The ECAC Division I Player of the Year will take the opening face-off tonight when the Harvard men's hockey team meets Clarkson at 6:15 p.m. in the ECAC semifinals at the Boston Garden.
Junior Scott Fusco, the first Harvard player to be so honored since Randy Roth in 1973-74, was presented the prestigious award yesterday at the tournament press conference.
Fusco will lead the icemen in their biggest contest of the year tonight. If Harvard wins, the Crimson will battle the winner of tonight's 9:15 p.m. Cornell-RPI matchup for the championship tomorrow at 8:30 p.m.
A Harvard victory, coupled with a triumph by heavily favored RPI, would almost insure that the icemen would advance to the NCAA quarterfinals next weekend.
Two ECAC squads will move on to the national eight-team tourney, the tournament champion and another team selected by the NCAA committee.
The Crimson, by virtue of its second-place finish in the regular season, would be a shoo-in for the second spot by earning a matchup Saturday with RPI, the regular-season champion and currently the top-ranked team in the nation.
The defending tournament champions Engineers are riding a 27-game winning streak.
If second-seeded Harvard (20-6-2 overall and 15-5-1 ECAC) loses to third-seeded Clarkson (21-8-3 overall and 14-6-1 ECAC), then the icemen's season will almost undoubtedly end the following evening with the conclusion of the 5:30 p.m. consolation contest.
The Crimson claimed both of the regular-season meetings between the teams, 2-1 in Potsdam, N.Y., in mid-January and 6-1 in Cambridge two weeks ago.
The key to the icemen's success in both of those matchups was Harvard's ability to jump out to a lead.
Clarkson is an excellent defensive club, led by Hobey Baker Award finalist and All-ECAC defenseman Dave Fretz and Jamie Falle, the nation's third-rated goalie, and rarely loses after it takes a lead.
"We're the type of team that plays better when it gets ahead," Clarkson Coach Bill O'Flaherty said yesterday. "It's always a lot more fun to play that way."
"We've gotta play the same way, skating's our game," Harvard Coach Bill Cleary said. "We've got to come right out."
Clarkson, the league leader in penalty minutes over the regular season, will be facing a Harvard power play that's connected at an outstanding 35 percent clip this year.
"We have to stay out of the box," O'Flaherty said. "They've had a lot of success as far as the specialty teams go."
The Crimson will be playing without senior Captain Brad Kwong, who drew a one-game disqualification for fighting in last Saturday's 10-2 playoff victory over Colgate and will sit out tonight's contest.
"That hurts," Cleary said. "He's been a great leader, but that's life and we learn."
Fusco was also the only unanimous selection on the All-ECAC first team.
Joining the Hobey Baker finalist on the first unit were Fretz, goalie Jeff Cooper of Colgate and three RPI players, blue-liner Ken Hammond and forwards John Carter and Adam Oates.
Oates, Fusco's main competition for Player of the Year honors, finished second in the balloting with 65 points to Fusco's 100.
Harvard placed one player on the second team, junior goalie Grant Blair. Four other Crimson icemen, defensemen Randy Taylor and Mark Benning and Fusco's linemates, Tim Smith and freshman Lane MacDonald, received votes for All-ECAC recognition.
Cornell's Joe Nieuwendyk took Rookie of the Year laurels with 75 points. MacDonald finished fourth in that balloting with 20 points. Player of the Year: Fusco Rookie: Joe Nieuwendyk, Corn.
Player of the Year: Fusco Rookie: Joe Nieuwendyk, Corn.