Playoffs For PC Hockey

By the time the ice chips had settled this past weekend the PC men's hockey team had earned their spot in he league playoffs and the women's team despite their best efforts, had fallen just short of regaining the league championship. The men swept Merrimack 7-2 and 2-1. The women got to the finals before falling to national powerhouse UNH 3-1.

Friday's game marked the final home game of the 2006-07 season for the men's team. Before the game there was a brief ceremony for the team's six seniors. They are Chase Watson, Colin McDonald, Tony Zancanaro, Jamie Carroll and Dinos Stamoulis who were all dressed. Also honored was Bryan Horan who took an accidental stick to the eye the previous week. The stick wedged into the wire facemask, due to the serious nature of the injury Bryan missed senior night because he was home recuperating.

Once the game got underway Providence got down to business. First junior winger Jon Rheault continued to be a force in the Friar resurgence. After receiving the puck Rheault drove hard around a Merrimack defender and flipped the puck into the net. Less then two minutes later it was Rheault making a move that drew the Merrimack defense and then shuffling a pass off to Greg Collins who tapped it into the net. The Friars stretched the lead to 3 when captain Colin McDonald rifled a shot into the net.

Merrimack was able to close the gap to 2 less then 2 minutes later. PC however tightened up their defense as they again protected sophomore back up Chris Mannix in net. PC iced the game in the 2nd period. The 2nd period assault began when defenseman Cody Wild came off the point and was in position to snap in a rebound. Greg Collins redirected a Colin McDonald shot and just over a minute later his prep school line mate, Pierce Norton scored. Norton would also score the final PC goal of the game in the 3rd period.

The Norton Collins combination had played prep school together at Thayer Academy before Norton came to PC last year and Collins spent a year at Salisbury. At Thayer their coach was former Friar defenseman Larry Rooney. For their effort on Friday Collins was named the number 1 star and Norton number 2 star.

Saturday the Friars were looking to maintain the momentum, while at the same time not have anyone get hurt before the playoffs. The Friday win clinched the final spot in the playoffs for PC. In the last regular season game of the year Tyler Sims returned to his position between the pipes. Also back in the lineup were John Mori and David Cavanagh. Their appearance gave Coach Army the opportunity to evaluate which potential line up brings the best chance for PC to upset UNH in the first round.

For Merrimack, Saturday represented the final game in another long season. The Warriors came into the game 3-26-4. For the Merrimack seniors this represented their last college game. While not playing for position or momentum, Merrimack was playing to send their senior class out in style. This game would be a hard fought game.

A far tighter and defensive game PC, broke onto the scoreboard first when freshman John Cavanagh potted his first career goal. The goal was scored on the power play, which seems appropriate enough, as it is Cavanagh's return, which has seemed to bring new life to the power play unit.

The Friar lead held for almost a full period before Merrimack responded in the middle of the second period. Early in the third period PC went back on top for good when Matt Taormina came down low to join the fray in front of the Merrimack net. When Norton's shot was left on the doorstep Taormina was in position to capitalize.

PC ended league play at 9-15-3 good for 8th place. Like last year that record has earned them a trip up to Durham to face number one seed UNH. Last year the teams met at the Whittamore Center in a 4th vs 5th seeded series. This year PC is coming into the playoffs playing some of their best hockey of the season. They have won their last 3 games in a row while UNH has struggled to close out the season. After while they were losing to PC last weekend they clinched 1st when BU dropped their Saturday game. This past weekend they dropped both games of a home and home series to Boston College

PC actually comes into this series not only on their hottest streak of the season, but also relatively healthy. Last season they were without 2 of their top seniors. This time the defense seems to have settled down and is playing a major role in the offense. If Tyler Sims can rebound from his benching PC might have the chance to upset UNH in this series. The other playoff series find Northeastern traveling to BC, Vermont is hosted by BU, and Maine plays UMass. All series are best of 3 series with all games at the higher seeds rink.

For the women the season went longer then most expected, but ended in disappointment. PC had extended their season to the league championship game with a 3-2 win over BC, but fell on Sunday to defending champion UNH. Due their 16-16-4 final record they were not considered for further NCAA play once UNH eliminated them.

BC came into the semi final game as big favorites. They had had 5 of their players, including 3 freshmen named to the all star team that was announced before the playoffs began. They had been a dynamic offensive team throughout the season and came into the playoffs sporting a 23-8-2 record. PC had but one player make the all star teams and had been blown out in back to back games by BC 6-2 just 2 weekends ago.

For all the firepower BC had they had little playoff experience. They had only played 3 playoff games since Hockey East was formed, two of those last year. However this year their team was heavily freshmen and they had lost 3 key seniors and junior transfer Sarah Feldman. Despite their gaudy record, the playoffs were new ground for them.

Providence gave no early indication that they were going to fold. BC kept much of the early pressure in the Providence zone throughout the first period. The Friars were out shot by a 15-3 margin. They also gave the Eagles three early power play opportunities. Early in the 2nd period the Friars took another pair of penalties. The second one finally gave BC a chance to get on the scoreboard first. Then BC seemed to get a break that threatened to break the game open. While they were killing a penalty BC's top goal scorer knocked down a clearing pass with her stick and then broke in on goal to increase BC's lead to 2. From a Providence perspective it was an unfortunate break for BC as the PC had been clearly knocked down by a high stick and the play should have been blown dead.

Unlike BC though, Providence was a team with players who had been in big games earlier in their careers, about a third of the team played on at least one championship team and had been to the NCAA's. They had bounced back in other years when the outlook did not look bright. This is also a team with a long tradition that over the years has proven they do know how to win, and have refused to lose. It soon appeared some of those ghosts were in the building.

Immediately after the second BC goal the Friars were the beneficiary of what appeared to be a make up call which put the Eagles 2 players down. With a vengeance the Friars struck back quickly. First Mari Pehkonen deftly converted a pass from Kristin Gigliotti for the 5 on 3 power play goal. With the power play still in affect Jenna Keilch answered with the tying goal when she pounced on the rebound of a Kathleen Smith shot and flipped the puck over the BC goaltender. Early in the final period after freshman Jackie Duncan had gained possession of a loose puck the BC defender fell down at the blue line allowing Duncan to break in cleanly and score what would be the game winner. PC again called on their veteran net minder Jana Bugden to stop a couple more BC scoring chances and clinch the victory.

Despite being prohibitive underdogs in the championship game the Friars put up a valiant effort before falling to defending champion UNH 3-1. The Wildcats got the early jump and wore the Friars down from there. In the 2nd minute of the game the Friars got hit with back to back penalties. They had to kill a minute 30 seconds of a 2 man advantage, which they successfully did. However two seconds after the second penalty expired and before they could get all the players back in to the play UNH tallied the first score of the game.

The Wildcats had a significant advantage in control of play over the first two periods. The Friars though were able to rebound in the middle period. Sophomore defender Erin Normore carried the puck deep into the UNH zone before slipping a shot past the UNH goalie. UNH would not be denied, minutes later they broke back on top when they forced the turnover on the fore-check and then were able to move the puck to just in front of the crease where Lindsey Caleo scored when she lifted a shot high into the net. With UNH playing to protect the lead the Friars were able to force several scoring opportunities, but were frustrated on each. With under a minute to play and after over a minute of playing with Bugden lifted in favor of the extra attacker UNH scored an insurance goal.

Despite the loss PC had Pekhonen, Gigliotti and Bugden named to the all tournament team. Jana Bugden also garnered the MVP trophy with her extraordinary efforts against the top two offensive teams in Hockey East.

Beside the strong player of its seniors, Gigliotti, Bugden and Sonny Watrous, the Friars were able to count on improved play from veterans like Erin Normore and Jenna Keilch. They also saw vast improvement in play from their 4 freshmen, Pam McDevitt, Brittany Nelson, Colleen Martin and Jackie Duncan. Mari Pekhonen, a Swedish native, also played a strong second half as she adjusted to the PC system after transferring from Minnesota-Duluth. This team loses its top 2 scorers and its top goalie so there will be large question marks looming over them next fall. They also face a league whose talent level has vastly improved since the league was founded.

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