M. Hockey Opens Against Cornell

The last thing that the players heard was over 3,000 Cornellians chanting, "End of season."

That was eight months ago.

Now in its first game of the new season, the Harvard men's hockey team will find itself right back where it was in March when it takes on Cornell tonight in Ithaca, N.Y.

"We've been looking at Cornell since last spring," said Harvard Coach Ronn Tomassoni. "It's always a great environment to play in up in Ithaca, and obviously there is no love loss between the two schools."

As if they Ivy rivalry was not enough, Cornell's rabid fans have taken the concept to an entirely new level. Not only does Lynah Rink sell out the Harvard game months in advance, but fans wait in lines outside the gate hours before the first face-off.

"We have more people ask about [the Harvard-Cornell game] than any other game, not just students but everyone," said one Cornell ticket office employee. "It's just a big rivalry."

And without fail--and despite the pleas and warnings from the public address announcer--fish invariably make their way into Lynah Rink. So as the Harvard players step onto the ice, hundreds of aquatic creatures are hurled towards the visitors. But both teams have seen it all before, so the real clash will occur on the ice between two teams who have much to prove this season.

Cornell will be in search of its third straight ECAC Championship--something which no team has done since 1977. Harvard, on the other end of the spectrum, is looking to find its way back to the top of the ECAC race rather than battling for the eighth and final playoff spot like it did last season.

"Hey, they're obviously a good team," Tomassoni said. "And if you want to be a team that is going to play at the top of the league, then you have to go and beat a team like Cornell."

Unfortunately for Harvard, this feat may prove difficult, especially considering that goaltender Jason Elliott will be back in net for Cornell. The senior netminder allowed only 2.86 goals per game last year, the sixth best mark in the country.

"I feel that [Elliott] is the best returning goaltender in the country," said third-year Cornell Coach Mike Schaeffer. "He definitely should be a Hobey Baker candidate this year."

Combine that with what has been an anemic Harvard offensive attack in recent years, and Cornell looms that much scarier.

Last season, the Crimson managed only 2.6 goals per game with a dismal 10 percent power-play efficiency. This year, with the absence of Craig MacDonald, who is training with the Canadian National Team, Harvard must fall to the back and rely on its strength--the defense.

"To be honest, our defense is excellent and it's going to be our strength," said captain Jeremiah McCarthy. "We are strong right across the board and we're looking to get more involved in the offense."

The Crimson defensive corps, led by sophomore goaltender and last year's ECAC Rookie of Year J.R. Prestifilippo, will have to be strong in order to contain a Big Red offensive unit which returned all three of its top scorers, including sophomore Kyle Knopp who amassed a team-high 32 points.

Although it lacks the depth of Cornell's, Harvard's offense should be greatly improved. It not only welcomes back 12 returning forwards, including last year's leading scorer, sophomore Rob Millar, but it will also be bolstered by seven freshmen impact players.

"We generate a lot of shots," Tomassoni said. "I still think that we have to work a little harder on getting inside for that second or third shot because that's where most of the goals are scored."

The key, however, will be staying out of the penalty box.

In Harvard's only exhibition game, against McGill last Saturday, the two teams amassed a total of 72 penalty minutes. And although the special team units got quite a workout, McGill can hold no candle to the Cornell power play.

"I thought that we did a real nice job killing penalties [against McGill]," Tomassoni said. "Though I wouldn't want to be in the penalty box as much as we were [that night] against a team like Cornell or Colgate."

The time has come and the moment the players have been waiting for since March has arrived.

"I think it's a very exciting way to start the season," McCarthy said. "I think that it's really exciting in terms of how Cornell has given us the boot from the playoffs in the past two years. And that's a great rink to go up and play in too.

No matter what the results, some way or another it will definitely be a night to remember. The Cornell fans will make sure of that.