Until last Friday, Danielle Ciarletta hadn’t toiled in formal game attire since Jan. 5, one day after she had heroically doused Genevieve Lacasse’s fire as part of the Friars’ 4-3 overhaul of Cornell, where they needed to delete an initial 3-0 deficit.
But the senior goaltender had –in head coach Bob Deraney’s view- been toiling with unruffled hunger through practice, even as she waited out a 10-game stretch without her input, the longest respite of her three-year tenure on the Divine Campus.
Deraney’s decision to reinstate her to the game night depth chart versus New Hampshire last weekend was explained with equally unchanged simplicity; a verbal simplicity that has virtually flowed in direct proportion to PC’s season-long stability in the cage.
“She’s worked really hard in practice and she deserved an opportunity to play,” he said. “That’s really what it was. It’s a meritocracy here and she’s just worked extremely hard.”
Apart from the aforementioned blip with the Big Red, and a most uncharacteristic 7-3 crumble before Dartmouth a week thereafter, Lacasse has kept to the cusp of impeccability, earning her sizable priority in the distribution of net shifts. So much so that her predecessor in the top slot –a title she had patiently worked her way to by splitting the load with Jana Bugden two years ago- has seen her presence evaporate in many spectrums.
With a little less than a quarter (24.2 percent) of the Friars’ crease time to her credit, Ciarletta’s name is officially omitted from the Hockey East goaltending leaderboard, which requires 33.3% of team minutes played for mention. However, her overall goals-against average of 2.05 actually rates seventh among the league’s 16 stoppers who have seen at least one full-length venture –even better than the renowned likes of Northeastern’s Florence Schelling or New Hampshire’s Kayley Herman.
Similarly, her save percentage of .918 is eighth among that group. Despite the fact that she has confronted but one opposing salvo of 30-plus shots, two exceeding 25 stabs, and a cumulative 194 bids in her eight appearances this season, she has halted 178 of them and never authorized more than three goals per outing.
Statistically speaking, Ciarletta’s latest gig against Those Darn Cats was her least proficient yet. A 20-for-23 stoppage ratio still amounted to a night’s save percentage .869 –either a B or a B+ depending on which professor of pucks you talk to.
And Lacasse dealt with the same exact plague the following night up at the knotty Whittemore Center, dealing with a light, sparsely distributed load of 20 stabs and letting in four insidiously executed goals.
With that, Ciarletta’s understudy, like packets of Providence goaltenders before them, learned of the Wildcats’ variability. The radiant rookie had pitched a 43-save shutout towards a stimulating 5-0 win only five weeks prior. It’s a befuddling inconsistency of outside disturbances not so different from New England weather patterns.
Ciarletta can relate to that, having now charged up individual save counts of 40, 26, 27, 24, 24, 21, and 20 to go with a 0-5-2 career transcript versus UNH. Her 40-save sophomore dolphin show in Lake Whittemore –one of her breakthroughs as a Friar after she had transferred from Minnesota-Duluth- would be the first of two ties she has cultivated at the oversized pond in Durham.
Apart from a seven-goal shellacking later that year, though, Ciarletta has held the New Hampshire strike force within sane boundaries every time. She and Lacasse both have done that to most every adversary for the length of this season. Out of 14 PC falters this season, half have been by a one-goal differential, and only five by a three-plus margin.
The tandem’s continued tidiness and Ciarletta’s rather long-awaited return sparks speculation that the workload will be split once more in this weekend’s home-and-home set with Boston College to round out the regular season. And if Ciarletta has any upper hand on Deraney’s option scale, it comes with the primordial déjà vu of last season’s fault-line fight with the Eagles. In the finale, her three saves late in regulation plus two in overtime granted the Friars the one requisite point they had needed to gain entry to the playoffs whilst docking BC from contention.
And yet again, the constituents of the WHEA’s Catholic Clash –which has spawned a couple of classic bouts between Ciarletta and counterpart Molly Schaus- are in positions to spoil one another’s ambitions. Neither a first-round bye nor a road trip for the preliminary round has been ruled out for either party.
Al Daniel can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press