An altogether meeker breed of Husky awaits the Friars this weekend in the designedly fading aftermath of a brief-but-fatal nipping dealt by rival Connecticut.
All the more cause for Providence (10-4-1 in Hockey East, 15-11-2 overall) this week to hit the playbooks with a pinch of extra studious scrutiny, think a little deeper about the auspicious concept of safer (or, at least, less precarious) leads, and upgrade their fuel of choice from the mental/psychological equivalent of Powerade Option to regular.
Anything that would verify the ostensible upper hand they hold over Northeastern, a program rapidly receding to irrelevance on an active 0-6-1 slump only three months after they had lunged out to a 5-0-2 start.
Come what may, the Hub Huskies (5-9-1 in Hockey East, 10-14-3 overall) have flaunted spurts of stealth as recently as Jan. 8, when they arrested Boston University, 2-0 –on the road, no less. And, all things considered, they have respectably restricted every given opponent’s offense, never losing by a margin greater than two since New Year’s.
“It’s gonna be two tough games,” PC captain Brittany Simpson stated bluntly, recalling the 1-0 falter up at Matthews Arena to commence the Hockey East season in mid-October and glancing forward to this weekend’s home-and-home card, which commences tomorrow evening at Schneider Arena.
“We had a tough loss against them earlier in the year and these are going to be two huge games with four huge points at stake.”
Afflicted by plebeian offensive funds that have painstakingly grossed 48 goals in 27 outings –a nightly median of 1.78- and no more than two in any of their last seven whiffs at a win, Northeastern can occasionally compensate with the proficient goaltending tag team of Florence Schelling and Leah Sulyma. Their aggregate accumulation of 734 saves trails only the Friars’ 782 and Maine’s 853 and 55 goals-against is second only to Boston College on the WHEA leaderboard.
It happened in the young weeks of the season at PC’s expense. At that time, the Huskies were the primordially peddled surprise of the year with the likes of Schelling, a freshman phenom out of Switzerland, and first-year skipper Dave Flint the chief magnets of attention.
Few, if any, had yet detected Schelling’s radiant contemporary from the Divine Campus, Genevieve Lacasse (who now eclipses the stellar NU tandem in terms of both goals-against average and save percentage). So much so that senior stopper Danielle Ciarletta was assigned to backstop the Friars that afternoon.
As it happened, Schelling neutralized the whole of a 31-shot flurry from PC while Ciarletta blinked but once, yielding a breakaway tally to Ali Bielawski early in the third period for the eventual decider.
“We played really well that night,” said junior forward Arianna Rigano, who formerly answered to Flint at Division-III St. Anselm. “We just have to play well the whole game this time. We just need to keep working hard and playing our game and we should be fine.
“I think we’ve matured a lot since the beginning of the season, so I definitely think we can come up with four points.”
Still, last Sunday’s Connecticut calamity emboldened the same basic shortcomings as the October hiccup on Huntington Avenue. Though to a less egregious and less consequential extent, the Friars have likewise been plagued by a frequently fettered offense.
Granted, most all of their regular skaters have put their pen to the scoresheet more than once over a recent 5-3-0 run. And Lacasse’s MVP-caliber reliability is as frank as can be now.
But save for last Saturday’s 5-1 lashing of UConn and a gale-forced, historically ice-shattering 5-0 romp of New Hampshire last month, PC has not brandished the assertive, Cyclopean breed of offense they yearn for. Such elements as a middle-class power play and a rash of unclaimed rebounds have amounted to either close shaves or repulsive jolts to the jaw.
And, like the Huskies (Kristi Kehoe: 13), the Friars currently boast but one puckslinger with double-digits in her goal column (Laura Veharanta: 15).
Now is the time, head coach Bob Deraney decrees, to get a two-way grip and scrap their concession to this wobbly epidemic of defensive arm-wrestling bouts. Now is the time to presage a homestretch pillage of the opposing nets.
“It’s about playing a better brand of hockey, becoming better goal scorers, and creating better opportunities for ourselves,” he said. “We created some great opportunities to score five goals against UNH and UConn. BU (two weeks ago, 2-0 and 2-1 wins) were completely different games, but we had (many more) great chances to score.”
“We have to continue to work on being more efficient with our chances. One or two goals (per game) isn’t going to cut it this year. Other teams are just too good offensively. You have to be able to score three or four. It’s another opportunity to get better in the areas that are lacking.”
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press