Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Women's Hockey Log: Deraney Will Let New Lines Mold

In the past week, doubtlessly out of the urge to bump his forwards back up from the nadir of their 2010-11 campaign and to maybe find the right formula for the last month of the ride, PC women’s coach Bob Deraney made the season’s most drastic set of shuffles to his depth chart.

Between their 1-0 falter in Vermont last weekend and their subsequent 4-2 home loss to Boston College on Sunday, the Friars’ starting line of Jean O’Neill, Ashley Cottrell, and Corinne Buie was the only unruffled row on the depth chart.

So far, Deraney has had but one game to gauge the newest configurations. And with two-way skater Lauren Covell filling a void on the blue line for the still-ailing Christie Jensen on Sunday, the paint on this easel has still not been fully applied, let alone dried.

As a result, by all accounts, the same arrangements should be kept intact for the upcoming home-and-home series with Connecticut. With Jensen expected to return, Covell should focus exclusively on her offensive post, which would give the Friars a quorum of 12 forwards for the first time in four games and only the sixth time all season.

Only then, the skipper reasoned, will he have a cause to judge his own revisions.

“We’ve got to stick with it, see what it looks like,” said Deraney.

As it happened, Covell’s presumptive linemates, sophomores Jess Cohen and Emily Groth, pitched in a combined seven shots on goal while generally latching on with ringers from the top nine. Cohen’s four stabs at BC goaltender Molly Schaus were the most she has taken in a game since Nov. 2 at Yale, while Groth –returning from an injury that sidelined her for the team’s excursion to Vermont last weekend- recorded three SOG for a season high.

Above that, there wasn’t much to judge right away, for better or worse. The natural exception to that was the third unit, comprised of Laura Veharanta, Kate Bacon, and Abby Gauthier.

Veharanta led all participants in Sunday’s contest with six shots and tuned the mesh twice to irrigate her 10-game pointless drought. Her new linemates were on the ice for both of her goals, the second of which granted Bacon an assist.

Referring to Veharanta’s line in secret agent code language –identifying them by their uniform numbers and practice jersey colors- Deraney admitted that’s a start. Especially considering PC had gone scoreless for a cumulative 126 minutes and 13 seconds of play when Veharanta struck at 14:08 of Sunday’s second period.

“Obviously, the blue line scored some goals, the new combination of (Bacon, Veharanta, and Gauthier),” he said. “Really, two good individual efforts by (Veharanta), but still, you’ve got to create some continuity, have some patience.

“And, hey, we scored two goals. We haven’t scored two goals (in a single game) in a while, so that’s not bad.”

So far as the scoresheet will project, the Friars’ newfangled second line is the one most raring to ripen. Sandwiching the hot-then-cold senior pivot Alyse Ruff, sophomores Nicole Anderson and Jessie Vella are still looking for their first points since Dec. 5 and Jan. 2, respectively.

Vella once again flaunted her lately sharpened appetite for destruction on Sunday by charging up three shots while Anderson and Ruff mustered one apiece.

Quick feeds: With an assist on Veharanta’s first goal Sunday, junior blueliner Jen Friedman’s point total of 19 surpasses the 18 she aggregated over her first two seasons…The PC women’s hockey and women’s basketball teams are both scheduled to host their Connecticut counterparts at 2 p.m. this Saturday. Although a mass influx is expected down at Alumni Hall to see the team that recently won an NCAA hoops record 90 consecutive games, there is no indication that the Skating Sorority will change its face-off time, even if it means sacrificing a little fanfare…UConn took sole possession of third place in Hockey East and clinched a playoff spot with a 2-2 tie versus Northeastern on Sunday. With no more than eight points for anyone left to gain, the Huskies clinched by virtue of winning its season series with seventh-place Maine…One more win for the Friars or one more loss for the Black Bears assures PC its own postseason passport…With this Sunday’s bout scheduled to be played outdoors at Rentschler Field, the Huskies will ultimately go at least three weeks without a game at their official home barn. Safety concerns stemming from heavy snow accumulations on the roof of Freitas Ice Forum forced last Sunday’s UConn-Northeastern game to relocate to the XL Center in Hartford.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press

Monday, February 7, 2011

Women's Hockey Log: Laura Veharanta Reignites, Shines As PC's Lone Star

Laura Veharanta sat motionless on the threshold of a third consecutive double-digit-point campaign for precisely nine weeks.

After an insurance goal in a 4-2 home win over New Hampshire Dec. 4 upped her bushel to nine points in 18 games, a pointless outing versus Connecticut, a four-week respite, and a barren January formulated a 10-game drought for the winger who once led the PC women with a 16-15-31 log as a rookie in 2008-09.

That elusive 10th point finally arrived yesterday afternoon in the form of Veharanta’s first power play goal of the season. After Molly Schaus had denied her thrice, including twice on previous power plays, Veharanta beat Boston College’s stronghold goaltender for the first time in six career meetings, hitting the five-hole at 14:08 of the second period, sawing a 2-0 deficit in half.

Proving she had a little traction, Veharanta –who took a team-leading six shots on goal in the 4-2 loss- would later pull a 2-2 knot with 3:35 gone in the closing frame. Linemate Kate Bacon won a defensive zone face-off back to blueliner Amber Yung, who made a forward shipment to Veharanta along the near wall.

Veharanta would singlehandedly tour the puck from zone to zone and roofed the equalizer on a long-range wrister, bringing her up to an 8-3-11 scoring transcript on the year.

In the midst of cracking through her chrysalis, Veharanta bailed a quartet of playmakers out of their own personal fetters. With assists on her first strike, two-way junior Lauren Covell garnered her first point in 20 games, dating back to Oct. 23, while the normally prolific point patroller Jen Friedman earned her second helper in three games after going arid in her previous five outings.

Meanwhile, Bacon, still PC’s top gun with 24 points on the year, averted what would have been a season-worst three-game scoreless skid. And Yung now has two assists in her last five ventures after previously trudging through a 10-game hex.

“It’s great when you get scoring from different people,” said Friars’ head coach Bob Deraney. “We’ll take scoring from anybody. It was just nice to see Laura take ownership today and try to contribute. We need more people to do that.”

Yesterday was also Veharanta’s third multi-goal effort of the season –on top of Oct. 9 versus St. Lawrence and Nov. 2 at Yale- and the fifth of her career.

Stack silenced
Kelli Stack, the face of BC’s offense and now the all-time leading scorer in Hockey East regular season action, failed to tune the mesh for the first time in five games. Although she assisted on Danielle Welch’s third goal, her own strike would have tied her with former teammate Allie Thunstrom for most in a single WHEA season (21).

Stack’s most stimulating chance to light the lamp firsthand fell with 1:37 remaining in the second period, when teammate Taylor Wasylk blocked Yung’s shot and initiate a counterattack. Floating down the left alley, Stack soaked in Wasylk’s feed and skated to within prodding distance of Friars’ goalie Genevieve Lacasse.

Lacasse held her post to summon a whistle and the officiating crew went to video review to confirm Stack had not scored. But with the assist, barring a post-season encounter, the BC Olympian will still finish her college career with seven goals and 18 points in 13 games against Providence.

Jensen sits once more
Junior defender Christie Jensen, still flushing out the remnants of an injury that has kept her out of game action for two weeks, took part in yesterday’s warm-up period, but made a game time decision to return to the sidelines.

“Hopefully, by doing that, she’ll be with us for the long haul,” said Deraney. Translation: Jensen should be available for practice this week and will be ready to resume extramural action by Saturday afternoon, when Connecticut drops in at Schneider Arena.

The art of drawing
Jessie Vella drew three of BC’s seven infractions, although none of them precipitated any power play goals.

With 5:46 remaining in the first period, Danielle Doherty was found guilty of holding Vella back as she tried to push through neutral ice. In the final minute of the same stanza, Meagan Mangene pursued a little too much contact as she and Vella stepped over the Eagles’ blue line, earning herself a two-minute sentence for interference.

And at 3:12 of the second, Mary Restuccia committed a flagrant tripping foul that sent Vella sliding into the boards along the PC bench and herself to the bin, giving the Friars a two-player advantage for 71 seconds.

Quick feeds: Of the 11 full-time forwards to suit up for Providence yesterday, co-captain Jean O’Neill was the only one not to register a shot on goal…Alyse Ruff lost 17 of her 26 face-offs and went pointless for the sixth consecutive game, tying a career-worst drought that spanned Jan. 12-26, 2008…Veharanta, Cohen, and Emily Groth were all credited with three shots on goal in the second period…Veharanta and senior defender Leigh Riley were the only Friars to earn a positive plus/minus rating. Seven other PC skaters, including all five starters, finished one point in the red…BC’s Dru Burns and Restuccia each charged up two assists.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press

Boston College 4, Women's Hockey 2: Danielle Welch, Eagles Overpower Friars

The way things were going yesterday, the Friars had the very last two things they needed glowering at them within the final three-and-a-half minutes of the third period.

Her team trailing, 3-2, on the strength of a hat trick by Boston College forward Danielle Welch, co-captain Alyse Ruff was flagged for hooking with 3:22 to spare. And less than a minute into her sentence, Ruff watched helplessly as the puck found none other than Welch’s blade on the straightaway point.

Welch unleashed a searing slapper that brushed off the stick of teammate Melissa Bizzari and over the mitt of besieged Providence goaltender Genevieve Lacasse (20 saves) with 2:35 left. It was the Eagles’ second power play conversion on five opportunities, as opposed to one connection the Friars mustered over seven chances.

And, naturally, it was the dagger in a vinegary 4-2 loss at Schneider Arena, amounting to a season-worst three-game skid.

So, as far as head coach Bob Deraney was concerned, never mind the fact that Laura Veharanta splashed her 10-game scoring drought with a pair of goals to briefly pull even at 2-2. Never mind that PC did what only one other team (Quinnipiac on Oct. 22) has done by deleting a multi-goal deficit at the hands of BC.

In the words of Matt Foley, it didn’t amount “to jack squat!”

“It just appears to be we’re standing still,” Deraney said. “This is very disheartening for me because I’m the coach and it’s a direct reflection on me. We are the exact same team right now as we were when we came back from Christmas. What have we been doing in the last month?

“I don’t take any solace at all. We’re supposed to be playing our best hockey now, and we’re not.”

However much of it they dug on their own, the Friars tumbled into an early hole in the opening frame. On the day’s first power play, with PC rookie Rebecca Morse caged for boarding, Welch tipped Ashley Motherwell’s low-riding point shot home to open the scoring with 5:09 gone.

Earning their first 5-on-4 segment 49 seconds later, the Friars proceeded to test visiting stopper Molly Schaus (29 saves) five unanswered times and owned the shooting gallery, 10-4, for the next 12 minutes.

But even with bountiful in-your-face pressure, Schaus wouldn’t yield, and moments after repelling a low straightway bid from Amber Yung, she watched Welch one-time a diagonal feed from Mary Restuccia past Lacasse for a 2-0 cushion with 1:46 till intermission.

“We weren’t playing very well at that point in the game, so you really don’t deserve to get those types of breaks,” Deraney said. “They played with a little bit more purpose than we did and that’s why they ended up jumping to a lead.

“I thought in the second period, we kind of took over and that’s what led to us getting back into the game.”

Over the first 14 minutes of the middle frame, Providence went on a 14-2 SOG romp, six of those bids distributed over three more power plays, including two on a 71-second 5-on-3 advantage.

Red daylight finally broke at the 14:08 mark, when Veharanta strolled with Jen Friedman’s feed into the high slot and slipped it through Schaus’ five-hole, giving the PC power play its first conversion in six tries.

Restuccia was cited for bodychecking merely 33 ticks thereafter, but the Friars’ lone shot attempt, courtesy of Morse, was blocked. That effectively ended another laborious outing for the Eagles’ penalty killing brigade, and their lead was still intact.

“Our PK has been doing great all year long, and to continue that is great for our team and I think our kids really feed off it,” said BC coach Katie King. “It’s tough when you get that many penalties called. It seems to be a trend for our team lately, so we’ve got to really get out of that habit, but our PK has done a great job.”

Likewise, Lacasse and Co. were, if only temporarily, up to the task when the zebras turned their whistles on them. And in between two successful kills, Veharanta nailed her equalizer at 3:35 of the third, traveling up the near wall out of her own zone and roofing a long-range wrister over Schaus’ blocker.

But at 8:14, Welch wreaked another dose of havoc in the slot, taking Kelli Stack’s drop pass and slugging the winner over Lacasse’s trapper.

None other than Veharanta tried to answer without hesitation. Off the very next draw, she swooped down to Schaus’ estate from the far lane, but her sixth and final bid of the day was swallowed by the otherworldly goaltender.

“We’ve got re-learn how to get a lead and keep building on it,” she said. “We’ve been struggling with that, so hopefully we can start doing that again soon.

“We needed that third goal today, but it didn’t come.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On Women's Hockey: Friars Can Close Strong With Heavy Home Slate

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 hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

This article originally appeared in the Friartown Free Press