Friday, January 27, 2012

Comparing Careers: Alex Beaudry vs. Genevieve Lacasse

They each committed to their respective sectors of Schneider Arena for the purpose of launching a certain elevation of the Skating Friar’s status. Fate tantalized and stalled themselves and their fans throughout the first three seasons.

And now, it is the last of the early Groundhog Days for goaltenders Alex Beaudry and Genevieve Lacasse of the Providence College men’s and women’s hockey programs. Six weeks separate them from the first round of both the men’s Hockey East and women’s NCAA tournament, the boundaries to which these backstops have yet to cross.

As the last call for both parties draws closer, the paradoxical reality grows proportionately more evident. Lacasse is inherently more outstanding in her pool than Beaudry. But the men’s senior stopper -who is about two or three games away from surpassing Nolan Schaefer on the program's all-time saves leaderboard- is likely to have the more satisfying finish to his days on the Divine Campus.

From an individual legacy standpoint, Beaudry’s quest is more pressure-filled considering the consequences if fulfillment is not achieved. But his roadblocks are less qualitative and quantitative compared to what will vie to keep Lacasse from adding postseason success to her glossy resume.

Never before in Lacasse’s career have the PC women had a losing record, nationally or in the conference standings, this late in the season. Never in Beaudry’s career have the PC men been close to .500 overall or had a winning transcript in their Hockey East schedule with 11 games yet to come.

And yet, entering this weekend, both teams are on pace to finish with a passport to enemy ice for the opening round of their respective conference tournaments. Freeze the two leaderboards for the balance of the regular season and the women would pay a wild-card visit to Maine at the end of February while the men engage Boston College in a best-of-three at Conte Forum in early March.

That potentiality would be a downturn for Bob Deraney’s capstone class, which is the only program to have finished fourth or better in each of the decade-old WHEA’s first nine years of existence. It would be a mild, but welcome upgrade for first-year head coach Nate Leaman’s squad, which had its first three Hockey East playoff no-shows all in row to round out the Tim Army era.

At the same time, all things considered, it’s likely the best news crossover Friar Fanatics can request. Provided the men’s program performs respectably and does not limit itself to one win in its final 11 games, as it has done in each of Beaudry’s first three homestretches, they should see bonus action March 9, 10 and maybe 11.

If so, then mission accomplished for the mystery masked man who was hastily recruited between semesters in 2008-09 when Chris Mannix and Justin Gates were getting no better, aptitude-wise and Ryan Simpson was getting no better, health-wise.

For Lacasse and her underachieving skating mates, a postseason berth, no matter how unspectacular and unsatisfying, is not the most frightful scenario. The sole or shared holder of every PC women’s goaltending record need only backstop three straight elimination victories to secure the Hockey East pennant and automatic bid to the Elite Eight.

Easier said than done? Indubitably so. But remember that Lacasse is bolstering and piloting the graduating class of 2012, which was likened to the four-time conference champion class of 2005 upon enrollment, only to endure three straight semifinal losses so far.

Interspersed with overtaking three incumbent stoppers in Danielle Ciarletta, Christina England and Jen Smith and surpassing Jana Bugden and Sara DeCosta in the PC annals with otherworldly facility have been a ho-hum drowning in New Hampshire’s Lake Whittemore, a squandering of home-ice advantage at the hands of Connecticut and an agonizing overtime falter via Kelli Stack and Boston College.

On her fourth and final try at a title and national tournament, the lowdown is no different for Lacasse than in previous years. The Friars once again have to rely solely on the automatic bid if they are to visit a national quarterfinal host March 10 or 11.

Translation: Their uncharacteristically plebeian 9-15-3 and 6-7-1 records warrant no real regard. With one-third of their 21-game conference slate remaining, including two meetings apiece with the bottom-feeding UConn and UNH, the PC women have fewer excuses for missing the postseason than their male counterparts. Home ice for the quarterfinals is not out of the question, too.

Once there, Lacasse will have former U19 teammate Brittany Ott, Corinne Boyles, Kerrin Sperry and/or career-long rival Florence Schelling to arm-wrestle with. But it will be equally incumbent on fellow seniors Kate Bacon, Ashley Cottrell, Jen Friedman, Abby Gauthier, Christie Jensen and Laura Veharanta to incentivize themselves through all three zones.

Northeastern’s Schelling is the most daunting prospective adversary, seeing as she, too, is a celestial senior who has yet to win a pennant. The key for Deraney, Lacasse and Co. is to simply let a long-unquenched hunger outweigh stat-induced anxiety, but that will only be relevant between Feb. 25 and March 4.

Between now and then, Beaudry and his mediocre resume (career GAA and save percentage hovering around 3.00 and .900, respectively) will be asked to fulfill their end of the bargain and help the Friars outlast the likes of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Northeastern and/or Vermont.

No sure thing there, either. But some head-to-head triumphs against the Minutemen (Feb. 11), Wildcats (Feb. 3-4) and Huskies (Feb. 17-18) will hustle the process along.

Assuming the Friars win as many, if not more games than the Huskies, the PC men could seal up the eighth and final playoff berth before the women play their quarterfinal. By then, Leaman’s pupils will have recompensed their share of slipups and stamped the beginning of their renaissance by ending a four-year postseason drought.

For Deraney, well, if you’re not used to his frank, almost trademark, assessment of a brittle “margin for error,” brace yourself when the do-or-die days commence.

Any games played after March 10 will mean brownie points for Beaudry’s Friars. Any games played on March 10 will be extra Hershey’s on a super sundae of a career and last-minute sugar on an otherwise tart, vinegary senior season for Lacasse.

But if both are in action that weekend, their original promises dating back to 2008-09 will be met.