There’s something striking about the row of zeros underneath Harvard’s record column. They conjure up an image of a blank slate, where all teams are equal and anything and everything is possible. They mark a time when the thrills of past victories and the disappointment of dreams cut short are discarded, as teams embark on the journey toward the ECAC playoffs.
That journey for the 2002-2003 Harvard men’s hockey team begins tomorrow at Providence when the Crimson visits the Brown Bears. After weeks of preparation, marked by drills, scrimmages and an exhibition game Harvard hopes to come out opening night and make a statement. Adrenaline will be racing but, as junior defenseman David McCulloch warns, this may not necessarily be a positive.
“[The adrenaline] can work for you or against you,” McCulloch said. “The adrenaline’s good, but it has to be controlled…You don’t want it to get out of hand as far as leading to penalty trouble because of [our] being overaggressive. We want to be controlled, confident and focused.”
Brown finished last season sixth in the ECAC standings despite being picked to finish last in the preseason coaches’ poll. Inspired by their strong play and a solid returning core, the prognosticators endowed the Bears with a fourth place predication this year, the highest preseason ranking Brown has ever received. Despite having beaten Brown in two games in the ECAC playoffs, No. 2-ranked and defending ECAC champion Harvard will not overlook this up-and-coming team.
“They’ve turned the program around a lot in the three years I’ve been here,” junior defenseman Kenny Smith said. “I’ve found they’ve been a tough opponent to play against and I think they’ll definitely do well this year, especially with their goalie.”
The goalie, junior Yann Danis, is the heart of the Brown team. The first All-American the Bears have produced since 1992, Danis will look to stymie the Crimson offense just as he did in stopping 66 shots in last year’s playoffs.
Wary of his steady presence in goal and how his teammates feed off his leadership, Harvard has formulated a simple plan to upset Danis’ rhythm.
“No goalie can stop a shot he can’t see,” said sophomore forward Brendan Bernakevitch. “If we crash the net, if we get in front of his vision, get second chances and get rebounds… A goalie is only so good. He’s not perfect. If we play hard, we’ll get a couple by him.”
A sharp contrast in playing style will also be evident tomorrow night. Whereas Brown is more of a defensive team, relying mostly on turnovers to set up the counterattack, Harvard plays a fluid, possession-controlled game. Whichever team is successful in pressing its style of play will probably wind up victorious.
“We like to open the game up a little bit,” McCulloch said. “In the neutral zone, in the offensive zone, we’d like to generate speed, [and] keep the puck moving,. It’ll definitely be a challenge for us to play against the system Brown plays, since they like to shut that type of play down, clog up the game and slow it down.”
Recent history has shown that Brown is not often successful in stopping the Crimson’s offense. Harvard took three of the four games the teams played last season, dropping only the season opener.
The Crimson will try to avoid a similiar start in what promises to be an exciting opener.