Here launches the final countdown for the likes of Katy Beach, Danielle Ciarletta, Stephanie Morris, Erin Normore, Mari Pehkonen, and Brittany Simpson. Beginning with Saturday’s home matinee twig-lock with Boston University, it’s the final T-minus-ten-regular-season-games countdown for this senior class, one that is burdened with the specter of becoming the first since 2001 to go four years without a merry March of hockey at Providence College.
As was the case last season, their 10 remaining regular season contests fall in this pattern of five home-and-homes: BU, Connecticut, Northeastern, New Hampshire, Boston College. Naturally, that’s just pre-arranged –and likely coincidental- repetition.
But for as long as any of these seniors have been here, they have constituted a fragment of a program that is at its sharpest in its own right this time of year, yet is stuffed up by a conglomeration of equally primed, ambitious adversaries. In 2005-06, the Friars went 4-6-0 in the stretch drive, amounting to a third place finish in the conference leaderboard. They subsequently snuffed out with a semifinal loss to Boston College, and a 17-14-4 overall record couldn’t cut it for a passport to the NCAA’s Elite Eight.
As sophomores, with Ciarletta and Pehkonen having freshly emigrated from Duluth, this sextet pitched in to a 4-5-1 chug to the finish. Specifically, another third-place finish coupled with a WHEA championship shortcoming. And again, their cumulative record (16-16-4) didn’t woo any selectors supervising the national platform.
And last season, Providence reran everything from the winter of 2007. The 4-5-1 regular season closure, the .500 overall record, the falter before almighty UNH for the conference crown, and the regretful redeye knowing that a lack of an automatic bid zapped their NCAA tournament candidacy.
Unlike the aforementioned, forthcoming itinerary, all that would certainly constitute a smudgy CD lens that PC’s leaders can and would be uncompromisingly advised to cleanse.
Here’s another: by the time they have all played Game #34, none of PC’s four most reckonable adversaries will have lost any more than four nonconference games and won no fewer than six. The Friars, meantime, have duplicated their 5-7-1 interleague record of last season. And they just broke double digits under the overall “L” heading.
Neither history nor the present needs to remind anybody that these stats are salting PC’s long-term ice. Still, USCHO’s poll currently has BC, UNH, and UConn crammed together from 6th through 8th. Freeze their respective statures from now through March 8 and they’d be all but shoo-ins to the NCAA bracket. And if women’s hockey had its own NIT, BU –currently benched on the honorable mention slab- would have a sporting chance of admission.
But the Friars have no business revisiting and dissecting the bugs behind the fettered persona they conveyed to kick off this campaign, and again to take it out of the cooler after their 23-day December respite. Bob Deraney and Co. can delve into that issue in April, after these yet-to-be-fulfilled seniors have given their final stick salute.
As for the strict present, the Friars and five forthcoming adversaries are keen on an exhilarating climax to the pennant race. Going into the weekend action, a mere seven points bridge top dog BC from the sixth-place Northeastern. PC and UNH are conjoined with 15 points apiece for third place, one stride behind BU (16 points) and within one win of lassoing the Eagles (17).
Oh, and fourth-place UConn (14 points) is likewise in a position to dislodge a few of its leaders in just one sixty-minute swing.
No one –not even the numerically underprivileged Wildcats or the ostensibly receding Hub Huskies- is in a state shabby enough to compromise points. They never have been before, as evidenced by the not-too-distant past. And the refined, six-team playoff system only ought to flick another appetizer pill down everyone’s throat.
For the first time in its wee seven-year existence, the WHEA can proclaim that its tenants are pursuing home ice for the postseason. And the top two finishers will earn the coveted NFL-esque prize of a bye week.
Translation: sixth or fifth place? Just think, in 2008 or prior, you’d be sullenly rushing the advent of spring with a greater fervor than any Groundhog Day devotees.
Fourth or third? You’re on your pond for Round 1 because you and the rest of the competitive melting pot made it happen over time, not because the league predestined it before captain’s practices. Good for you.
Second or first? Your wager is to productively invest in bonus practice time and consistently follow through on your triumphant sprint to the regular season finale.
All scenarios are as open as a goal mouth backstopping a six-pack attack. In the Friars’ equation, there is a little extra cramming what with the now-uncontrollable national landscape. But a gush to the stately byes’ perch –which would call for a recommended intake of, say, no fewer than seven more wins- might translate to last-minute at-large nomination.
Not to mention, it would be a bracing psychological upgrade for one graduating class that has settled for third place upon claiming less than half of the allotted homestretch points in each of the last three seasons.
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press