Thursday, December 5, 2013

Unassuming, Unsurpassed: Bob Deraney Sets PC Women’s Hockey Wins Record

Bob Deraney is not channeling Monty Python’s merchant banker when he proclaims, “I am very rich.”

Rather, the head coach of the Providence College women’s hockey team explains, “I’m very rich, not because of the money I make, but because of the friendships I have.”

And unlike John Cleese’s clueless corporate caricature, Deraney does not display a graph to gauge his acquaintances or accomplishments. He does, though, have a collection of career victories, which many will argue are the children of his friendships.

Last Saturday, he and his squad put a symbolic stamp on his unremitting amiability and aptitude. In the latest installment of a crosstown rivalry, and the 19th edition of the Mayor’s Cup, the Friars nabbed a 3-2 overtime decision to give Deraney a program-record 265 wins.

With that, Deraney surpassed John Marchetti, the PC women’s skipper from 1980 to 1994, on two fronts in as many months. First, the start of the 2013-14 schedule equaled 15 seasons behind the Friars bench, one more than Marchetti’s 14. Now, at the halfway mark of the regular season, he bears an additional testament to his staying power.

Not that the delectable data has ever been prominent in his mind, let alone his office. In fact, he was unaware that he had even tied Marchetti the week prior until he learned as much through a text message from Steve Maurano, the school’s assistant vice president of public affairs.

“If I had started out to beat this record, it never would have happened,” he said. “John Marchetti’s a legend and I never would have thought it would be attainable.”

For Melanie Ruzzi, a second-year assistant coach who as a player arrived on campus simultaneously with Deraney in 1999, the unmatched tenure and win count is a fitting reward for the long-established player’s coach.

“Every day is kind of a special day with him,” Ruzzi said. “Who you see at a dinner party and who you see on the weekends is the same guy. He is always about the players.”

Ruzzi, originally from Burnsville, Minn., elaborated that Deraney’s perpetually open door was a critical factor in curing her homesickness as a freshman. She was floored even further to later learn that her coach made weekly contact with her father to intertwine her two families.

“Coach has always been a caring guy, a teacher, and has a strong belief system,” said Meredith Roth, the other player-turned-coach on Deraney’s staff. “That has not changed, which I think is why he is so successful.”

Roth enrolled a year after Ruzzi as a member of Deraney’s first true recruiting class in 2000. She eventually succeeded Ruzzi as the Friars captain and followed her act in leading the team to a Hockey East postseason championship in 2003-04. Since then, she has twice returned for a pair of coaching stints, first from 2006 to 2010 and now from 2012 to the present.

The fact that neither could stay away from Providence for long after graduation has allotted Deraney a living legacy from the tone-setting stages of his tenure. Although the Friars are still searching for their first conference playoff crown since their four-year dynasty of 2002-2005, there are nuggets of continuity to go with the past players helping to bring in and foster the rosters of the present.

“If you do a good job and you put your heart and effort into the players and their goals and dreams, you’re probably going to have some success yourself,” he said. “I’m the beneficiary of all those things.”

Through his use of those resources, one of the most striking benefits has been a rarely matched longevity both on PC’s athletic scene and within Hockey East. Since 1999, Providence has undergone at least two coaching changes apiece in men’s hockey, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. Among active instructors, only swimming and diving’s John O’Neill and track/cross country’s Ray Treacy have enjoyed longer reigns with the Friars.

Meanwhile, when Connecticut parted with Heather Linstad―a former player of Marchetti’s at Providence―last March, Deraney became the lone Women’s Hockey East coach whose tenure predates the league’s inception in 2002-03. New Hampshire’s Brian McCloskey also partook in the inaugural season, but never tutored the Wildcats when they were still members of the ECAC.

In the 11 seasons since, only one program has participated in the semifinals of every WHEA tournament. The Friars outlasted UNH in that distinction as well, reaching the 2011 semis while the Cats missed that year’s postseason altogether.

Not unlike the 265 wins, Deraney insists that “It’s a players’ accomplishment. I’m not out there scoring goals, backchecking, blocking shots and getting injured for the cause of the team. What makes great coaches is great players and great staffs.”

Deraney did, however, allow that he took pleasure in sharing his milestone moment in the middle of the program’s 40th anniversary in the aftermath of a particularly dramatic rivalry renewal. In a newly renovated Schneider Arena, the host Friars twice trailed the Brown Bears―coached by another former Marchetti student in Amy Carlson Borbeau―before forcing overtime with 5:45 to spare in regulation.

At the 87-second mark of the bonus round, forward Janine Weber buried her own rebound after a partial breakaway, instantly clinching civic bragging rights for the program and an unshared throne for her head coach.

“I am into symbolism,” Deraney allows. “I said to the girls, ‘It had to happen this way. On this special day, it was for the Mayor’s Cup in overtime in the new building.’ It had to happen that way.”

The record-setter was an act of making history while honoring it. Furthermore, Roth said, it was a prototypical Deraney-built victory.

“(Deraney) has such a fine appreciation for competition, the preparation for what our players do on a daily basis to compete as hockey players, that to have the 265th win come in such an exciting fashion is icing on the cake,” she said.

No one, however, savored the confection for too long.

“It’s next game up. That’s the way I’m wired,” said Deraney, adding that he will push off any deep reflection until no earlier than after the Vernal Equinox.

“For right now, there are still a lot of things we want to accomplish.”

Six days separate the Brown bout from PC’s next outing versus Yale, which will entertain the team’s last extramural engagement before a protracted Christmas respite. Afterwards, the Friars will be bent on recompensing a rough autumn, which is nothing new.

Strong finishes have become customary for Providence as the Deraney era has progressed, hence the string of 11 straight Hockey East semifinals. His most seasoned ice-level allies trust that a comparable stretch will brew in 2014 as surely as Rhode Island’s share of wintry nor’easters.

“He is continually learning new coaching techniques, thinking about the game and thinking about our personnel,” said Roth. “He will always try to evolve with the people in our program and the game of hockey without losing sight of what has made him and our program successful over his 15 seasons, and our 40-year history.”

Added Ruzzi, “It’s not about staying in the game this long, it’s about being successful this long. And that comes with passion. He enjoys every aspect of his career.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Personal Column: Schneider Arena, The Extra Lecture Hall

Hockey was how I first heard of Providence College.

I could not have been any older than three or four years of age at the time. One weekend morning, I was at the breakfast table with my parents and brother at our Portsmouth, R.I., home, and eager to scour the sports section of the papers, expressly hoping to find hockey content.

My father took charge of the navigation, and after a few seconds of vain page-turning, he finally found my fix. Pointing to one stub and accompanying black-and-white photograph deep in what must have been the Providence Journal-Bulletin, he said, “Well, there’s Providence College hockey.”

As a journalist, I cannot and will not stretch the truth and say that a lasting love affair ensued a la Dan Shaughnessy’s with Fenway Park. But looking back, that moment was a fitting coincidence considering the path my life and career took en route to my second stint in my beloved Ocean State.

Because I was a PC student who, in 2007, enrolled with sportswriting aspirations and a penchant for pucks at the forefront of my mind, Schneider Arena inevitably became a vital venue in my life. They say young athletes learn life lessons from their firsthand involvement in sports, but I can tell you that just being around the game and diligently chronicling it will do the same trick if you let it.

As it is for any other student who takes the proper approach outside of mere spectatorship, the campus rink became as much of a learning environment for me as Moore Hall, Albertus Magnus, Harkins Hall and the Feinstein Academic Center.

All properly enriched PC students have their academic and nonacademic takeaways from each of those other buildings. Through my primal extracurricular activity on the women’s hockey beat for the Cowl and as the Hockey East correspondent to Beyond The Dashers, I likewise collected my share of wisdom ice chips at Schneider.

My portfolio between the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2011 would have had practically nothing without the Skating Friars and their adversaries. They would have had nothing without the facility. Thus explains Schneider Arena’s topmost meaning to me.

It was there that I variously took in nearly every men’s and women’s hockey home game for work and/or pleasure, and sometimes drew parallels between either team’s state of affairs and my own outlook in the academic arena. (I often did the same thing in the process of following the Bruins.)

It was there that I watched the PC women’s impressive, seven-game winning streak asphyxiate itself in a 2-1 loss to a lowly Vermont team on the last Friday of January in 2010. That was the first half of a show-and-tell session, the tell half being when head coach Bob Deraney answered one of my questions as follows:

“It’s a very long season, and I think they’re looking to catch their breath. You can’t catch your breath. We’ve mentioned it and they know it. There are no easy games. You have to come to play every night, or else a result can happen that is undesirable.

“It’s an endurance test. There is no time to take it easy. You have to come ready to play every night. I think that’s what happens. We’re not very young, but we’re a young team, and I think young people want it easy, but hockey is not a sport where you can have it easy. Hockey is a mental grind because it’s a six-month sport.

“You can’t enjoy the season until it’s over and you can’t take it easy until it’s over. We want it easy sometimes, but it’s not going to happen for us.”

Young people want it easy, but hockey is not a sport where you can have it easy.

That stuck with me because that was a moment where hockey sounded uncannily like life, college or otherwise. Once in a while over my last two-plus semesters at PC, that speech and the event that produced it came back to me when I was feeling the grind and tempted to cut a corner in my studies.

The same thing happened after one of the multiple moments when the Friars snapped out of a slump, or at least turned in an effort worthy of a moral victory, signaling the approach of a cathartic victory before long. That was when Deraney would concede that, even when you know you need to do more and start acting accordingly, “You don’t get instant gratification.”

Again, anybody who witnessed the games that precipitated such a statement would see the point. Patience and persistence are prerequisites to loosening the stranglehold of an opposing competitor or an opposing force.

And boy, it is satisfying when it pays off, no matter what the fashion. One day, when one player ended a goal-scoring slump after all but splintering her knuckles through knocking and won an overtime game as a result, Deraney said of the deciding play, “That’s probably the least skilled play she made today, is the one she scored on. But if you keep going to the hard areas, you’re going to get rewarded, one way or another.”

If you keep going to the hard areas, you’re going to get rewarded, one way or another.

Theoretically, you could absorb the same basic lesson through an academic class, whether it is delivered directly from a work of literature on the syllabus or instilled abstractly through the journey to term finals. But it sticks with better adhesive if it comes in tandem with the same message as it is cultivated from an extracurricular event.

Furthermore, with all due respect to other sports, particularly baseball, I established early on in my college era and with as little bias as possible that hockey is the real metaphor of life. My experiences at Schneider Arena repeatedly reinforced that notion and it helped me hustle through my courseload en route to a degree.

I have not been inside Schneider since roughly three-and-a-half weeks before my graduation in May 2011. With its post-renovation reopening set for this week, and its two tenants already indulging in the internal makeover, I will likely be Rip Van Winkle whenever I reenter it myself.

That is not merely all right with me. It is quite desirable. I have my rigid impression of the rink as it was constituted during my own time at PC. Now that impression will permanently stand alone in my memory bank as a part of that exact era in my life.

As this weekend’s reopening ceremonies will surely stress, plenty is changing for the better, we all hope. My hope is that when I revisit the building that is Schneider Arena, I will soak in its various enhancements and unhesitatingly draw parallels between it and the building that is my life and career.

After all, much of the traction I have gained and tried to build upon up to this point came from within those walls. It was the people and the establishments who work within those walls that helped me along to my launching pad that was a Providence College education.

Heck, the people who called Schneider the base of their business inadvertently let me know such a school existed in the first place.

It’s funny how the puck bounces with no explanation sometimes, but you might as well corral it when it is available.

Each of you do yourselves a favor and see if you can seize a lesson like that whilst enjoying the new, yet same Schneider Arena.

Al Daniel covered hockey as a student-journalist for the Cowl from 2008 to 2011 and Women’s Hockey East for Beyond The Dashers from 2009 to 2011.