M. Hockey Finally Shows Its Colors
The usual answer to the question, "When was the last time the Harvard men's hockey team did......" has been 1993-94. That year the Crimson advanced to the Frozen Four, dropping to eventual champion Lake Superior State in overtime in the semifinals.
This past season Harvard finally changed some of the correct answers.
The Crimson (16-15-2, 12-8-2 ECAC) had its most wins, best conference record, and first winning season overall since that final season of glory. Harvard finished third in the ECAC and swept Yale in the first round of the playoffs before losing in the semifinals against Cornell at Lake Placid.
In just his second season at the helm, Coach Mark Mazzoleni has made great strides to restore the program to its former greatness of the 1980s when it made three trips to the NCAA finals, ultimately winning in 1989. Yet, few expected Harvard to be as good as it was this year. With three freshmen defensemen and five rookie forwards all playing significant minutes, the Crimson should have had a lot more growing pains this year.
But the ultimate equalizer was the surprise stardom of senior goaltender Oliver Jonas. A German native, Jonas dutifully served as a back-up to J.R. Prestifilippo '00 for his first three years. Given the chance to start this year, Jonas dominated from the first game of the season, blanking Brown, 3-0. He would go on to become the team's MVP and set the school record for most saves in a single season, shattering Prestifilippo's mark of 844 with 1011.
The number of games Jonas stole this season earned him the Ken Dryden Award as the ECAC's best goaltender.
"We're definitely going to miss Oliver, said junior Pete Capouch, last year's assistant captain and the captain-elect for next year. "He was the backstop of our team this past year and he won a lot of games for us."
Jonas and Harvard announced to the country that the program had regained some of its former stature in a two-game stretch during Thanksgiving week when it defeated Boston University, 4-3, and came within 42 seconds of upsetting then-No. 2 Boston College before the Eagles tied up the game and won in overtime, 3-2.
"We are a night-and-day different team from where were last year," Mazzoleni said after the loss back in November. "We're not B.C., yet, but we have our sights on them."
The Eagles went on to win the national championship, but the Crimson built off the momentum of that performance and by the exam break was contending for first place in the conference, even picking up a win at Clarkson, a feat not done in four years. Harvard hit upon some times to start the month of February beginning with a 2-1 heartbreak at home against Cornell, but spiraling into getting swept at the Beanpot and dropping 7-0 at Dartmouth, its worse loss in 20 years.
But on Saturday Feb. 17, Harvard derailed then-first place St. Lawrence, 4-1 with a 35 save performance by Jonas and would lose just one more time until Lake Placid.
Harvard and Yale then squared off in an epic two-game series at Bright Hockey Center, marking the first time that the historic rivals have met in the first round. Harvard took a 5-4 lead into the third period of the first game and somehow held on for dear life to win the opening game.
But the magic was the series clincher. Yale erased a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead on a goal at 4:48 of the third period. At that point, captain Steve Moore took over the game. He setup sophomore Brett Nowak's tying goal and then battled for a rebound in front of the net to take a 5-4 lead at Harvard never let back, pouring it on for a 7-4 victory.
The game not only marked a watershed moment for the program on the ice, but off of it as well. The school had begun to respond to having a winning hockey team again and the student section at Bright was rocking like it hadn't since, well, 1993-94.
"The Yale series was huge for the program," Capouch said. "We earned home ice for the first time in a few years and really played well for two games. It was a lot of fun to see Bright hopping again."
Despite the momentum of a thrilling first round series, the Crimson couldn't break the stifling defense of the Big Red at Lake Placid and lost, 5-2.
On a personal level, the year was a breathrough season for sophomore center Dominic Moore. The brother of the graduating captain, Dom netted 15 goals and 28 assists to become Harvard's first 40-point scorer since current New York Islander Steve Martins '95 had 60 his senior year.
Among the Crimson's abundant rookie class, forwards Tim Petit and Tyler Kolarik and defenseman Kenny Smith stood out. Petit was named to the all rookie team for his 31 point performance while Kolarik contributed 28. Smith didn't play his first game until Colorado College in December, but almost right away joined the top pairing with Capouch.
Despite the contributions of the underclassmen this year, Harvard will miss its departing seniors. Besides Jonas' heroics between the pipes, Steve Moore was right behind his younger brother among team scorers with 33 points. He leaves 18th on Harvard's alltime list in points for a career.
Assistant captain Chris Bala's speed produced 29 points in his final campaign. Though never receiving the credit of their flashier teammates, the hard work and locker room presence of defenseman Tim Stay and center Harry Schwefel were every bit as important to the Crimson's success.
"The team has come quite a ways in the last two years, Capouch said. "I think next year
we will keep moving in the right direction. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we have a chance to make a lot of noise in the league and the country next year."
Harvard has more than its share of questions for next year, but the 2000-01 incarnation of the Crimson laid the groundwork so that pretty soon most of the "when was the last time" questions will stop because the current group of students will have already seen the answer.