Entirely out of matter-of-fact acceptance, and hardly out of eagerness, Friars head coach Bob Deraney prophesied a “learning experience” peppered with all but certain “growing pains” in First Night 2008-09.
After the fact, the fact being a 2-1 falter to Ohio State finalized on a strike by Buckeye forward Colleen Olson with a mere 7:09 to spare in the third and a failure to launch in the last-moments Operation Equalizer frenzy, there was a minor, yet explicitly present, sheet of bitterness in Deraney’s tone.
“I think I’d be insulting these girls if I said to them ‘Hey, we played well tonight.’ That wouldn’t be good enough,” he said. “For other programs, it would be good enough, but not this team.”
Initially hampered by expectable jitters, which amounted to three unanswered power plays, a 7-0 shooting advantage, and a 1-0 scoring advantage for the Buckeyes within the first six minutes, the caffeinated Friars gushed out to chalk up an eventual 40-24 edge in the shooting gallery.
But caffeine, more often than not, equals crashes. And a robust red wall in the form of Ohio State stopper Lianna Bonanno (39 saves) helped the collapsing cause. Save for freshman Laura Verahanta’s connection late in the middle frame, Bonanno resisted the entirety of a 19-shot second period barrage, then watched as her mates tipped the crucial scale in an anarchic third period.
“Their goalie did make the difference,” Deraney granted, adding “they played a college team last week (in their exhibition), and we didn’t. We played a midget team, so we took a while to get acclimated to what the (standard collegiate) pace is really like.”
It showed in the skate-whetting stages of the first period, most tellingly when PC’s Colleen Martin was flagged for a hitting-from-behind infraction at the 1:50 mark. The Buckeyes proceeded to thrust three nimble shots at Friar goaltender Danielle Ciarletta (22 saves), and inserted the icebreaker with 35 seconds to spare on the advantage.
Regrouping on an incomplete PC clear to the neutral zone, backliner Kelly Wild forwarded a skipping stone feed along the near wall to Raelyn LaRocque. LaRoque absorbed it at the blue line, swooped in untouched, and let her shot squirt home.
The Friars subsequently gnashed their teeth through three uninterrupted shorthanded minutes, including 73 seconds of a 5-on-3 deficit, during which Ciarletta pushed away another three shots. But the omens improved for the home mass at Schneider Arena when an interference call Natalie Spooner ultimately brought a premature end to the Buckeyes’ third power play.
Providence finally cracked the goose egg in their SOG column through two consecutive stabs by a fresh-out-the-box Katy Beach. As the whistle distrubtions evened out for the remainder of the period, so did the shot count. Before intermission, the Friars had sculpted an 11-9 lead in the credit-for-effort category, seven of their shots spanning over three power plays.
Their boundless shooting spree only accelerated in the middle frame, as did OSU’s brimming frustration. The Friars heaved 11 unanswered attempts at Bonanno –with five of them, plus a dink off the near post by forward Ariano Rigano, compacted into their fourth PP opportunity of the night- over the first eight minutes of the period.
At the rate they were forking, yet extracting nothing on the board, PC all but needed to catch Bonnano deflated off a face-off. That’s what happened in the waning seconds of another power play when 2:52 remained in the second period.
Mari Pehkonen’s win in the far circle hardly left the radius of the draw, and Verahanta nimbly pounced to slug it in through the crouching Bonnano’s five-hole.
That coming after 13 previous power play stabs (29 shots overall) were swallowed by the chin-standing Bonanno, whose continuing dolphin show was only eclipsed by the Buckeyes’ offensive awakening in the third period.
Limiting the Friars to 10 more attempts while discharging nine of their own, the Buckeyes wrested the lead permanently just moments after PC had polished off another PK.
A disrupted would-be breakout in the far alley of the Friars’ end allowed Michele Tonnessen to feed Olson, who cut nimbly to the net and, much like LaRocque before her, let a soapy low rider slip through Ciarletta.
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press