Skating on the Edge of the Limelight
Get to Bright Hockey Center about 25 minutes before game time this weekend and you'll catch a little ritual at the end of Harvard's pre-game warmups.
When the warmups end and most of the players skate off, two will linger on the ice. Freshman goalie Grant Blair will seem to wander aimlessly and senior winger Greg Britz will likely circle around the rink, sending a few more pucks into the empty nets, while Coach Bill Cleary stands at the bench, calling both off the ice.
Finally, Blair will relent and skate off first; Britz will march off to the locker room right behind him.
Britz insists he's not the type of guy who would normally pull rank on a rookie teammate.
But, he adds, he started his practice of leaving the ice last while playing junior hockey in Ontario and since then "I don't think I've ever not been the last off. I liked to shoot a lot of pucks in at the end; the other guys always took off. It's just a superstition."
Still, that was reason enough for Britz to set things straight with Blair at the season's start. "I threw my rank on him," he admits. "For anything else, I'd never do it."
So you may catch Britz making himself a conspicuous sight well before game time. But when he and his teammates return to the ice at 7:30 p.m., the story is a little different.
Not that you can't spot him doing much during the game. After all, he's the team's third-leading point scorer, with 36 in 29 games, and his goal total (14) trails only Scott Fusco's
But Britz is one of a few players who contribute a lot without managing to leave the same impression on the Harvard fans as the real crowd-pleasers--the Fusco brothers and Blair.
It's easy to recall the All-ECAC siblings' game-winning goals, or the Ivy Rookie of the Year's terrific saves. But few Crimson partisans took the 20-minute bus ride to Northeastern last month to see Britz score his most important goal of the season, tapping in a rebound in overtime to clinch Harvard's playoff berth.
And even his other outstanding performances haven't included the big goal-scoring nights that gain much recognition. Instead, they're more along the lines of three assists against Maine this year, or four assists in last year's overtime win at Providence.
What was perhaps his best performance of the season didn't gain him any points at all. In the two-game ECAC quarterfinal series against RPI at Bright, Britz was assigned to cover the highest regular-season scorer in the East, George Servinis. The ECAC Rookie of the Year managed only a point in each game, well below his usual pace, as Harvard swept the pair.
Britz's achievements during his four-year varsity career have gained him some notice. He won the team's most-improved award during his freshman season, scoring most of his 13 points late in the year.
The following year, though, a knee injury felled him for nine games; he finished with only seven points in 17 games.
But last season, he shot up to 11-13-24, establishing himself as one of Harvard's top forwards. But, during Harvard's late-season drive for the playoffs, a Cornell player mashed Britz's hand against the boards, forcing him to miss post-season play.
This year, though, he's more than ready to take on Michigan St. in the NCAA quarterfinal, which certainly pleases Cleary: "Greg's injury last year really took away someone who could score," he says, adding, "he's a strong fellow and he's very effective in taking the man out of the play with his body. He's just a great asset to the team.
Britz feels he's come a long way from when he first tried playing under Cleary Coming from the junior leagues, it took a while to adjust to the Crimson mentor's standards. "A lot of coaches will work with the variation (in their players)," he notes "Cleary likes to mold everyone into a fast skating team. I was more of a roaming center and Cleary plays a very tight system--the center stays in the middle."
Glad He's Here
He's definitely glad now he came to Harvard and took the trouble to learn the Cleary system. He feels he made the right choice when he turned down recruiters from New Hampshire, Michigan and Notre Dame--especially the latter, which dropped its varsity hockey program this year.
"When I got hurt it really struck me," Britz says. "I'm glad I wasn't hurt at Notre Dame or Michigan and got my scholarship taken away. I got into my courses a lot more then."
Those courses are a bit unusual among hockey players Along with roommate Greg Olson. Britz majors in bioanthropology on a team filled with economics majors "A lot of guys major in Ec because they want jobs in the business world I'm not so sure they'll really have better chances of doing that when someone is studying in something else, or that I want a job in the business world, anyway."
A more likely follow-up to Britz's graduation might be master's program work in oceanography or environmental studies. But, not surprisingly, he hasn't ruled out a little more hockey. "I've put in about 15 years of work, without getting anything in terms of money out of it; I don't think it's unreasonable to try." If he can't make it in the pros here, he might try the European leagues, where a veteran of the more fast-skating, less hard-hitting (relative to the usual North American style) ECAC would have a better chance.
Ending up in new surroundings wouldn't be a new experience for Britz, who has already lived in Rhode Island, Ontario (twice). California and Marblehead, Mass, (his father, a former Brooklyn Dodger, works for an airline). But he has nothing on his mind now more than his finale with the Crimson this (or, he hopes next) weekend.