Packard Plays With The Best
Sophomore Represents USA In Summer Tournament
This summer Packard was one of four Harvard hockey players invited to take part in the USA Summer Hockey Challenge at Lake Placid, NY.
Along with freshmen Jesse Lane, Noah Welch and Tom Cavanagh, Packard participated in a four-day evaluation period with USA coaches.
After the first few days, cuts were made and Packard alone continued on to the next round—a set of four games against the Finnish Under-20 National Team.
“It was definitely an honor to be included as part of that group. I actually made it as an alternate,” said Packard. “I guess one of the guys got hurt and couldn’t come to camp. I was really excited to get the chance to go there.”
The forty men on the roster for the games against the Finnish included Packard and some of the best young talent in the United States.
“They are pretty much, for the most part, the best that the U.S. has to offer,” Packard said. “There are some great players that were left out after camp but for the most part they are all top-notch players.”
Despite playing on the ice with some of the best in the country this summer, Packard wasn’t intimidated.
“I think I held my own,” Packard said. “Obviously there are some great players there and I was by no means one of the best players there. But it’s a lot of fun to get out there and play with players that good.”
And how did Packard do?
“I scored in the last game but we ended up losing that one,” Packard said. “I only played in two of the four games. There were an excess of players.”
The USA went on to split the four-game series with Finland after losing the final game in an overtime shootout.
It was not the first time that Packard had participated in the U.S. National Program.
Packard played 67 games with the U.S. Under-18 National Team, where he scored 13 goals and added another 15 assists, before coming to Harvard.
The fact that Packard was involved in this camp probably wouldn’t surprise any Harvard hockey fans.
Packard was a dominating force towards the end of last year for the Crimson, scoring four goals and adding four assists on the season.
Packard was also one of only four Harvard players to record at least a minute in all 33 games last year.
“I think I started off a little slow but was happy with the way things ended up,” Packard said. “Just like the team goals, I am looking to build on everything I did last season.”
Packard really turned it on when it counted: he had three goals and an assist in the ECAC playoffs.
“Dennis’s game over the last third or quarter of our season went in a very positive direction last year,” said Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni. “He’s really continued that progression into training camp this year.”
Packard’s energies have now shifted to making this year’s Harvard team as solid as possible.
Along with the returning players and incoming freshman—highlighted by Noah Welch— this Harvard team has a chance to shake things up in the ECAC and maybe beyond.
“There is no reason, with the talent level we have, that we couldn’t make the NCAA tournament this year,” Packard said. “I know that it’s pretty much a goal of everyone involved with the program. With the players we have, if we come together the right way we should be there.”
Already others around the country have seen Harvard as a threat. In the pre-season polls Harvard has been ranked as high as eighth nationally and number one in the ECAC coaches poll.
“I think it definitely makes us aware of the fact that people realize we have a lot of talent on this team,” said Packard. “But you know we realize that pre-season polls don’t mean anything. We haven’t even played a game yet, so I don’t think we are going to think of ourselves as anything better than what we actually are.”
But the potential to have a great season is in the back of Packard’s mind.
“I think the mindset for us is that not finishing first would be a disappointment this year,” Packard said. “We are looking to have a strong finish.”
Winning a national championship would only add to Packard’s long list of accomplishments. Packard hit another milestone in his hockey career this past summer. Along with sophomore Kenny Smith, Cavanagh and Welch, Packard was selected in the NHL entry draft.
A seventh round choice of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the 219th overall pick, Packard has not let it change him too much. He instead focuses on the Crimson hockey team and the contributions he can make for the next three years.
“I was honored to be drafted, but at the same that time being drafted is a great thing, it doesn’t mean you have made it in any sense,” Packard said. “A lot of players get drafted who never go on to play in the pros, so right now I am just focusing on my development here at Harvard and not worrying about the pros too much.”
Packard will always keep his heart close to his childhood favorites, despite being drafted by Tampa Bay.
“Actually I grew up loving Boston,” Packard said. “They are still my number one team, I’m going to stick with the Bruins for now.”
On the agenda for Packard after this season is the possibility of participating in rookie camps with the Lightning next year.
“I met the General Manager [of the Lightning] this summer,” Packard said. “But because of NCAA rules I’m really not allowed to do too much with them. The only thing you are allowed to do really is rookie camps and that is a possibility for me next summer.”
Looking even a couple more years down the road, the ultimate goal for Packard would be suiting up in the NHL, a dream that he has cherished ever since his childhood—and a dream that does not seem unlikely.
“I think I speak for a lot of people on the team when I say that I’d love to play in the NHL,” he said. “But I realize that a lot of people have those same dreams and don’t make it. Still, that is where I’d love to end up.”