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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

Hockey Log

A merry ending for England

Christina England accepted her routine reserve position well ahead of yesterday’s Senior Day contest, but was nonetheless prepared to improvise in case Father Fortune were to bless her. Namely, were the game to be wrested safely out of reach, she would have the opportunity to close the game for the PC women ahead of minute-munching starter Genevieve Lacasse.

“I kind of heard a rumor that (head coach Bob Deraney) was going to do that,” she said. “Two days ago, Genevieve had kind of secretly, accidentally told me.”

Through two periods, the Friars were safeguarding a 2-0 lead, sculpted within the first five minutes of the opening frame, and leaning on Lacasse to ensure Vermont’s 19-17 lead in the shooting gallery went to waste.

But moments after Lacasse repelled four Catamount power play shots early in the third, PC’s offense erupted like it hadn’t done since the first month of the season. And by the time Corinne Buie had made it 4-0 with 13:29 to spare, assistant coach Karen Thatcher approached England to inform her that her call was imminent.

Four minutes, 20 seconds, three Lacasse saves, and one other Providence goal later, it happened. The Schneider Arena masses drove up the dinning roars as Lacasse joined the round of fist-bumps at the bench and passed on good wishes to England, whose only other relief appearance at home was a five-minute stint in the October 2009 Mayor’s Cup mayhem.

“I’m really happy for her,” said Deraney. “She epitomizes the class and the dignity and respect of our program. I’m glad we were able to do that and the way we did it. It was only fitting that all of our seniors got an opportunity to play in today’s game.”

In nine minutes and nine seconds of crease time yesterday, England would face but two shots, one of which found a home via Catamount power play attacker Celeste Doucet with 2:43 to go. But naturally, that couldn’t do anything to tarnish the Friars’ encouraging postseason prelude.

Nor did it affect what will likely be England’s final transcript in the PC crease. Over four total regular season appearances, she consumed 93 minutes and 57 seconds of play and repelled 28 of 32 shots faced.

Her lone start-to-finish outing and only decision was earlier this season when, in Lacasse’s absence to represent Canada at the MLP Cup, England backstopped a 2-1 road win over Maine Jan. 2.

“That’s cool,” she said, sporting a gratified grin. “A 1-0-0 record is a good way to go out. I don’t have any losses against me, so it’s fine with me.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Women's Hockey 3, Vermont 2

Friars sip from last straw
Last-minute strike spoils Catamount comeback


Both teams had already traded turns splashing their respective power play droughts. The visiting Vermont Catamounts had deleted a 2-0 deficit for the first time in all of their 32 regular season games. And after her team had run up an 8-4 lead in the third period shooting gallery, Vermont’s Celeste Doucet was going off for slashing with 5:37 left in regulation.

On the spot, PC head coach Bob Deraney, knowing a radiant break when he sees one, took his team’s one allotted break in the action.

“It was probably going to be the last power play of the game based on the way everything was coming down,” Deraney said. “I wanted to make sure we were rested and we went over what their tendencies are and what we could exploit.

“I thought we had some unbelievable looks on the power play. And, hey, we just have to capitalize. (Because of) the fact that we’re getting those looks more consistently, now we can take the next step and start cashing in on them.”

If nothing else, through their fourth power play onslaught of the day, the Friars repossessed that soapy slab of momentum that was changing sides just a little less often than Brett Favre changes heart. They took seven of the game’s final eight shots on goal, the very last of which found a home courtesy of Rebecca Morse with 37.8 ticks remaining.

Pinching into the high slot, the freshman blueliner absorbed a backhand feed from left winger Laura Veharanta and spooned it over a seated Catamount goaltender Roxanne Douville, spelling the difference in a 3-2 victory at Schneider Arena.

“I was on the boards and somehow we kept it in,” Morse said recalling the clinching play. “Laura took it to the net, she shot, and for some reason, I knew it was going to come at me. I didn’t get it up as high as I wanted to, but luckily it went in.”

As it happened, a little fortune was a prerequisite for both of yesterday’s contesting squads. Douville (33 saves) kept her career-long shutout streak against the Friars alive through a turbulent first period, which saw her repel each of 16 stabs and personally summon 10 out of 20 total whistles.

After killing a carry-over bodychecking penalty to Kate Bacon to commence the middle frame, Providence finally cracked the Catamount rookie’s code at the 1:40 mark. Defender Amber Yung sent Alyse Ruff a breakout feed up the far alley and upon entry into the Vermont zone, the co-captain dished a lateral pass to Nicole Anderson, whose long-range wrister dodged Douville’s trapper.

Eight minutes later, with Saleah Morrison off for her own checking infraction, Bacon deposited her team’s first 5-on-4 strike in 11 chances. Her initial shot dinged off the opposite post but magnetically returned to her twig. With Douville vulnerably lured out of her crease, the slick Bacon curled around the goalie and buried her 16th tally on the year.

Their playoff prospects dissolving before their desperate eyes, the Catamounts perked right up. In the two minutes following Bacon’s goal, they took three unanswered shot attempts and drew a tripping call on Jess Cohen at 11:47. Within 17 seconds, Cohen was joined by Ruff (interference) and Vermont’s Chelsea Rapin slugged home a 5-on-3 conversion at 12:38.

A post-goal scuffle with Friars’ defender Jen Friedman landed Middletown resident Kailey Nash in the bin for roughing, revoking what would have been another 86 seconds of power play time for the Cats. From there through intermission, it was on Douville to answer five unanswered bids.

Vermont would not receive another invitation to test Genevieve Lacasse (21 saves) until they framed the Friars yet again at 4:41 of the third. Two-way grinder Lauren Covell went off for interference and Catamount senior Peggy Wakeham took three successive stabs, the last of which she smuggled in unassisted for the equalizer with 14:28 to play.

“Penalties played into their momentum,” said Deraney. “And I’ve got to tell you, I’m proud of the way our kids played. You can’t control what happened out there regarding the momentum switch. It had nothing to do with us. It had everything to with the breaks of the game. I don’t think Vermont ever took any momentum in this game by themselves.”

But moments after Lacasse neutralized their last assertive swarm of the day, blocking four consecutive shots without any stoppage, the Catamounts –likely a tad drained considering they dressed 14 skaters- effectively spilled the last of their thrust by virtue of Doucet’s penalty.

After that, only Nash got another look at the Scarborough Save-ior while the Friars continued to whittle around Douville, culminating in Morse’s decider.

“(The penalties) played a big part in this game, which they do in every game, really,” said Vermont head coach Tim Bothwell. “I honestly didn’t see that last penalty against us. There was a lot of marginal stuff today. It’s a tough game to referee, but you’ve still got to kill the penalties and they definitely had an effect on the ebb and flow of the game.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

Hockey Log

Next task is national relevance

The PC women have nothing further to gain in the Hockey East standings, yesterday’s 3-2 triumph over Vermont having ratified their claim to third place.

Not quite worthy of a ho-hum heckle, but not unexpected or original to the proud program, either. The Friars have now finished among the league’s top three for the eighth time in nine seasons. They have never finished any lower than fourth since entering the newfangled WHEA in 2002.

For something a little more ice-shattering, look up the team’s overall transcript. Yesterday’s win gave Providence its first 20-win campaign since 2004-05, the year of its first and still lone venture into the NCAA dance.

But, still lodged at No. 10 on the PairWise leaderboard, the 2010-11 Friars have more credits to fulfill if they are not to resort to the not-so-fail-safe automatic bid. For head coach Bob Deraney, that made the question as to the stakes in today’s regular season finale too obvious.

“Keep building a picture for the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We know we’ve been in the Hockey East tournament for a while now, so that hasn’t really been our focus, except trying to get the best seed possible. We’re still trying to create that NCAA championship resume, and that’s why (today’s) game is big.

“I know (Vermont is) going to play extremely hard to try to be the spoiler so we’ll be ready for the challenge, and I think we’ll play even better than we did (yesterday).”

Same game plan in goal
Contrary to previous seasons, wherein the opening shift on Senior Day has either been shared exclusively by seniors or at least featured each member of that year’s graduating class, goaltender Christina England will hold her usual post at one of the bench doors today.

With the aforementioned national record to think about, Deraney will give the same routine priority to junior Genevieve Lacasse.

“I’ve always coached it as a real game,” he said of the home finale. “It just so happened that those lineups turned out that way.

“If we didn’t do anything before the game, then that would be a way to honor our seniors. But because we do such a nice job before the game –honoring the seniors and their families and appreciate their contributions- I always approach it like a regular game.”

England, who saw no action but dressed for 30 games over her first two seasons, will not be exercising a redshirt option. She thus figures to conclude her stay on the Divine Campus with a pristine 1-0-0 record, her only decision in three separate appearances being a 2-1 win at Maine earlier this season on Jan. 2.

PC will return Lacasse and rising sophomore Nina Riley to constitute next year’s goalie guild. There is currently no indication of a third stopper on the team’s recruiting radar.

Anderson reignites
Nicole Anderson snapped a career-worst 12-game pointless streak by breaking the ice at 1:40 of yesterday’s second period. With that, the towering sophomore finally hit double digits in this year’s point column and instilled a little credibility to the latest line chart tweaks.

Two weeks ago, Deraney broke up the fettered trio of Anderson, Jess Cohen, and Jessie Vella, replacing Cohen at the pivot with senior Alyse Ruff. Three games later, effective yesterday, Vella was swapped out in favor of junior Abby Gauthier.

“I think we played really well together today and I think it should stay like that for a while,” said Anderson.

Who’s up next?
Entering the final day of the regular season, Northeastern, New Hampshire, and Maine are all potential quarterfinal visitors to Schneider Arena. The Hub Huskies are lodged in fifth place with 16 points, one ahead of the Black Bears and Wildcats.

A UNH win its season finale against Boston College combined with a Northeastern loss to Connecticut would have the Wildcats leapfrog the Huskies for fifth and thus send Dave Flint’s pupils here next weekend. Otherwise, the Huskies and Black Bears both have the tiebreaker, meaning if New Hampshire extracts any points today, but fails to surmount Northeastern, the Wildcats will be on tap for the Friars.

Conversely, if the Eagles win, UNH is out and Maine –which curtained its regular season yesterday- will be awarded its first postseason passport since 2006.

Quick feeds: Senior defender Amber Yung assisted on each of PC’s first two goals, giving her a dozen helpers on the year. Yung and Ruff shared a team-best plus-2 rating on the day…Kate Bacon and Rebecca Morse assisted on each other’s goals and all four of Morse’s goals this season have been on home ice against Hockey East cohabitants…For the second consecutive game, Laura Veharanta led all participating skaters with six shots on goal. Veharanta’s linemates, Bacon and Vella, registered five SOG apiece…Freshman winger Corinne Buie missed the first shift of the third period with her helmet out of commission. Cohen filled in for her…Junior defender Jen Friedman went pointless for the first time in four games…Today will be Gauthier’s 100th career game.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com