The other skate never dropped on the Friars this time. The visiting McGill University team could not rerun its tornadic comeback from last year’s preseason encounter, when the Martlets deleted a 3-0 PC edge and bagged six third period goals en route to a 7-4 victory.
Instead, an identical 3-0 lead just negligibly dropped to a 3-1 Providence triumph at Schneider Arena last night. This even after the Friars might have depleted their tanks following a 26-4 shooting edge (and 2-0 scoring edge) in the second period. Even with unripe senior goaltender Christina England taking the very first start-to-finish shift of her college career. And even when, with the 3-1 differential in place, a pair of penalties to Abby Gauthier and Jen Friedman with 8:19 remaining instantly broke PC’s disciplinary record out in hives and led to a 72-second 5-on-3 penalty killing segment.
In breaking out their game night attire for the 2010-11 season, the Friars simply masked the blemishes and held up a petit platter of promise in a few key areas. The most prominent, all-encompassing of those areas would be the ability to defend a lead against a potent and adamant adversary.
“Every season is a new season,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “That’s exactly what you expect as a coach. You expect you got better from a year ago.
“I have to tell you, we didn’t talk anything about what happened (last year). It was just us trying to be better, and I think tonight proved that our kids worked extremely hard in the offseason.”
No two individuals made a more glistening first impression last night than England and Laura Veharanta. England, 52 weeks removed from letting the Martlets score four goals on eight shots in a mere 9:27 of crease time, stood in for the away-on-business Genevieve Lacasse and repelled 16 of 17 bids throughout the night. In a major credit to her praetorian guards, her sweatiest period was an eight-shot, eight-save opening frame and she rarely faced much of a sustained swarm.
Accordingly, England’s test was resisting frostbite and not letting the lead shatter with her psyche once McGill got on board via Logan Murray at 5:48 of the third. She seemed to meet that wager.
“I think we played really good defense. I think Christina had to make some saves and she made some saves when we needed them,” said Deraney. “We are a team and we should be able to play anybody on the ice at any given time and that’s what tonight displayed.”
Meanwhile, Veharanta opened the scoring at 13:11 of the middle frame by polishing off a three-zone, two-on-one tear with Kate Bacon and notched an assist just 2:14 later. She thereby submitted her first multi-point game since penning a 2-1-3 transcript in last year’s McGill exhibition.
On the surface, that two-and-two equation may not make for the most favorable omen. But whereas last season Veharanta was on a regal ride of lofty expectations, she enters this autumn with unadulterated determination after her 13-goal, 19-point sophomore downturn.
“There were a lot of people I was really happy for, Laura being one, Kate Bacon being another, Christina England being another,” said Deraney. “You can see they worked extremely hard this summer to prove something and I’m glad they had a chance in the first game to show that their hard worked paid off.”
Veharanta’s classmates and linemates, Bacon and Ashley Cottrell, joined her in the night’s two-point club, Cottrell nailing PC’s other two goals on four shots.
As for the other 14 skating Friars, well, there was comfort to be taken in the reminder that this was merely a vaudeville act with one more of its kind to come this afternoon.
Starting senior winger Jean O’Neill led all PC puckslingers by contributing eight of the team’s 39 SOG. Her pivot Alyse Ruff, who set up Cottrell’s second strike from the far circle-top, took six stabs at Martlets’ goalie Taylor Salisbury. Bacon recorded seven, a tantalizing suggestion that she has rekindled her heavy shooting habits.
But even with their overloads of ammo, none of those three tuned the mesh last night, and beneath the top six, no Friar forward was credited with more than one shot. Amber Yung was the lone blueliner with multiple shots.
Then again, there’s time for refinement. That time is between 4:00 and 6:00 this evening.
“Our skill level isn’t where it needs to be,” Deraney granted. “But at this time of year, it’s your character that gets you through, and I think we displayed a tremendous amount of character tonight.”
Indeed, it carried them through a full 60-minute tussle with the Canadian answer to any one of the three WCHA bigwigs.
So then, what’s the next test?
“I expect tomorrow will be just as tough and that’s why we scheduled (McGill) back-to-back,” Deraney said. “We need to learn how to play 48 hours, 120 minutes. Tomorrow’s going to be a better test for our conditioning, their conditioning, and we’re going to be in a better place, there’s no doubt in my mind, afterward.”
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press