Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Deraney’s Friars Need To Spread Eagles Wings

Boston College is liable for the termination of both the Providence College men’s and women’s hockey teams’ most recent playoff runs. Friartownies who support both programs are bound to still have visions of Nathan Gerbe turning a fruitful 360 on Ryan Simpson’s porch and Kelli Stack smuggling a sudden-death strike through the five-hole of Genevieve Lacasse.

But with his team’s arrangement as of the 2011-12 homestretch, women’s bench boss Bob Deraney can and should pluck a key element from each of those vinegary memories to give Friar Puck a long-awaited winning formula without fail.

Between a deceptively poor record (12-15-3 with four games left in the regular season) and a senior class starving for a sound legacy, the PC women cannot ask for a better inspirational tandem than BC’s 2007-08 men and 2010-11 women.

The artist formerly known as the Tim Army Corps spent its last postseason appearance in 2008 serving as the first victim of a nick-of-time resurgence on the part of Jerry York’s BC Eagles.

The BC men were 17-11-8 on the year entering the postseason. Factor out the two extra games that come with the Beanpot and the Eagles’ 34-game transcript read 15-11-8. But either way, the Lamoriello Trophy and automatic bid were a must if they wanted to return to the NCAA bracket.

Only a brittle two-point differential allowed BC to host the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinals early that March. But two 5-1 triumphs later, it was fast-evident that Gerbe and Friends were finished shrouding their aristocratic persona now that the second season had commenced.

This is not to say that an NCAA championship piloted by Ashley Cottrell, a la Gerbe and his 11-9-20 log over eight postseason games, is within remotely realistic range for these Friars. But a Hockey East pennant and concomitant bid to the national Elite Eight continues to elude Cottrell, Lacasse and their talent-laden classmates.

Anything short of that would render the class of 2012’s time in Deraney’s capstone class incurably disappointing. Their performance between now and March 4 will likely decide the presence or absence of postseason hardware as well as a winning or losing record for their senior season.

As far the elements within their control go, incentive is the Friars’ X-factor from here on out. They can cultivate that by emulating the copilots of the very team that derailed their most promising bid for a berth in the Hockey East championship game last March.

As early their first postseason endeavor in 2008-09, Deraney likened his then-freshman class―complete with Lacasse, Cottrell, a radiant rookie in Laura Veharanta and nascent staples in Kate Bacon, Jen Friedman, Christie Jensen and Abby Gauthier―to BC’s troika of goaltender Molly Schaus, Kelli Stack and Allie Thunstrom.

The latter corps had enrolled at Chestnut Hill two years in advance of Lacasse, Veharanta, Cottrell and Co. and rapidly set the tone by lifting the Eagles to their first-ever NCAA tournament and Frozen Four berth. Four seasons later, Thunstrom had graduated while Stack and Schaus returned from an Olympic sabbatical with an expressed thirst to attain an elusive conference crown, which they were denied as juniors by New Hampshire.

And in a semifinal confrontation at Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena, Schaus and Stack were the two immediate deciders when the Eagles dislodged the Friars, 3-2, in overtime. Schaus held forth through a four-goal, seesaw third period and into the bonus round before Stack inserted the 96th goal and 206th point of her collegiate career and the eighth game-winning strike of her senior season.

Moments later, Deraney spoke volumes on two fronts in his postgame address. Of Stack, he said, “A world-class play by a world-class player. I tip my hat to her. You can’t be ashamed when something like that happens to you…We kept her in check most of the game.”

Of his own international ambassador, who repelled 58 BC shots that day, he said, “she’s a difference-maker, she’s a game-changer. I’m really proud she plays with us, and I’m glad that we have her for one more year.”

Did you catch that? One more year.

There was your difference in that 2011 semifinal struggle: Stack was a senior, Lacasse was a junior. But a year later, PC’s otherworldly class is on its last call and on the heels of back-to-back-to-back baptismal fires in the Hockey East semifinals.

Fittingly enough, the Friars fastened themselves into the 2012 Hockey East playoff picture last Saturday with a startling, 6-2 throttling of the then-No. 4-ranked Eagles, whose loss tripped them up in their footrace for first place with Northeastern.

Hmmm, didn’t the ostensibly underachieving BC men from 2007-08 set the tone for a timely turnaround by beating Providence, who had won their regular-season series, by a four-goal margin?

Be mindful that Florence Schelling and the Huntington Hounds are harboring an equally unquenched hunger for Hockey East banner glory and will likely ride into the postseason as the top seed with both the league’s top offense and defense. But so long as the Friars Xerox a few pages from books of BC’s past, serendipitous bounces should be the decider in this dance.