Hockey Season Winds Down

As the hockey season winds down things might not necessarily appear to be as they seem for the two Providence College hockey teams. The women's team, who've battled all year for the top spot and have looked secure for a playoff spot, might be starting a stretch that has them battling for their playoff life.

The men, on the other hand, have struggled all year and while they are in a tight battle for the last playoff spot they very much control their own destiny with momentum in their favor.

For the women the past couple of weekends have been reversals of each other. On the first weekend the team took a pair of contests from a hapless Vermont team. Vermont looked like a team that expected the roof to cave in on them at any moment and eventually it did. The Saturday game saw tight battle for the first half of the game. At that point PC was locked in a 1-1 tie with the Catamounts. PC notched a late first period goal when defenseman Erin Normore converted hard working forward Jenna Kielch's pass. Vermont knotted it at 1 midway through the second period. It was Normore who started the tidal wave less then a minute later. By the third period Vermont was clearly unable t keep up with the hard pressing Friars. PC notched three more unanswered goals, one each by defensemen Kristin Gigliotti and Kathleen Smith and the final one from Mari Pehkonen.

Sunday pretty much played out in a similar manner. PC seemed to carry a bit more bounce as the game opened. They broke out to a first period lead of 3-0 as Pehkonen scored two power play goals and helped set up her line mate Sonny Watrous for a third.

The Friar offense was quieted in the middle period as they dealt with 4 short handed situations, one where they spent time two players short which gave Vermont a chance to score and get back into the game. PC finally shifted momentum, like the day before, with a late second period goal. This one was scored by freshman Jackie Duncan. In the final period the Friars scored at will as the beleaguered Catamounts could not keep pace with the Friars. PC scored early and often in the third period notching a season high 6 goals in a period. After not scoring a shorthanded goal all season, the Friars scored two on the same penalty. They also added a power play goal. The goal scorers included a second goal on the day by Watrous, goals by freshmen Brittany Nelson and Colleen Martin, and the first of the season by defenseman Brittany Simpson and the second goal of the weekend by defenseman Kathleen Smith. The Friars also got a goal Sarah Feldman, which she scored by putting the puck on net while standing at an angle deeper then the goal line.

Coming off that success the past weekend turned a full 180 degrees. On Saturday they dropped a 3-1 decision to BU who is the lone Hockey East team not in the top 4 spots who still has a chance to make the playoffs. BU was playing for their playoff life as they have no room for error. As a result they played a strong game to put PC in a much tougher position then the Friars wished to be in.

The Friars out shot the Terriers 37-26, however they gave BU 7 power play chances which wore down the Friars skaters and kept breaking the flow needed to put together a strong comeback. BU scored its first two goals in the first period. The Friars lone response came from Sonny Watrous. In the final period PC were stymied by having to play shorthanded for about half the first half of the period, including a time where they were two skaters down. While they survived that the affects were never shaken. As the game wound down the game became very physical, but PC could not come up with the equalizer and with one second remaining surrendered an open net goal.

Sunday the Friars returned home to face their arch rival UNH. The Wildcats have begun to play their best hockey on the season in recent games. When all was said and done this game very much mirrored the Vermont game PC played the previous week except PC was on the short end. PC fell behind 2-0 as UNH scored a pair of goals as the period was ending. In the second PC continued to keep the play at a fairly even level. UNH did manufacture better scoring chances and did score the lone goal of the period.

The last period saw the Friars finally falter as they could not keep up with UNH and found themselves often not skating and instead taking penalties. In all PC picked up 7 penalties in the period and surrendered 3 power play goals among the 4 UNH scored. PC struggled to even get scoring chances as they were out shot 24-5. PC had but one golden opportunity for the period. Sarah Feldman worked her way down through the UNH defense, but misfired and sent the puck wide to her right. PC recovered but even though they kept the pressure up they did not get a clean shot on net.

While the men's team picked up only 3 points in the past two weekends compared to the women's 4, many people are seeing things beginning to come together. All that is left is for the Friars to convert on some of their power play chances and maybe to chip in with a timely goal.

Two weekends ago the team trekked up to Burlington. On the Friday night they had a rough time with the officials. PC had but 3 power play chances to Vermont's 9. One of the PC penalties was a 5 minute major. All three of Vermont's goals were scored on power plays while PC's last goal was scored while they were short handed. Any chance for a comeback though was stunted when PC got hit with 4 penalty kill situations including the major. Friar goals in this game came from their big guns, Jon Rheault and Colin McDonald.

The following night the Friars were beginning to feel the pressure from UMass Lowell's improved play. On the Friday night they had tied BU and on the Saturday night while PC was playing their second game with Vermont, the Hawks were defeating UMass. Fortunately the Friars put together one of their strongest road performances in a couple of seasons and pulled out a 4-1 win over 14th ranked Vermont.

While the power play unit did not dent the net in their 5 opportunities they were able to make good use of their 24 shots. PC jumped to an early lead as the rejuvenated Cody Wild notched his third goal of the season. Vermont converted one of their 3 power play chances to tie it. PC regained the lead and got a large momentum shift when they scored with 12 seconds left in the period as sophomore Nick Mazzolini fired a shot beating the Vermont goal stick side. In the middle period the Friars lengthened their lead as captain Tony Zancanaro cleanly won a draw to Dinos Stamoulis. Stamoulis' slapshot appeared to hit a Vermont player/stick in front as it deflected past Vermont goalie Joe Fallon. Zancanaro put the final dagger in Vermont when with 17 seconds left he scored on the open net.

With the build up of the Vermont win and several other good performances in recent weeks the Friars faced off with Boston College at Schneider on Friday. The Eagles were coming off the high of edging past Harvard in the all important Beanpot and were looking forward to another final match-up with BU. For Providence it was an opportunity to get a quick jump on BC and get them thinking about playing for that title instead of focusing on the Hockey East game at hand. Providence almost succeeded, PC dominated the first period. They had 4 power play chances to BC's two, they out shot the Eagles 17-0, and they shot to a quick lead when Jon Rheault drove to the net and successfully slipped the puck past Cory Schneider. Despite its limited opportunities BC did tie the game when they struck for a power play goal.

The middle frame, while more evenly played, saw the Eagles score the eventual game winner but have to fend off two late period Friar power plays to go back into the locker room with a 2-1 lead. In the third PC had a golden chance but Tony Zancanaro got off only a harmless shot on a clean breakaway. The Friars had trouble regaining the momentum they built at the end of the 2nd period when they had to kill 2 early penalties. They also saw their futility continue on the power play when they could not convert on two more chances in the middle of the period. Finally as they were pressing the attack in the final minutes of the game, Trevor Ludwig was called for a penalty when he tried to move a dropped BC player's stick in order to create a path to the net. PC had to essentially mount their final comeback down a man. Coach Army did pull the goal to even up the sides but PC could not create the chance to tie the score.

Lowell won again on Thursday to close the gap on the Friars again so by failing to gain any points against BC, the Friars were left with traveling up to Amherst and try to gain some points on the road. The Friars had to withstand a strong initial attack by the Minutemen, but were able to break out on top when leading goal scorer Colin McDonald notched his 11th of the season as he took a feed from Kyle Laughlin and snapped off a wrister which beat the goalie to the far post.

Before the period was over Massachusetts had tied the score and then went ahead 2-1. In response PC scored when defenseman Mark Fayne pinched down low and took a pass from Nick Mazzolini. Midway through the final period PC struck again as defenseman Matt Taormina fire a slapper from the point which slipped past Jon Quick, the Minuteman goalie. That lead held up till the final seconds. With under a minute to go, with Quick having been pulled, the Minutemen began putting sustained pressure on the net aided by the fact PC seemed to have failed to keep their feet moving. With 40 seconds remaining the inevitable happened. UMass tied the score. The teams battled through a 5 minute overtime but the tied score remained intact.

On the men's side the team has 6 games left split into 3 home and home series. This coming weekend they face Northeastern, on the road Friday and home on Saturday. The following week it is a series with conference leader UNH. The Friars then close out the season with a pair against cellar dweller Merrimack. Certainly the Friars control their own destiny in terms of making the playoffs. At the moment the Friars hold a 3 point lead on Lowell and control the tie breaker. A successful series against NU will give PC the 4 points they need to catch NU for 7th (and avoid a trip to UNH, though setting up a probable playoff meeting with BU). At the moment though for the Friars to get better they still need to find a way to some productive results from their offense. They seemed to have found the ability to put solid defensive games together, but the offense is still AWOL. Most troublesome is the lack of a power play. The streak of failing to score stretches back to the first half of the season when they played BU in early December. PC ranks 57th in overall offense and 58th in power play success. At least for the next 3 weeks they have to get those numbers to a higher level if they are going to pull themselves to the next level. The Friars are the 9th least penalized team in the nation.

For the women there are only 4 games left. They are set up in two tough home and home series. Next weekend they face off Saturday at home against BC before returning the game at Conte Forum the next day. The final weekend they have a Saturday contest with Connecticut before going there for a Sunday finale. Right now PC would be mostly seen as the underdog in all 4 games. UNH is now on top of the standings holding a 6 point lead on the Friars. Connecticut is two points ahead of the Friars with two head to head matchups remaining and BC leads PC by one point with two games against each other still on tap. PC is holding the last playoff spot by 5 points with 8 points for both PC and BU remaining up in the air. If PC can not clinch it on their own they find BU has one game with UNH and then 3 games against teams already eliminated from contention. Thus there is life remaining in BU's fight for a spot in the playoffs and for Providence to get bounced. Like the men the women must find a way to score in the next few weeks. They rank 21 out of 34 teams in goals per game and they are continually hurt by the amount of penalties they must kill. They are the 3rd most penalized team in the nation. Defensively PC ranks in the top ten for both penalty kill and for best goals against. If they can stress that area and take advantage of their chances the Friars should hold on.

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