Vermont A Tough Foe For PC's Icers

Both Providence hockey teams faced off against the newest member of Hockey East. For the women their visit to Burlington was a complete success as they swept the two game set. The men, however, struggled gaining only one point from a hard earned tie on Saturday night.

On Saturday afternoon the women's team used a quick start out of the gate to take control of the game. From that point on the game played fairly even. The most noteworthy events in this game were the contributions of the underclassmen. Coach Deraney rested his workhorse goalie Jana Bugden for the weekend. On Saturday he gave freshman Stacey Scott her second start. She responded by stopping 18 shots and holding Vermont to 1 goal. On the offensive side of the ledger three of PC's four goals were scored by freshman. The first goal of the game was by Maura Grainger set up by another freshman Erin Normore and a sophomore who saw limited action last year, Caitlin Malboeuf. For Grainger this was the first goal in her career at PC. In the third period after Vermont closed the score to 2-1 PC's most successful freshman, Katy Beach notched her fifth goal of the year and a minute later fellow freshman and Vermont native Stephanie Morris scored her second goal of the year.

Sunday saw PC build on the momentum and control play from the get go. The only period which Vermont seemed able to catch their breath was the third, which by that time PC had called off the dogs. In this game Coach Deraney gave his third string goalie, junior Lauren Florio her first start of the year. She responded by stopping 16 of 17 shots.

Offensively in this game it was the Friar veterans who led the way. Sonny Watrous scored a pair to add to the goal she scored the previous day. Linemate Karen Thatcher got on the score sheet by setting up 3 of PC's 5 goals. Fellow senior Katelynn Laffin had a four point night with 2 goals and 2 assists. The final PC goal was scored by Rachel Crissy. Crissy's goal was actually a very important goal Watrous scored her first goal 3 minutes into the game, seconds later PC had to kill a penalty. As part of the first team of penalty killers Crissy took the momentum from Vermont and notched a shorthanded goal.

Back home in Providence the going was much tougher for the men. On Friday night they had their worst performance of the season. Starting slow the Friars seemed to be methodically taken out of the game by Vermont. PC was held to a season low 17 shots. The first period played very slow though Providence had a territorial edge but lacked the crispness they usually played with. The Friars returned from the break by scoring a quick goal 26 seconds into the second period. Leading scorer Torry Gajda was set up in close by Matt Taormina and Chase Watson.

After that the game fell apart with Vermont controlling play as the difference widened. By the end of the second the Friars had fallen behind 3-1. Offensively they had tried to become too individualistic failing to make the quick passes that had made them successful raising their shot totals this season. They were frustrated by the fact Vermont did an excellent job of blocking many of their shots which in turn just made them pass more and more on the edges of the offensive zone. Defensively PC took several costly penalties giving up a power play goal and a goal where the teams were at even strength but where the PC penalty had negated a power play. What little momentum PC mustered coming out of the locker was lost when Vermont iced the game 7 minutes into the period when they scored their final goal. In a telling sign of how the night went PC pulled their goalie on a delayed penalty and then kept him out of the net on the ensuing power play for a total of almost three and a half minutes but were forced by Vermont to keep moving the puck around the edges and then fending off clearing passes on the empty net.

While Friday was a dismal effort the return engagement was a well staged drama. Ultimately PC found themselves fighting off not only the Catamounts but a referee who in the first half of the game put PC at a decided disadvantage.

Like the women Coach Army also came to rely on his youngsters to carry him this night. In net he gave his backup, Stephen Ritter his second career start. After Vermont gained the early advantage with the first goal of the game it was Friar freshmen Nick Mazzolini and Kyle Laughlin who scored goals to put PC ahead at the first intermission.

In the first period at about the 5 minute mark PC lost the services of one of their top forwards when Nate Meyers was tagged with a questionable 5 minute major for hitting from behind and ejected from the game. Vermont had scored their goal on this power play. To cover the loss of Meyers, Army shifted his lines using his fourth line players as fill-ins and to provide fresh legs.

In the second period the calls starting becoming far more one sided. One early call in the first minute of play let Vermont tie the score on another power play goal. PC then had to kill off 2 more minors that meant that had faced 3 short handed situations in a row in a short period of time. Finally just beyond the midway point of the period the referee seemed to call a penalty based on the noise he heard as the players scrummed at the boards behind the net. The thump and the only movement he saw led him to call another 5 minute major for hitting from behind on Jamie Carroll. Carroll, another of PC's top forwards was ejected.

At this point Coach Army clearly displayed his unhappiness at the referee's one sided handling of the game. In an outburst reminiscent of a few of Lou Lamoriello's displays of displeasure Tim Army made sure that the referee knew there were two teams on the ice and that he was not allowing the game to be played the way it was supposed to be played. The result of the outburst was that there were seven more minors called in this game that put a team short handed, all seven were called on Vermont.

After the first four the referee put away his whistle for a while. Toward the end of that stretch of penalty free play Vermont took advantage of the fact PC had only 10 forwards available. With PC's attack waning and the gas tank seeming to be running on empty Vermont got the go ahead goal.

However at this point PC finally caught their first breaks of the game. Pushing the puck up ice a Vermont defenseman tripped the Friar with the puck. While on the power play Army pulled Ritter to give Providence a 6 on 4 advantage. Vermont still was forcing PC to pass on the outside and cover their clearing passes to avoid giving up the short handed empty net goal. With about 30 seconds left on the penalty again PC pushed the puck to the offensive zone and again a Vermont player tripped the PC puck carrier. This time the delayed penalty was signaled by the linesman. The referee seemed oblivious to the call, partially since PC was already on a power play and had the extra attacker they were controlling play. Before Vermont touched the puck to stop play and have the penalty assessed the referee had found his own Vermont violation to call. The result Vermont still had 10 seconds on the initial penalty to kill and then 2 full two minute penalties, all with just over a minute to go in the game.

PC took 9 seconds of having a 6 on 3 man advantage to get the tying goal. Jon Rheault took a Cody Wild feed from his position on the goalie's stick side and slid the puck through the goalie into the back of the net. The next break PC got was there was still one second left on the original penalty so Vermont still had to kill almost 2 full minutes of a 5 on 3 power play.

In overtime PC controlled play. The almost duplicated the previous goal when the puck was loose in a scramble on the Vermont goalie's glove side. As the goalie fished around for the loose puck the referee blew a quick whistle ending the scrum. It was quick since PC had already gained control of the puck and even as the long shrill of his whistle was still sounding the puck slipped out to Rheault. If the play had not been blown dead Rheault had an empty net in which to slip the game winner

In the end PC had to settle for one hard earned point. The point combined with UNH's split with Maine and BU's victory over BC the previous night left PC in 3rd place 3 points behind BU (who has played one more game) and one point ahead of 4th place UNH. Instead of clearing up the playoff picture the one point weekend muddied the waters even more

PC maintains a slim 2 point lead over Maine who is in 5th place and 3 points over Vermont. PC holds the tie breaker with both BU and Maine. Vermont holds the tie breaker over PC. The showdown with UNH in 2 weeks will go a long way to determining home ice. After that PC has 4 games with the cellar dwellers.

This weekend Providence gets a chance to settle a score with BC. The Friars have dropped both of the previous two games to the Eagles and this time they are catching BC at an opportune moment. BC has been a little shaky in league play lately dropping contests to both BU and Massachusetts. However they also won their first round game with Northeastern in the prestigious Beanpot. Many times the teams have trouble focusing on their league contests in the week between Beanpot games if they are in the finals. Hopefully this is one such case since BC might look past PC having won the other two games.

Saturday the Friars complete their series with Massachusetts. The Minutemen have been playing far better then when they played the Friars back in November. Last Friday they upset top ranked Boston College

For the women the weekend gives them another chance to close in on second place and clinching a playoff spot. They begin the weekend with a home contest against 6th place BU. A PC win will eliminate BU from overtaking the Friars. A win also assures the Friars of maintaining some distance between themselves and 4th place Connecticut and 5th place Maine who are 2 and 4 points behind respectively. Connecticut has a very tough end of their schedule which includes a game against BC and two games with top ranked UNH, as well as two games against the Friars. Maine has a much easier schedule where they might only be tested by the Eagles.

Lastly I will admit the following is not scientific, is based on uneven results and is a small sample size. However it is clear Providence has struggled a bit more in the past few weeks then earlier in the year. They have gone 2-4-1 in the last seven games. Certainly one reason is that the past few weeks have also been PC's toughest stretch of the season. Still I have another thought. For the most part Providence is one of the younger teams in the league. PC has played but 3 seniors. All season these three seniors plus the captain Tony Zancanaro, who has essentially acted as a senior, have led the team. All 4 have had career years and made invaluable contributions. Now at crunch time there is little more they have to pick the team up and carry them over the final hurdles.

Meanwhile look at the two teams who seem to be playing the best right now. BU has a 9 game winning streak. This streak began a couple of games after senior captain David Van der Gulik returned to action giving the team a boost. The other team is Maine who had struggled till their current 4-1-0 streak. Maine seems to have come back to life when its 7 seniors picked up their play. On the other hand UNH is a very young club with only 3 seniors like PC. Without true senior leadership they have gone 1-3-0 as the final stretch begins. Even powerhouse BC is not immune. They too lack upper classmen to carry the team. They also have 3 seniors. In their last four games they have gone 2-2-0.

Of the others Vermont is 2-3-1 but last weeks' strong performance can be attributed to their 6 seniors playing important roles. Northeastern plays the second most freshmen in the league and has only three seniors. They have gone 0-3-2 in recent games. Fellow cellar dweller Merrimack looks stronger and in better position to play the role of spoiler having a 1-1-1 record in its last 3 games (which means as many points as they got all last season). The biggest anomalies to this are the Massachusetts state schools. Lowell after a recent 4-0-1 burst has stumbled to a three game losing streak. They have the most seniors in the league. UMass has showed signs of life with a 3-4 record. They are a very young team with 12 freshmen and sophomore and only 4 seniors.

Again nothing scientific but now that Providence is not surprising anyone, they need to find other members of the team to pick up the slack and carry the team.

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