The Friars have had a savory succession of six days –their longest stretch of non-game days since the holiday break- to ice and thaw out every physical and emotional sore stemming from the nadir of their season.
In hindsight, it falls a few strides shy of an utter shock that a few lesions have surfaced amongst Bob Deraney’s students. And the explanation barely brushes the fact that vertebral goaltender Genevieve Lacasse was missing for the first three, or that co-captain Jean O’Neill was re-gelling her way into the top six, or even that three bodies (Christie Jensen, Emily Groth, and Amber Yung) went down over last weekend’s setbacks at Boston College and Vermont.
In a nine-game slate in the month of January, PC was home for only two engagements, those being a 2-1 falter to New Hampshire and 3-1 triumph over BC. The rest of the way, between seven games in six enemy venues, the Friars compiled a 3-4-0 portfolio, surrendering 13 goals while cultivating eight for themselves.
By all means, it ought to replenish a little mettle to know that, of their five remaining games in the Hockey East playoff derby, four will be on the Divine Campus. The other, a week from today versus Connecticut, will barely require an hour-long bus ride and be in an environment –Rentschler Field- just as unfamiliar to the hosts.
No more missed classes, no more sleeping outside one’s dorm or apartment room, and barely any more bus legs until after the ice chips have settled on the playoff picture. It will all help, assuming recent history is a passable prophet.
On the road this season, the Friars are on the .500 fence in the way of both an 8-8-0 transcript and a cumulative 37-37 score. Conversely, at Schneider Arena, they bear a 9-2-1 record, outscoring their adversaries, 41-15.
Deraney, who accepts the half-full road glass, is hardly surprised by the more radiant performances in the House That Lou Built and wouldn’t have expected much less.
“Even when I was a player at BU, I always thought it was very challenging to play there, and I can’t really explain why,” he said.
“Obviously, we love having our fans there and we owe it to them to make sure they leave happy with another win.”
But, he added, “There’s no guarantee (the trend will continue), especially the way we’re playing right now.”
True enough, Providence is coming off its second string of three away games in eight days, during which they mustered three goals for a median of one. Previously, in the first week of January, they went an identical 1-2-0 in a two-night visit to Maine and a day trip to Boston University, but compiled seven strikes for an average of 2.33 per night.
So, venues aside, the Friars are still overdue to rekindle many of their acetylene sticks. But when they take the ice for this afternoon’s bout with BC, they will certainly not have fatigue or any related nuisances clutching and grabbing them up neutral or in the opposing slot.
All they will have to surmount is a flock of Eagles –record-breaking scorer Kelli Stack, laser-beamed goalie Molly Schaus, and all- raring to wrap up a first-round bye. All that would take is a win combined with a Northeastern triumph over Connecticut.
Just the same, with Maine’s loss to Vermont last night, the Friars can wrap up their playoff berth by bumping BC. Not to mention, they could capitalize on a generous mulligan –having stayed in the No. 9 slot of every relevant national poll even in the aftermath of last weekend- and send out a bold-faced memo by wresting the regular season wishbone away from the sixth-ranked Eagles.
Afterwards, it will be all about asserting their supremacy over two ostensible underlings in UConn and Vermont. Although tied for third with PC in the conference standings, Heather Linstad’s pupils still have yet to prove themselves capable of staying with a heavyweight for 60 minutes, as evidenced by Friday, when their 2-0 lead over BC at the second intermission devolved into a 3-2 overtime loss. And the Catamounts, like a smudgy CD, are once again picking up belated traction in part because of a recent gift from Providence.
Even if they whiff today, the Eagles are virtually bound to confirm their free pass to the Hockey East semifinals, as are the first-place Terriers. All buffs based beyond the Comm. Ave. neighborhood might as well let that wish go before it gets too ripe.
But by settling down and redressing while they can, the Friars should, with relative facility, claim a hard-earned bonus contest at Schneider for the wild card round. By then, if all goes according to logic, they will be around 13-2-1 or 12-3-1on their pond and sculling along a timely stream of momentum.
Sure beats having to cram on cramped bus legs, does it not?
Al Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press