PC Hockey Wrap-Up

In the past week both Providence hockey teams faced off with the University of New Hampshire. On the men's side the team rose to the occasion and won their showdown for second place. The women's team had two chances at the Wildcats but fell to them both times.

For the first time this year Tim Army's Friars played before a home sellout. While they may not have been on the top of their game the team put forth a strong and consistent effort for the entire 60 minutes. They were particularly tough in the final period, a point in the game that has often been troublesome this year since they had run out of gas by that juncture

The two teams did seem to spend the entire first period getting a feel for what the other team was doing. PC seemed a little leery of the speed UNH's forwards possessed, but as the period evolved they figured how to contain it in the small confines of Schneider Arena. PC also failed to convert an early power play attempt. At this point Providence still is not to the point where they can force play at will UNH had its first chance on the power play midway through the period. As one would expect a tough veteran team to do they worked the puck nicely around the perimeter as the penalty was winding down. The result was the first college goal for Jamie Fritsch.

This Providence team once again proved how quickly they can respond. Handed a second power play chance a minute later the Friars needed only 15 seconds to create the scoring chance to tie the game up. Jon Rheault fired a hard shot from the top of the face off circle that found the top corner. He was set up by Matt Taormina and Torry Gajda. For Gajda the assist represented his 30th point of the season. At this point in his senior year each point Gajda scores extends his personal highs. However the point also meant that before January ended the Friars already have a player who has equaled the team high in scoring last year. Chris Chaput led last year's Friars with 30 points.

The tie was broken on a great individual effort by senior alternate captain Nate Meyers. Sent down the right wing by a nice feed from linemate Chase Watson Meyers powered his was down the right side and across the front of the net where he slide the puck into the net. Like the previous Friday against Maine the Friars had broken on top of the game in the final seconds of the first period.

While Providence was not able to gain immediate traction from the goal, it did seem to force UNH to play a more careful defensive game. The second period played out fairly evenly with no scoring. Then in the third the Friars showed they had saved their best for last. For the entire period they kept up relentless pressure on UNH, keeping the puck in the offensive zone. On the score sheet they only notched one goal, but 20 minutes of solid play gave notice to another Hockey East team that these Friars mean business and are not going to go away.

PC's lone goal was another blast from the face-off circle by Jon Rheault. Rheault seemed to sense the opportunity and got off a quick shot which fooled UNH goalie Jeff Pietrasiak. For Rheault his second goal of the game earned him number one star on the night and equaled his total goals from his freshman campaign last year. Rheault is also the second Friar to equal or best the 11 goal mark that he and two other Friars reached as the high water mark in that category last year.

When all was said and done for the weekend, the Friars had held off UNH in their showdown, but had fallen behind Boston University, which played 2 games over the weekend. On Friday night BU rallied past Hockey East leader Boston College and Saturday they ran over Massachusetts. PC now trails BU by 2 points, but does have 2 games in hand which they will make up in the next two weekends as BU sees limited league action due to the Beanpot.

UNH remained two points behind PC as they had no further games last weekend. They have a big series with Maine this weekend as they attempt to stay ahead of the 5th place Black Bears. UNH will play the Friday game with 7 of their forwards suspended for breaking team rules.

PC plays host this weekend to Hockey East newcomer Vermont. The two teams faced off in Vermont's Hockey East home debut. On that day the Cats could do little wrong and romped 6-2. For much of the year they have held a position in the Top 10 going as high as 3rd. However of late they have struggled. They have dropped 3 of their last 4 and their only win was in overtime against Merrimack. Since action resumed after the semester break they are 3-4-1 and 0-3-1 on the road. This week they fell out of the top 10.

Once the Friars get past this weekend the playoff picture should be in a little better focus. For instance they Friars very well might have a playoff spot clinched. Also depending on the weekend's outcome they might be positioned very well for a strong finish. The Friars will have only 3 games against top contenders after this weekend in their last 8 games.

The women's team however is in a battle for the playoffs. Failing to win either game against the Wildcats has put the Friars in a position they are not use to. The Friars face the real possibility they may fail to make the playoffs.

For Bob Deraney's team the weekend began on a sour note as UNH administered the worst beating the Friars have suffered this year. UNH is a tough place to play. The women won the first time they played there in 1995. Since then they have not won a game there. UNH has a very distinct home advantage. They are one of only two women teams that play on an Olympic size ice. That means the rink is fifteen feet wider then Schneider is. The UNH team is built to take advantage of that, UNH is an extremely quick team. PC found, like most team's playing at "Lake Whitt", speed kills.

The Friars came out strong. UNH may have created a territorial advantage in the period however it was the Friars who put up a crooked number on the scoreboard. Once again the most dependable Friar, Karen Thatcher, found the net on a power play set up from Sonny Watrous and Ashley Payton. Still if not for the strong play of Jana Bugden in net the Wildcats would have iced the game early.

In the second the wheels came off the bus. A couple of early penalties had the Friars back on their heels. A misconduct penalty to their top defenseman seemed to signal the breakdown of the Friar defense. On the second power play UNH's leading goal scorer, Sadie Wright-Ward converted to tie the score. Before the period ended the Wildcats had taken command and stretched the lead to 4-1.

If it was possible things actually got worse as the third period began. About 3 minutes in a Providence defenseman covered the puck in the crease which is an offense that results in a penalty shot. UNH converted that and then scored twice more in the next two minutes. Providence got back on the scoreboard when freshman Erin Normore scored a power play goal set up by Thatcher and Payton.

Back on home ice Wednesday night the Friars rebounded with their best effort of the year. In the end a misplay on the point during a power play gave UNH the necessary opening to score the winning goal.

PC was clearly more comfortable on the smaller ice sheet. It allowed the Friars to control the flow of the game and keep it to a more comfortable pace. The Friars also drew first blood which made it easier to play the more deliberate style. Kristin Gigliotti scored her 15th goal of the season when she broke down the slot to receive a well timed feed from Ashley Payton. Gigliotti leads all defensemen in scoring nationally and is the only defenseman to have scored at least 10 goals.

PC nursed the lead through most of the second. However about three quarters of the way through the period the Friars took a tripping call in the offensive zone. At that point they had been struggling as UNH's depth was taking it toll. UNH proved why they are the number 2 team in the country. UNH controlled the puck in UNH zone for the bulk of the power play. UNH finally got the perfect set up. From in tight UNH defender Martine Garland fired a point blank slap shot that Bugden was only able to deflect. With several Wildcats on the doorstep Leah Craig pounced on the loose puck and flipped home the rebound into the empty part of the net.

UNH got the break they looked for with about 8 minutes left in the game. Just 11 seconds into an abbreviated Friar power play UNH's Wright-Ward tried clearing the puck. The Friar defender at the point tried to get down to block the puck with her body but it slipped past her and was scooped up by one of the fastest Wildcat skaters. Freshman Sam Faber went down left wing alone, cut in on Bugden, and fired the game winner home. Despite a late power play and having an extra attacker for a minute and a half the Friars were unable to put sufficient pressure on goal to get the equalizer.

The Friars have slipped into a 3rd place tie with Connecticut. They are also being pressed by Maine which has been coming on strong since the break. This weekend the Friars have the chance to regain some momentum as they too take on the University of Vermont. Both these games are being played in Burlington. Unlike their men counterparts the Vermont women have struggled all year. Presently they are the league's last place team. A pair of wins should solidify the Friars playoff chances and most certainly leaves their fate in their own hands.

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