Together with the newly habitual victors he instructs, Friars head coach Bob Deraney has a personal hot streak of sorts brewing. One that could justifiably leave him contemplating a secondary career in tarot card readings.
As he foretold in advance of yesterday’s confrontation with the gritty Connecticut Huskies, he found his pupils engaged in a tussle defined by anaconda-like constriction, which ultimately ran scoreless through the first 53 minutes of play.
Then, with an even 7:00 left to work with in regulation, the Huskies absorbed their second penalty in a matter of 62 ticks –Cristin Allen going off for the third time of the day with a cross-checking citation- in effect granting Providence its fourth power play and 58 seconds worth of a 5-on-3 sequence.
Acutely smelling an invitation to a favorable turning point through the suddenly creaked door, Deraney used his lone timeout at once. His message to the strike force?
“Just stick to what we do,” he said. “And what I mean by that is, we have our systematic play when it comes to 5-on-3 and our special teams have been very good. So I basically said ‘Hey. Here’s an opportunity. Just continue what you’ve been doing, but make sure you execute. You’re going to have a little bit more time because it’s 5-on-3, so find the open player. She’ll be there.’”
The skipper’s prediction precision lit up yet again. Six seconds after the first UConn penalty expired and Rebecca Hewett hustled in to join the PK, Friar forward Laura Veharanta churned elusively throughout the far circle, the puck irremovably fastened to her tape, then turned to find linemate Alyse Ruff patiently perched in front of goaltender Alexandra Garcia (18 saves).
With 5:57 to spare, Ruff tilted Veharanta’s subsequent magnetic feed top shelf over Garcia’s trapper for the decider in a 2-0 Providence victory, later solidified by Kate Bacon’s empty netter with 20 seconds remaining.
With that, the Friars prolonged their unbeaten streak to 4-0-1 in their last five ventures and, for a change, leaned over the right side of the .500 fence in both their Hockey East (3-2-1) and overall (6-5-1) game-by-game transcripts.
Then there was freshman goaltender Genevieve Lacasse, now perfect in the win column over three consecutive starts, who pitched her first collegiate shutout through a 30-save dolphin show.
For the better part of the first period especially, the Friars were in tongue-biting mode, grating a persistent UConn attack brigade that mustered a 9-3 edge in the shooting gallery and at one point –within the fourteenth minute- induced Providence to three icings in a space of 52 seconds.
PC’s lengthiest, most favorable-looking early visits to the Huskies’ domain were boosted by a pair of power plays, but in the 18th minute, a fresh-out-the-box Allen absorbed an authoritative clear from her own zone and broke untouched down the Broadway lane for the best scoring chance of the period. She would be thwarted, though, by a vitally collected Lacasse, who paced herself to a sprawling, post-hugging save.
Deraney was apt to commend his defense for never puffing out in addition to acknowledging the cornerstone in his crease.
“You can just see us growing and getting better every day in all phases of the game, and it all starts with our goaltending,” he said. “They didn’t get a lot of quality opportunities, but when you get your goalie in the zone like Genevieve was tonight, it’s uplifting to us and deflating to them.”
Both clubs tuned up their offensive maneuverability in the middle frame, UConn slightly augmenting its shooting edge to 20-12, including five registered stabs over one power play about the halfway mark. But Lacasse and Garcia alike still failed to default.
The Friars even disrupted that productive UConn power play tempest when Bacon accepted a breakout feed in neutral ice and bustled through the near alley en route to a face-to-face encounter with Garcia, who would equate Lacasse’s resolve to the two-set of goose eggs for another intermission.
Added Deraney, “We missed some golden opportunities on our first power play. A couple of open nets that could have opened it up (for us) a little more.”
But PC, which neutralized a 6-on-4 disadvantage in the final 90 seconds over Connecticut’s fifth and final power play, tipped the scale when daylong heart-skipping and teeth-gnashing gave way to bonus breath and two bonus skaters.
“When it’s going and going, and there’s no scoring, it’s touch and go, and it’s tough to gain an inch, if you’re not mentally tough, sometimes you’ll crack,” said Deraney. “(Instead,) I think they made us a more disciplined and composed team and I’m really excited about the way we responded to this challenge.”
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press