Jonnie on the Spot: M. Hockey Makes Statement at Michigan

Sports Web Extra: Sun., Dec. 16, 2001

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-If you'd like to hear a couple words on Harvard's 3-3 tie against Michigan here on Saturday night, I've got the perfect answer for you.

Pride and respect.

The Crimson (5-4-3, 5-2-2 ECAC) played with as much pride against the Wolverines (10-5-3, 8-3-2 CCHA) as it has all year, and the few Harvard fans in attendance at the always-hostile Yost Ice Arena left with their heads high because their team played even-up against the hottest team in college hockey.

But as proud as Harvard's coaches, players and fans might've been as they stepped out into the cool Michigan night, it's the respect they've been after.

Now in his third year at Harvard, Coach Mark Mazzoleni wants his team to be nationally competitive. He has worked very hard-along with his staff and the players-to put them on that level.

But that sort of thing doesn't happen overnight. That's what Mazzoleni's getting at when he calls his team a "work in progress."

It's a step-by-step process. It's a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and it's not always fun.

Losing to cross-town rival Boston University 8-4 at home isn't fun. Picking up a newspaper after Thanksgiving and seeing that you're Vermont's only win isn't, either.

You can ask the Harvard coaching staff or players about those kinds of games, and they'll remember them because they happened last month.

But as the Harvard hockey program grows, the nightmares I just mentioned become sparse and the solid games like the Crimson played in front of a packed house of 6,719 at Yost become more frequent.

Saturday night-even though it wasn't a win-was a huge step. To be a top team, you have to show that you can beat top teams.

"We felt we could play with them," Mazzoleni said of Michigan.

That's why Michigan was on the schedule this year. That's why the Harvard coaches and players will say goodbye to their families and hop on a plane out to Denver right after Christmas to go up against the likes of No. 3 Denver and No. 5 UMass-Lowell.

It simply has to be done, and as good a sign as any is that the players themselves thrive on playing against the Michigans and Denvers of the world.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for us to prove ourselves on a national stage," said junior center Dominic Moore of games against top competition. "These are games we have to win."

Freshman goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris, who played magnificently and stopped 35 Michigan shots, excelled in the intense atmosphere.