This past weekend the news was good on both fronts. The men swept their two game series with UMass Lowell and the women took 3 of 4 points from Colgate. In an ironic beginning to the Army era, the now offensive Friars posted back to back shutouts. The women, who will rely heavily on how quickly their defense gels, limited Colgate to a pair of goals.
PC actually opened the season the previous week making the long journey up to the backcountry of New York. There they got to make a checklist of things to do on the road to improvement. They dropped a 5-2 game to Clarkson and a 5-3 contest to St Lawrence. The checklist included reducing the number of penalties taken, improving the penalty kill, and finishing their scoring chances.
The positives though included seeing Coach Army stand up for his team when the calls continually went against them, that in both games they had higher shot totals then they had in all but 4 games last year, that senior Torry Gajda provided some offensive sparks, and the freshmen held their own.
Depending on how the future plays out its possible that people will look at the Clarkson game as one that got away due to them giving up 4 power play goals. Like in basketball RPI plays a strong role on who gets invited to the NCAA's. St Lawrence, the stronger of the two ECACHL teams might go down as a good loss. However there has to be some disappointment that PC was stifled by penalties and the affect 4 misconducts and 2 major penalties had. PC surrendered a pair of 5 X 3 power play goals at about the mid point of the 3rd period to put themselves in a hard position. As the game was winding down PC got a late goal from Bryan Horan to close within 2 goals. However after that they got called for a major high sticking penalty. That meant as the game wound down Chase Watson, Colin McDonald, Tony Zancanaro, Jon Rheault and Jamie Carroll were all serving either misconducts or major penalties. On the penalty kill and without arguably their 5 best forwards PC got no closer.
The women also had a rough opening game. They too were on the road facing off in a rematch of last year's Hockey East championship game with UConn. This time the Huskies reversed the score of that game. For Providence it had a hard time getting up to speed. UConn had the advantage of having an exhibition game and 2 tournament games under their belt. The Friars were trying to get a significant part of their team up to speed. They played 7 freshmen as well as bringing back into the lineup two players who had missed the entire 2004-05 season. As a result the Friars gave up several soft goals on defense and offensively they piled up shots, but did not maintain sustained pressure.
With their initial setbacks behind them both teams stepped it up this past weekend. The men took their Friday tilt at home, before a lively crowd, 3-0. That was followed up by a strong 4-0 whitewashing at Tsongas Arena. The women rallied on Saturday afternoon to pull out a 1-1 tie. On Sunday a strong 3rd period let them slip past Colgate 4-1.
For the men they seemed to eliminate some of the problems they had in New York. First Tyler Sims notched his first career shutout, sort of a house warming present for Coach Army from the player who first met him while his dad coached with Tim. For Sims' effort he was named 1st star of the game. While called on to make only 24 saves Sims came up strong during the first two periods when the game remained scoreless. This also including about 12 minutes of play when the Friars were forced to kill penalties. During this time the Friars were out shot by the River Hawks. Providence seemed unable to get their shots on net. The Army system was creating chances, but the players still appear to need to pick up the speed a bit more to convert them.
The game winner came just over 4 minutes into the final period. With the Friar's top gun Colin McDonald patrolling on the left wing freshman winger Kyle Laughlin feed McDonald a pass which McDonald wristed high beat UML's goalie Peter Vetri. For McDonald it was the first goal of the season and the assist by Laughlin was his first career point. A safety margin was provided on the power play by junior Chase Watson when he jumped on a rebound while PC was on the power play. PC got a second power play goal with 8 seconds left in the game to ice the contest. Lowell had pulled Vetri when McDonald and Freshman Pierce Norton worked the puck ahead to a free Jon Rheault who waltzed in all alone and stuffed the puck into the empty net.
The PC defense had a very solid game. Both the freshman and veterans on the blueline responded to the challenge of having to play the weekend without stalwart Trevor Ludwig who suffered a foot injury at St Lawrence. All 5 of the defensemen who saw regular action played an active role in creating PC's new found up-tempo. Also true to his word of not tolerating foolish penalties, Coach Army changed his lineup, benching junior forward Bill McCreary, who took 4 minor penalties the previous weekend all of which led to goals by the opposition.
Last season PC notched but 3 road wins, the first was not gained until February 25. Saturday night PC was able to take 2 points on the road when they again blanked the Hawks. With his 2nd shutout in a row Tyler Sims produced the first Friar back to back shutouts since Tim Army's mentor Ron Wilson patrolled the Friar blueline. Both November 1976 shutouts were on the road with Rick Moffitt shutting out Pennsylvania and Billy Milner stopping Princeton. This shutout was a little easier requiring 19 stops by Sims; the biggest was on Lowell's best scorer Elias Godoy on a 3 on 1 break-in.
Offensively the 4 goals represented the most tangible evidence of a new philosophy. Once again it took awhile to get the offense geared up. The first two periods again saw PC out shot by Lowell. However, PC's first tally was a one timer for Colin McDonald's 2nd goal of the weekend courtesy of a Chase Watson cross ice pass. PC opened the game up with a dominate 3rd period. First Jamie Carroll converted an advantageous break as Torry Gajda, just out of the penalty box hustled to the corner and dug the puck out before feeding to Gajda. Gajda was on the receiving end of the 3rd goal; set up by a Nate Meyers feed which Gajda converted with a wrist shot from the right wing side. The coup de grace was a power play goal by Cody Wild. Wild, a defenseman pounced on a puck at the doorstep and knocked home is first official college goal.
The 2 wins lifted PC into a spot they have not occupied often; first place in the Hockey East standings
For the women, they continued to be bedeviled by failure to create quality shots. In part some of the credit for this must be given to the Colgate defense and especially netminder Brook Wheeler who was the 1st star of the game on Saturday. Like Providence, Colgate is trying to find a replacement for their top sniper from last year. They appeared to be a good skating and fairly physical team. They are also a balance of experience and newcomers. These elements may also have contributed to the Friar's problems.
The weekend did mark the first time since the formation of Hockey East that Coach Deraney has been able to put a full team on the ice. However in that mix he is trying to get the rust off of goalie Jana Bugden and forward Ashley Payton. He also was playing 13 freshmen and sophomores.
Saturday's game was marked by the unfurling of the regular season and Hockey East Champion banners. All six of last year's seniors returned to help with this task. The team received rings for their effort, which were passed out by college President Father Brian Shanley. Shanley also dropped the ceremonial first puck to commemorate the first hockey game played during his presidency.
On Saturday the women dominated large stretches of the game badly out shooting Colgate 45-19. They also had 4 more power play opportunities then Colgate. However it took 9 power plays to score their lone goal. Last year with their experience the Friars had their experienced forwards take the puck down low. For most of the year the defensemen were not major contributors to the offense. In their late season run to the Hockey East title they began to have a couple of their more offensive minded defensemen step up and contribute. This year it appears Coach Deraney wants all 5 of the defensemen he played regularly to get involved in the offense. Since two are sophomores and two are freshmen there clearly is an adjustment period that PC will have to overcome. Still 2 bright spots appear to be this team looks to be better at passing then the last few teams and the last defenseman on last year's team, Caitlin Malbouef looks like she has found a comfort level and appears ready to make a big contribution to the team. The two freshmen both came to PC with impressive credentials.
It was a led pass by one of the freshman, Erin Normore which set up a clear break by junior winger Sonny Watrous for PC's lone goal. Watrous appeared to try to shoulder much of the offensive load in the 3rd period as PC continuously peppered the Colgate goal with shots. Her linemate Karen Thatcher appeared to be pressing. In the stands was Olympic head coach Ben Smith and rumors were swirling that he was there to decide if he was going to take Karen back with him to join the Olympic team.
By and large Providence played a smart game and did not commit the amount of penalties this team took last year. With the departure of many of his prime penalty killers this allowed Deraney time to sort out who will handle these duties this year. It also gave him the opportunity to put out all 4 of his lines as cohesive units as he tries to give his young forwards game experience. However PC did surrender the lone Colgate tally about 20 seconds after a Providence penalty expired and Colgate was using the momentum from the power play to push the attack.
On Sunday the Friars were able to outlast Colgate. In this game Colgate which dressed only 16 skaters tried to push the attack before tiring in the final stanza. Over the first two periods they actually controlled large portions of play. The game was more tightly called so Colgate did have power play opportunities to set up their offense.
The Friars did get the jump in this game. Senior Katelynn Laffin notched a power play goal as the first period was winding down. The goal was a good example of the puck movement PC is trying to achieve as both defensemen, Kristin Gigliotti and Kathleen Smith, were keys in setting up the goal.
In the 3rd period the Friars were able to break it open. First another transition pass by defender Erin Normore sent Karen Thatacher into the zone. In turn Thatcher fed Sonny Watrous who converted the feed with a quick wrist shot. Two minutes later while shorthanded Thatcher bore in on goal from the left wing, got a shot off which was saved. Sonny Watrous following up got a second whack at the rebound, but again was thwarted. When the puck slid to Thatcher now set up on the right side of the crease she poked home the 3rd chance.
At this point it appeared the referee was trying to balance the penalties called in the game and PC had to kill 3 straight penalties. On the 3rd chance Colgate broke Bugden's bid for a shutout. As quickly as Colgate got back into the game PC responded. Katelynn Laffin and Kelli Doolin worked the puck down low and banged away with Laffin slipping second goal of the game under the Colgate goalie. For her effort Laffin earned #1 star of the game.
The Colgate games were not Hockey East games so the Friars will now look for their first Hockey points of the 2005-06 season when they play Northeastern Saturday and Sunday. Northeastern, which was expected to improve on their last place finish this year has struggled. They barely won their opening game against upstart Boston University. Since then they have lost 3 and tied 1. In league play their record is 1-0-1. Northeastern is led by senior goalie Marissa Hourihan so PC has to be prepared to create better scoring chances.
For the men's team next week provides them with two totally different challenges. On Friday night they travel to North Andover to play Merrimack. Merrimack is a more experienced team this season and they too have a new coach with a new emphasis on up-tempo play. The key here is for PC not to take the game lightly. Last season PC swept the season series. Saturday night the Friars travel to Chestnut Hill to face off with the defending league champions. The Eagles will provide the toughest challenge yet to the revitalized Friars. Conte is also a slightly large size arena so it will also provide another measurement at how well worked to become quicker and another test to see if the PC penalty killing is as improved as it was last week. Boston College has their own challenges which they are seeking answers to. First they are trying to blend in new faces both to replace offensive stars like Patrick Eaves and solidify their defense which lost lynchpin Andrew Alberts. Their second challenge is to rebound quickly from a big game at home on Friday night with Maine. BC will be coming off a disappointing 1-1 tie with Northeastern.
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