The reduced scoresheet frequency of Laura Veharanta, Ashley Cottrell, and Alyse Ruff –the constituents of the PC women’s youngest and still most productive forward line- hasn’t translated near so frightfully across the scoreboards and standings what with the steadily thickening depth on coach Bob Deraney’s 12-slot offensive line chart.
One component apiece from the nominal second and third units –senior Mari Pehkonen and sophomore Jean O’Neill- each nabbed two rare-find points apiece over the last weekend’s set of obsessive-defensive match-ups with Northeastern.
Incidentally, these two were supplemented by the likes of Ruff to comprise the short-lived but sweet-lived PRO Line in the homestretch of last season. And they both initially saw their encouraging output rate taper off with injuries and illness in the wee stages of this season.
Pehkonen went missing altogether for six games in November upon taking a business trip to the Four Nations Cup and subsequently returning with mononucleosis. And her scoring touch took time to revamp as she was reintegrated into the lineup.
But with last Friday’s OT clincher, Saturday’s would-be equalizer, and a few scraps of evidence to press larceny charges on Husky stopper Florence Schelling, Pehkonen has rekindled her long-missing Finnish Flare persona.
Pehkonen was on the path to repeat heroism late Saturday when she drew a 2-2 knot on PC’s 37th shot and her seventh stab at Schelling with 5:35 to spare in regulation. And even when Northeastern’s Ali Bielawski zapped those fuzzy thoughts before they could even mature, she retained her determination by heaving two more pucks at Schelling and another one wide during a last-ditch power play.
“I thought for sure that last shot was going in, but (Schelling) was just better that night,” she reflected.
Regardless, a 4-2-6 scoring transcript in her last six ventures has upped her season totals to 9-5-14 in 24 collegiate games. She currently stands tied with Ruff for second in the Friars’ G column while her point-per-game median of .583 ranks fourth behind only Veharanta, Cottrell, and Erin Normore.
Until a recent injury to Christie Jensen left an emergency void in the defensive six-pack, Pehkonen had been rebooting with fellow celestial senior Normore as her centerpiece and freshman Kate Bacon on the left wing.
Normore’s indefinite redeployment to the blue line has prompted Deraney to nudge Pehkonen to the center station. But with Bacon and Arianna Rigano flanking her, she has suddenly honed a nose for clutch callings and a fastidious avarice for unleashing biscuits from her blade.
“Her linemates really help her out because they take so much attention and create space for Mari,” said Deraney. “When she has space like that, she’s very effective, and she’s learning to play with her new linemates and how to take that space they create for her and that’s why she’s having so much success. It’s a testament not only to her skill, but also to that line.”
O’Neill has likewise let her data reflect her newly adventurous appetite. Before she had partnered with Ruff and Pehkonen at the halfway mark of her rookie season, she had scraped out seven points in 18 games. Then, after a few dry games of acclimation, she proceeded to run up a 4-6-10 tear in the final 13 games of 2007-08.
Up to this point, albeit under different elements, she has virtually rerun that escalation cycle. With an infinitesimal three points in her first 17 appearances –which were delayed by a lower body ailment sustained in training camp- she has since spiked back to her freshman form.
Her equalizer in last Friday’s come-from-behind win marked her third firsthand strike in four outings and granted associate forward Abby Gauthier her fourth helper since New Year’s.
Meantime, O’Neill’s helper on Normore’s first-period icebreaker on Saturday amounted to four points in her last five twirls.
In their first eight games as a line, O’Neill, Gauthier, and senior center Katy Beach have combined for a decent 12 points.
“Again, I think it’s a credit to her linemates,” Deraney said. “That line of Beach, O’Neill and Gauthier has really started to come together.”
“We’ve scored 15 goals in the last six games,” he continued. “Ten have been by seniors, three have been by sophomores, and two have been by freshmen. And the three goals by sophomores are all by Jean O’Neill, so she’s definitely contributing in a big way in a major part of the season.”
And thus, her impression looks just the way she had left it at the conclusion of her first winter here.
Al Daniel can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press