The 1985-86 Harvard men's hockey team is the most highly touted Crimson squad in history. The pre-season poll tabbed the icemen as the fourth best squad in the nation and three weeks later, the Crimson has moved up a notch to third, without even playing a game.
Traditionally, Harvard teams have had to joust with rabid opponents for whom the Harvard game is The Game. And Harvard, for the most part, doesn't care.
"They all want a piece of the Johnnies," Harvard Coach Bill Cleary says.
Hating Harvard is old hat.
Giving Harvard such a healthy dose of pre-season respect is something new.
"I don't think people payed that much attention to us in the past," Cleary says.
They payed attention, coach, but only after your team popped up where no one thought it would. In 1983, in the ECAC Championship game and two weeks later at the National Final Four in Fargo, N.D. Last spring, back in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) title game and back in the NCAA Tournament, this time in a quarterfinal matchup at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
In 1985, the Crimson is feeling the spotlight a little earlier.
Harvard faces a 25-game regular season schedule centered on a 21-game grind against the 11 other teams in the ECAC. Eight of 12 conference teams advance to the ECAC Tournament which is held on two weekends in early March, first at home sites for the quarterfinals and then in the Boston Garden for the semis and finals.
A first or second place finish in the tournament essentially--but not necessarily--guarantees a bid to NCAA Tournament, which starts the following weekend and utilizes the same format: quarterfinals at campuses the first weekend, followed by the Final Four.
After being eliminated in the NCAA quarters in Duluth last season, the Crimson will concentrate this year on earning a ticket to Providence, R.I., where the Civic Center will play host to the 1986 NCAA Division I Final Four.
The Crimson has been tabbed as the team to beat in the ECAC, although Harvard fans should expect Cornell, RPI (the defending national champion) and Yale to make a strong run at the icemen (See ECAC preview, page six).
Nationally, too, the Crimson is all of a sudden the object of a great deal of attention. In the 1983 Final Four, western hockey fans were surprised to learn that Harvard played hockey, much less that it was capable of beating the vaunted Golden Gophers of Minnesota as it did in the semifinals. This year, there'll be no such surprises.
Captain Scott Fusco thinks all the attention is good for Harvard. "It's good for the program," the fifth-year senior says. "Harvard's thought of as one of the elite schools in college hockey. Before, it took 'till February to break the rankings."
Whether the Crimson deserves all the preseason hoopla and headlines is unclear. What is clear is that this men's hockey team may be one the very best every to don the Crimson, Black and White.