Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Women's Hockey Log: Back in Form, Veharanta and Lacasse Honored By League

Laura Veharanta –the season-long leading point-getter for the Providence College women’s hockey team even with a six game spell hogging up much of her February- spontaneously revived her insidious, blistering touch to start last Saturday’s Hockey East quarterfinal tilt with Connecticut. And all she needed was to be ready off the opening draw of the first period.
Cutting square to the front porch of the net unchallenged while left side winger Mari Pehkonen churned with the puck to the far corner, the freshman first-liner waited for a centering feed, whiffed on her initial shot, but then slugged home her own rebound for her 16th strike of the season and first since the Friars’ previous tilt with the Huskies on Feb. 1.
“It was good to get on the scoreboard early,” acknowledged Veharanta, still considerably shorter on decorative words than she is on salsa-based pucks. “Mari gave me a good pass and their defense just didn’t get back quick enough.”
Come what may, Veharanta’s conspicuous onset poise not only set an unhesitant tone and pace for PC’s eventual 3-0 triumph at Schneider Arena, but also revved up her psychological engines for a most timely U-turn of confidence.
In the young days of February, Veharanta –also the team’s runaway leading puckslinger with 135 registered shots- was but one point shy of matching the bushel of 30 corralled by last year’s top gun, Kathleen Smith. At her pace, with still six regular season games plus an indefinite playoff itinerary yet to come, she could have easily been entertaining thoughts of equating, if not surpassing, the regal numbers of Kristin Gigliotti (39 points) from 2006-07.
Instead, the ostensible foundation of the Friars’ drastic scoring resurgence blew a tire, going fruitless on a cumulative 19 shots in the final three weeks of the regular season, and losing her once-inseparable partnership with Ashley Cottrell and Alyse Ruff in the process.
But together with her dogged colleagues, Veharanta buckled down for her first genuine do-or-die battle, inserting her fourth game-winning strike of the season (which ties her with Ruff for the team lead), and pitching in an assist Pehkonen’s empty net dagger within the final three minutes of regulation. It was her ninth multi-point performance of the season and her first since she contributed a set of helpers in a 5-1 overhaul of UConn to round out January.
For that, she was deemed the WHEA’s rookie of the week yesterday, her second such bite-sized honor of the season. Meantime, classmate Genevieve Lacasse split the weekly defensive player accolades with personal rival Florence Schelling of Northeastern –who had pushed away 35 stabs in the Hub Huskies’ 2-1 falter to Boston University.
Lacasse’s 18-save performance Saturday amounted to her sixth shutout in a mere 28 career swings with the Friars, sheared her goals-against average from 1.97 to 1.90 and nudged up her save percentage to .935.
Lacasse’s first shutout? That would have been back on November 16, when she swallowed the entirety of a 30-shot onslaught at the hands of Connecticut –a performance that brought on her first of three rookie of the week honors.
One of the other difference-makers that day happened to be Veharanta, who set up Ruff’s go-ahead strike in a fashion visually identical to Pehkonen’s playmaking recital last Saturday.
In all, Veharanta has tallied six points at the Huskies’ expense.
No harm done
Yesterday’s region-wide wintry nor’easter expectably fettered the entire Providence College campus, though its timing auspiciously happened to miss the net on head coach Bob Deraney’s itinerary. Mondays are frequently a strict off-day for the Friars, who still have four more days to retool for this Saturday’s semifinal expedition to New Hampshire’s Lake Whittemore.
Quick Feeds: Saturday’s second period was the 24th mutually scoreless, full-length, twenty-minute stanza the Friars have shared with their adversaries this season, and the fifth out of 12 total periods versus UConn…PC is now 8-6 in games decided by a three-plus goal differential and 12-6-1 when scoring first…The ultimately famished Huskies made a particular hotspot out of the far circle of the Friars’ zone in Saturday’s first period, firing nine of their 23 shot attempts from that radius. Only two, however, would actually reach the net to be played by Lacasse…Senior centerpiece Steph Morris and junior wingers Jackie Duncan and Pam McDevitt appear to be the go-to threesome for the fourth line from here on out, having suited up together for each of the last three games.
Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press

Monday, March 2, 2009

Women's Hockey Log: Lacasse, PC Defense Muzzle UConn Offense Again

Reached for an eat-and-run paced interview following her team’s 3-0 Hockey East quarterfinal falter Saturday, Connecticut skipper Heather Linstad gave maximum props to the Friars’ new go-to stopper, Genevieve Lacasse.
“I think she’s had a great year,” said Linstad, who has now seen her offense all but stifled to the core in each of four WHEA postseason twig-locks with PC, losing all four by an aggregate 18-2 goal differential. “I think she’s up for rookie of the year and should be, but certainly she was one of the top goalies in the league this year.”
The Huskies –defined by such Cyclopean scorers as Dominique Thibault, Michelle Binning, Amy Hollstein, and Monique Weber- inserted an even 100 strikes during their 35-game run in 2008-09, a feat equated only by Boston College along this coast. Yet they whiffed on 116 of 119 cumulative stabs in four confrontations with Lacasse.
Thibault, the league’s second busiest puckslinger (172 shots on net) behind New Hampshire’s Jenn Wakefield (179), threw 23 total shots at Lacasse this season. The only one to go through was a third period power play equalizer in UConn’s 2-1 OT triumph on February 1.
Tritter, the decider in that tussle at Freitas Ice Forum, missed her six other swings.
And Hollstein, who pitched in a power play conversion the day prior in a 5-1 Providence victory, was otherwise stifled on 11 other tries and didn’t get a single registered stab under her belt on Saturday.
“I had a shutout against them before in November –the first of my career,” said Lacasse, recalling her 30-save feat in the teams’ initial confrontation on November 16, a 2-0 triumph decided on Alyse Ruff’s 5-on-3 conversion with a mere six minutes to spare.
“It gave me a lot of confidence knowing that and knowing that it was possible to do it again. I knew (going in) not to be intimidated by Thibault and those other big names.”
Nor would she have to work up the heaviest of sweats over the course of the game itself. After charging up no fewer than 30 SOG in each regular season confrontation, UConn discharged a grand total of 47 attempts, though a mere 18 reached touching distance of Lacasse.
Another 10 of their tries were channeled wide while Lacasse’s praetorian guards stepped up to block 19 –including one late bid by starting centerpiece Michelle Binning that Amber Yung stuffed up in the high slot, drawing fiery praise from head coach Bob Deraney.
In other words, PC’s collective band of skaters notched one more save on the day than their designated stopper.
And only once were Lacasse’s services needed on the penalty kill. Sami Evelyn unleashed a straightaway point blast on the Huskies’ only full-length power play at the 11:11 mark of the opening frame, and that was it. The Friars took merely two more penalties –both in the second period- and held the opposing strike force at bay until an eventual UConn infraction amounted to 4-on-4 segments.
Cleanest noses
The Friars and Huskies entered and exited Saturday’s swing with the league’s two best disciplinary records. UConn, which amassed 10 penalty minutes, barely stayed in first place of that category with a season average of 11.1 minutes per game. Providence paid a mere three minor trips to the bin, slimming their PIM median from 11.5 to 11.3.
Plus signs
Four Friars –Ashley Cottrell, Colleen Martin, Mari Pehkonen, and Laura Veharanta- all stamped a +2 rating Saturday while another seven –Kate Bacon, Jennifer Friedman, Erin Normore, Leigh Riley, Ruff, Brittany Simpson, and Yung- were a +1. Cottrell and Martin remain tied for the team lead amongst skaters at +10 (Lacasse is tops at +12) and with Normore having tipped the scale on a previously even rating, 16 of PC’s 23 active skaters stand in the black.
Conflicted crowds
Saturday’s afternoon engagement at Schneider Arena, which drew a reported audience of 286, was outdrawn by an overlapping women’s basketball home finale (372 viewers) and the men’s lacrosse team’s home opener (510). “I guarantee that if those two events weren’t going on we would have had an even bigger crowd,” Deraney told Pete Souris of the Hockey East P.R. office for an online audio featurette. “But the building was still electric. It was pretty loud.”
Quick Feeds: As of Saturday’s semifinal excursion to UNH, Simpson will have played her 141st career game, surpassing 2005 graduate Hilary Greaves and tying 2003 alum Melanie Ruzzi for third on the program’s all-time iron leaderboard. Simpson only trails Normore (141) and 2006 alumna Katelyn Laffin (143)…PC bested the Huskies, 35-30, at the face-off dot Saturday and has outdrawn the opposition in all but one of its last nine games…A total of nine pucks fluttered out of bounds in Saturday’s contest –three in each period.
Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Women's Hockey 3, Connecticut 0: New Lines, Lacasse Spark Friars To Wild-Card Win

With a brittle two-goal advantage favoring the Friars in the 17th minute of yesterday’s third period, Connecticut’s longtime top gun, Dominique Thibault, lassoed a fugitive puck in the slot and promptly engaged in a one-on-one staredown with one of the Huskies’ principal obstacles –Genevieve Lacasse.
Upon Thibault’s failure to pluck the disc off the ice, though, the radiant rookie opportunistically clamped it down, freezing the clock at 3:19. UConn skipper Heather Linstad promptly summoned a timeout, after which she forked out goaltender Alex Garcia (20 saves) in favor of the classic, last-ditch six-pack attack.
“She really didn’t challenge me that much,” Lacasse reflected. “I was expecting a much bigger move, but instead she just kind of left it there. So, I think (the save) really gave our team momentum. If it had gone in, it might have been a much different game, but I think we still would have pulled through.”
Come what may, Lacasse (18 saves) would be needed thrice more to foil stabs by Cristin Allen, Michelle Binning, and Thibault yet again. But not before her loyal praetorian guards made haste off the post-timeout draw to tune to vacant Husky cage, courtesy a center ice roller from Mari Pehkonen, with 2:56 to spare. That goal served to solidify a 3-0 Providence triumph before 286 spectators at Schneider Arena, pole-vaulting the Friars into the Hockey East semifinals for the seventh time in as many years.
Whether it was more a matter of Lacasse –who finished the season with two savory shutouts and only three goals-against in four encounters with the Huskies- having their number or just a flustering lack of explicit fury on their part, UConn’s offense couldn’t stash away any of the spontaneous, fleeting rushes characteristic of this rivalry, characteristic of playoff hockey, and necessary to tip the scale.
Conversely, the Friars’ top two lines –newly reconstructed as late as last weekend- clicked in stimulating spurts. Pehkonen and Finnish countrywoman Laura Veharanta –who flank Ashley Cottrell on the starting trinity- collaborated on the empty netter for their second respective points of the day, some 56 minutes after they had paired up for the eventual decider.
Off the initial draw in the opening frame, left defender Brittany Simpson vacuumed the remnants of Cottrell’s win and shipped it to Pehkonen along the blue line. Pehkonen bustled her way into the far corner and thrust a centering feed to Veharanta on Garcia’s porch. Whiffing on her first try, Veharanta slugged home her own rebound and her six-game scoring drought was gone in 16 seconds.
“That’s what great players do, but I really think it has to do with our preparation,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “We were ready. We learned last week from Boston College, that you have to be ready to play right from the very beginning, and we were.”
PC had not drawn first blood in any of their last four regular season games. And, quirkily enough, they had surrendered the icebreaker to the Eagles 16 seconds into their last home venture, a foul 5-1 falter.
“You know you have a good team when you learn lessons instead of make mistakes,” said Deraney.
“What I mean by that is a mistake is when something happens to you and you don’t make a correction. A lesson is when something happens to you, you correct it, and then you build upon it. So it was an exciting way to start the game.”
But possibly a deceitful tone-setter. Already down, 2-0, in the shooting gallery, Connecticut proceeded to run up a 9-7 lead in that category at the first intermission. And for the remainder of the day, the contesting defenses brandished laser-beamed twigs to snuff out any chances of an overwhelming flurry.
Even when the Friars sprinkled six unanswered shots between the fourth and 12th minute of the second period, their expressed priority was keeping Lacasse undisturbed.
“Obviously, having offense is a great thing,” said sophomore winger Alyse Ruff, who would eventually insert an insurance tally midway through the third. “But I think we’re more of a defensive team. It starts from the goal out, so we’re all about making sure the puck stays out of our net first and working our way from there.”
Ruff’s gravy goal fell at the 10:10 mark of the closing frame, at which point the Huskies had gone more than nine minutes without pelting Lacasse while confining the Friars to two tests of Garcia. Second line centerpiece Erin Normore took a counterclockwise tour around the back of the cage and fed Ruff –positioned most identically to Veharanta on the previous scoring play- for a one-timer.
This coming only a week after Ruff had aided Normore’s equalizer in a pivotal shootout win over BC.
“I think it’s just from everyone having played with each other this entire year,” said Ruff, who not long ago complemented an inseparable trinity with Cottrell and Veharanta. “One minor switch isn’t a big deal. Obviously Laura and Mari are playing great together, and I absolutely love playing on my line.”
“Sometimes you can get stale,” added Deraney. “And so, when you make just little adjustments based on looking at strengths and weaknesses and what’s going on out there, and the chemistry, and which players would fit in well with each other, you figure that a little tweak of the lines can make a difference, and it did today.”
Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press

Women's Hockey Log: Next Opponent Aside, Deraney "Just Glad" Friars Are "Still Playing"

Boston University’s 2-1 edging of Northeastern yesterday, completed some two hours after the PC women had dumped Connecticut, 3-0, in the other Hockey East preliminary round equals a semifinal date for the Friars with host New Hampshire next Saturday at noon. The inimitable Green Line Rivalry between BU and Boston College will immediately follow with its first modern postseason installment between its women’s programs.
Under altered circumstances, Providence might have been slated to promptly renew the Catholic Clash with BC a mere two weeks after they surrendered a forgetful home finale, 5-1, to the Eagles before subsequently salvaging their right to home ice for yesterday’s game. Instead, they’ll rerun their attempt to dislodge the three-time defending WHEA champions three weeks after a 4-1 splashing in Lake Whittemore.
This much is guaranteed: for only the third time in the league’s seven years of existence, one and only one of the last two parties standing a week from today will be the Friars or Wildcats.
“I’m just glad that we’re still playing,” said head coach Bob Deraney, reached in the aftermath of his win, at which point the battle of Beantown was merely in its opening frame. “There are a lot of teams this week that won’t be playing. We’re still playing, and that’s the most important thing. We get a chance to continue to play.
“I don’t care who we play. The games get harder as you move along. We beat a very good UConn team today and no matter who we play next week, they’re going to be a very good team. We just have to continue to bring the best hockey we can and hopefully continue to get better.”
Curiously, sophomore forward Alyse Ruff –who upped her season scoring totals to 10-10-20 with an insurance goal yesterday- voiced the same bottom line sentiment, but added a layer of mild preference. “I would love to play BC again and I know our coach would be excited if we play UNH,” she said, likely weighing PC’s dense history with the Cats on that presumption. “But I can’t wait. It’s only a chance to move forward.”
Peek at the future for UConn
UConn senior stopper Brittany Wilson –who posted a cumulative 4-6-0 log with three shutouts against the Friars and a career transcript of 51-30-11 with 15 blanks- had to settle for a Tyler Sims-like end to her Husky tenure.
Head coach Heather Linstad didn’t take any C-cuts around the facts behind her somewhat intriguing decision to start freshman Alex Garcia yesterday rather than the seasoned Wilson. “Wilson wasn’t playing well down the stretch and Garcia did a good job last week (at New Hampshire),” Linstad offered. “But I definitely don’t think it was goaltending that lost us the game today.”
Already, Garcia –who pushed away four UNH shots in a bite-sized relief effort last Sunday and 20 bids yesterday- has partaken in all or part of nine games, including two visits to PC. Both of those, however, ended in shutouts for counterpart Genevieve Lacasse.
The Huskies, all but drained of their NCAA at-large hopes at this point, should also have rising senior Jennie Bellonio still at their service, though she has put in a mere 15 appearances over her first three seasons.
Home improvement
The Friars sealed their extended 2008-09 home slate with a 9-8-1 record. They went 6-3 here in the active calendar year after an iffy 3-5-1 start from opening night through the December deceleration. Additionally, they picked up their 17th overall win, surpassing the 16 mark of the two preceding seasons and automatically assuring them a supra-.500 record (currently 17-15-3), their first since 2005-06.
Quick Feeds: Junior defender Colleen Martin notched her seventh assist of the season on Ruff’s insurance goal at 10:10 of the third period. With the other helper, two-way connoisseur Erin Normore is tied with Ashley Cottrell for the team lead with 16…UConn and Boston College remain tied for the league’s second most fruitful offense with an even 100 cumulative goals apiece…Senior forward Katy Beach hardly missed a shift despite a freak collision in the Huskies’ zone in the thirteenth minute of the first period. She would skate off stickless and awkwardly, yet under her own power, and was back in action two minutes later for PC’s first power play…Both teams went fruitless on the power play with the Friars scraping out six shots over five chances, the Huskies one over three chances…With four shots on goal, Mari Pehkonen (103 on the year) joins Laura Veharanta (135) and Kate Bacon (110) with triple-digits under that heading.
Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press