Thrown to the wolves. Tossed into the fire. However one wants to say it, over the past three seasons, the freshmen on the Harvard hockey team have been thrust into pressure-packed situations early in their collegiate careers.
But in a pleasant departure from that recent Crimson tradition, the rookies on this year’s team will not be required to contribute immediately.
“This is the first class we’ve recruited to Harvard where those kids don’t have to come in and make an impact on our program [right away],” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni.
Because of the Crimson’s depth, the freshmen may be hard-pressed to find playing time. But they do expect to contribute.
“I think there is a lot of upperclassman leadership this year,” said Tom Walsh, one of five rookies on Harvard’s active roster. “We’re all going to help, but I don’t think they’re going to be relying on us.”
Walsh, of Arlington, Mass., comes to the Crimson as a highly-regarded defenseman. He took a post-graduate year at Deerfield Academy, also the alma mater of Harvard teammates Aaron Kim, Tyler Kolarik and Rob Fried.
Walsh’s time at Deerfield allowed him to hone his skills for Division I hockey.
“Tommy is an outstanding leader with excellent poise on the ice,” said Deerfield coach Jim Lindsay. “He has great vision and anticipation.”
At Deerfield, Walsh recorded five goals and 22 assists in 24 games. His all-around athletic talents showed off the ice as well, as he also played varsity baseball.
“He’s a really good passer and looks to jump into offense after his passes,” said Harvard assistant coach Nate Leaman. “Tom will have an adjustment period, but look for him to be in our top six [rotation of defensemen] by Christmas.”
Leaman holds similarly high expectations for another blueliner, Peter Hafner of Gaitherburg, Md.
“He will do a great job of keeping the play simple and getting the puck to our forwards in transition,” Leaman said.
Hafner’s exceptional height—he stands at 6’5—means he doesn’t shy away from physical play and will bring an essential element to the Crimson’s defense—tenacity.
“He doesn’t mind playing tough in the corner,” senior forward Brett Nowak said.
Joining Nowak up front will be freshmen Charlie Johnson and Dan Murphy, who will add depth to the Crimson attack.
Johnson, a native of Calgary, is very adept with the puck and sees the ice well.
“He has a high skill level and may project to be a power play guy because of his skill and vision,” Leaman said.
Johnson spent last year playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League for the Calgary Royals. He played left wing there but will make the transition to center for the Crimson.
In describing Johnson, Leaman drew comparisons to more seasoned Crimson players.
“Look for him to start out with a limited role, but by Christmas really come into his own, almost exactly like [sophomore] Tom Cavanagh did last year and [junior] Tyler Kolarik the year before,” Leaman said.
Johnson’s counterpart on the front line will be Dan Murphy of North Andover, Mass., who will play left wing for the Crimson.
“He’s talented and knowledgeable with an accurate shot,” Nowak said of Murphy. “He knows what to do with the puck.”
Leaman compares Murphy to Tim Pettit, who has amassed 32 goals over the last two years.
“We are looking for him to use his great release with players that get him the puck in the right situations,” Leaman said.
Murphy’s work ethic showed during the offseason, when he led all the freshmen in weight room testing. He said he was attracted to Harvard because of its level of play and bright future.
“They have a great hockey tradition, the players are all really skilled, and the team—along with the coaches—strongly believes that we can become a national powerhouse again,” Murphy said.
Rounding out the freshman class is goaltender John Daigneau of Brookfield, Wis.
Of all the freshmen, Daigneau will be battling the hardest for minutes, competing for time with sophomore starter Dov Grumet-Morris.
“I don’t know how much time he’ll get because Dov is one of the best goalies around the league this year, and he’s obviously going to be in the No. 1 role,” captain Dominic Moore said. “But [Daigneau] will be vital as a backup goalie.”
Daigneau spent last season playing with the Chicago Steel of the USHL, an experience he believes was vital in his transition to college hockey.
“[Junior hockey] is played at a fast pace and has a lot of pressure,” Daigneau said. “Sometimes I was playing in front of five thousand people. I had to grow up much sooner, and every aspect of my game improved.”
Daigneau is a competitive player with good agility.
“Jon is very quick for his size and plays a very similar style to Patrick Roy by playing the percentages,” Steel coach Willard Nichol said. “In tight, it is very difficult to beat Jon because he is very good with his angles, is patient and will smother shooters.”
Daigneau’s positive attitude and work ethic may pay dividends later on in the season. Despite the label of “backup,” Daigneau has a golden opportunity to help the team.
“We really look for him to push Dov this year, and there is no doubt in our minds that he will be called upon somewhere in the season to step up and win games for our team,” Leaman said.