Playoff Time For PC Hockey

As the last week of men's hockey regular season play begins they no longer hold their destiny in their own hands. On the other hands in their final week the women's team finally righted the ship and took advantage of being able to control their playoff seeding.

The men had a home tie with UNH and then dropped the return match at UNH. Stripping those results to the basic level it means PC now sits 2 points behind UNH and out of home ice for the first round of the playoffs. Factually PC can still catch 2nd place BU, 3rd place Maine and 4th place UNH. In fact PC holds the first tie breaker with BU and Maine and since the UNH series ended tied for PC to catch UNH will require PC to win the second tie breaker. The only scenario that fails is if PC gets 2 ties with Merrimack and UNH is swept by BC. Then it goes to the 3rd tiebreaker, PC at some point depending on the final standings would take that since they have a better record against BU, (the Maine and BC series for both teams would end up with the same records). The reality is that Maine plays UMass and BU has Northeastern so the odds are each will get the points to stay ahead of PC. UNH on the other hand faces a desperate BC who might be on the verge of losing their grip on 1st place. BC really needs to sweep this series so there is a strong feeling we will get some help. For PC's part it would be best if they could sweep Merrimack, thus requiring the least amount of outside help.

Merrimack is playing out the string as they once again have guaranteed themselves a last place finish Last week during the Friday game they had a brawl where players on their bench got involved with Maine players on the ice. A Merrimack assistant coach was also involved and was disciplined by Merrimack's head coach. At least one player for Merrimack will have to sit out the first game against PC as this was his second game disqualification of the year. At this point it is unclear if Merrimack is taking any further action against this player or several others. This incident follows a smaller scrum the previous weekend which saw multiple penalties assessed. Merrimack has over 800 minutes in penalties on the season to lead the league. For comparison sake that is about 300 more minutes then PC has been penalized.

Despite all that these games will prove very tough. Providence has shown they have trouble playing against teams that pack in their defense and force Providence to crash the net. This type of defensive scheme seems to give the Friar forwards reason to pause and to eliminate what Coach Army has used as his main attack weapon, speed. To further complicate matters it appears after playing about a period and a half on Friday that Nate Meyers will not play. His physical presence is another way to relieve the traffic jam in front of the net.

Beside Meyers PC will also do without the services again of James Pemberton. Monday night at Coach Army's town meeting he called Pemberton the single most important player on the team, the one player he feared losing. Right now PC will have to make their stretch run without him.

The Merrimack game on Saturday represents the final regular season home game for 4 seniors, Matt Maninna, Torry Gajda, Meyers and Pemberton. This year with PC, in a struggle for the final home ice spot, it is quite possible that only one of those seniors will be dressed for this game.

Last Friday the Friars jumped on UNH for 2 goals. A minute into the second period Tony Zancanaro took a Cody Wild feed, turned toward the net and fired from the high slot. Later in the period the Friars used a power play chance to score a second goal. Again Wild got the puck in front of the net, Nick Mazzolini had one chance and it appeared Jamie Carroll was able to push home the rebound of Mazzolini's shot.

The Friars again played their best period in the first. The Friars had the better of the chances and more of them out shooting UNH 15-8. If PC had not provided UNH with several inopportune turnovers it would have been a very strong period for the Friars. By the third however the Wildcats had rebounded and gotten back into the game, scoring two goals by the mid point of the period. The Friars were clearly tiring and the game's pace slowed down considerably.

The Friars had an excellent opportunity to win the game in the final minutes when they went on the power play again. A UNH defender, while PC was changing lines, made a poor decision to rough up the lone Friar on a 1 on 5 situation. PC failed to convert however and the game went to an overtime period. UNH dominated the period, breaking PC's game long control of winning face-offs and putting a couple of testing shots on goal off winning these draws in the final seconds.

Saturday the Friars fell behind early and the result became quite predictable as PC could not overcome the early 2 goal hole they dug. As Coach Army pointed out Monday the rink size also hurt PC. He asserted that in the long run the larger ice surface takes away from the offense. He used the Olympic games as his example, where if you eliminated the obvious mismatches, the average score was significantly lower then it was in the NHL , even though NHL players were being used in the Olympics. The difference actually is more pronounced in college. Providence played on the Olympic rink in only 2 games all year. Many times the Friars seemed to get out of position. The larger rink might have also contributed to the surprise when UNH used the player coming out of the box to steal the puck and get a clean break in on net for the final UNH goal.

In the women's team battle for the playoffs Saturday continued to see the worst case scenario continue to play out.

PC lost the game 2-1 despite a furious offensive flurry in the final period. However Providence fell behind four 4 minutes into the game and took enough penalties to never get a flow going to their game. In the third things appeared to turn PC had a couple of strong power plays, but were unable to convert. The problem then became that took two penalties forcing them into killing a 5 on 3 power play situation. With seconds remaining on the first penalty UConn added a second goal to their lead. Sensing their playoff chances slipping away the Friars put constant pressure on goal for the final 10 minutes. However they could only muster a goal scored on a Kathleen Smith slap shot with the goalie pulled and 20 seconds remaining in the game.

The loss allowed Maine to tie PC for third and brought UConn within two points of third place. UConn also won the tie breaker with PC by winning this game. If PC lost at home on Sunday UConn would make the playoffs over PC and Maine would also finish ahead of PC if they beat BC at Maine.

Clearly that fact was not lost on the players. Sunday was Senior Day for the women. Compared to other years the traditions seemed far less sentimental as it was clear Providence knew what they had to do and what they could not allow to happen. The seniors honored before the game were Karen Thatcher, Ashley Payton, and Katelynn Laffin. It was noted their major contributions in Providence success in the first three years of Hockey East.

Providence wasted little time in jumping to the lead. Once again Kathleen Smith unleashed a lethal blast into the net with just over a minute gone in the game. For the remainder of the first period PC pressed continuously. Unfortunately as in many other games this year they failed to find the back of the net again. PC had a lopsided shot advantage, 15-3.

Whether it was because they failed to capitalize on their hard work, or because between periods they learned that BC had held on to defeat Maine, thus ensuring PC would finish ahead of at least Maine, the Friars came out as flat in the second period as they had been sharp in the first. UConn controlled play as evidenced by their 22-9 shot advantage. PC took several dumb penalties which both tired out the penalty killers and ruined PC's early momentum. Again PC surrendered a goal when they were down 2 players. Then 2 minutes later Alicia Ramolla fired her own blast from the point to put UConn ahead.

Settling down late in the period PC drew a penalty and used a power play to their advantage. In her last home game Katelynn Laffin tied the score set up by Smith and Thatcher. After killing a late slashing penalty in the second the Friars again found their stride in the final stanza. Dominating the play for the first 10 minutes the Friars broke the tie just beyond the mid point. Freshman Erin Normore, darted down low from the point, picked up the puck and skated around the Huskie defense to get a shot off from in front of the net that put PC in the lead for good. Five minutes later PC's leading goal scorer, Sonny Watrous found an open corner to lift the puck and give PC some breathing room. UConn seeing their playoff chance disappearing pulled their goalie with almost 3 minutes left. After having the Huskies get back quick enough to stave off one open net goal 5th year Senior Ashley Payton scored an open net goal on her final shift at Schneider Arena.

This coming Saturday the Friars will try to avenge the double loss they suffered at the hands of BC last weekend. They play the nightcap at 3 PM at Matthews Arena (Northeastern University). The winner will play the winner of UNH and Maine for the championship. A bid to the NCAA's is at stake for the winner.

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