ve just got to make stronger plays on the power play. Other than that, I thought we played a pretty strong game.”

On its fifth and final 5-on-4 segment of the night, Providence did flaunt a little more purpose, pelting Schaus seven times in merely two swirls with one whistle. And when the remnants of the seventh shot, which came off of Yung’s blade, made their way back to the brim of the BC zone, Jensen would have her reprieve.

Stationed on the far point this time, Jensen handed things over to Yung, who’s straight-lined, low-riding snapper found Abby Gauthier open along the near post. With three ticks to spare on Eagle forward Ashley Motherwell’s sentence for high-sticking, Gauthier tipped the equalizer behind a patently unprepared and likely shagged-out Schaus.

The goal amounted to the stay-at-home Jensen’s fifth assist of the season, a new career high, and her third point in the last four games. More critically, it put a reverse 180-degree spin on the course of the game, an eventual 3-1 triumph, merely five minutes and 38 seconds after her blunder had given the visitors the upper hand.

Second chances of the sort are, at best, an anomaly against BC. Friday was the first time this season that the No. 7-ranked Eagles lost after initially drawing first blood and their first falter out of 14 games when Stack tunes the mesh.

“It definitely felt good,” Jensen said. “I was able to learn from my mistakes, not moving the puck fast enough on the power play, and I was definitely told that on the bench after the first goal and was just working on moving it faster on the second goal. It was awesome.”

Another key clash
Friday’s result doubtlessly had something to do with the Friars ascending two spots to No. 9 in the telltale PairWise rankings, along with BC’s minor slippage to the No. 8 seed. Translation: those two parties are all but one interchange shy of earning and spilling their respective chances for an at-large NCAA passport.

In a three-way knot for 10th place is PC’s next adversary from Northeastern, which will host today’s 4 p.m. face-off at the Kingston Bog. In a perfect parallel to their national posture, the Huntington Hounds are also one rung and two points behind the Friars in the conference standings.

Translation: the Friars can claim a prize pack of virtually quadruple value with a win today. The stakes consist of more credit in the Hockey East and national postseason races as well as a few ice chips kicked directly in the Huskies’ faces.

Or, as Deraney would rather put it, just more ground gained. Period.

“They’re all important, and it’s not a line,” he said. “We’re at 16 wins overall and we’re trying to build a resume. Stumbling last week against New Hampshire and (two weekends) before against Maine, those are games that you have to try to make up some way down the road.

“When you come back from (Christmas) break, every game’s important. They’re all relevant and they all have meaning. It doesn’t matter where (the opponents) are in the standings. You’re just trying to get a resume to get into the national tournament and have two options to get there.”

The Huskies are bound to come out with a similar appetite for redress as they vie to halt a two-game losing streak. Yesterday, at Matthews Arena, they deleted 2-0 and 3-2 deficits, only to lose in overtime, 4-3, to the slowly recovering Wildcats.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com