On Hockey: M. Hockey Victorious in Spite of Poor Officiating

After two achingly close one-goal losses to quality opponents—a 1-0 defeat last weekend at Cornell and a 3-2 loss on Wednesday at Boston College—the Harvard men’s hockey team finally came up with a big win.

And that in spite of the worst officiating I’ve seen in my years following hockey.

That poor officiating began before the first puck had even been dropped; Harvard was called for a violation of game protocol—the first of four protocol penalties to be whistled over the course of 60 minutes—for exiting the locker rooms too late.

NCAA Regulations state the time frame that must be observed before a game in the Rule 8 section on Game Protocol.

At 10:00 prior to the drop of the puck, the home team’s personnel must notify both teams that three minutes remain before they must begin taking the ice. At 8:00, the officials take the ice. At 7:00, the home team skates on, and 10 seconds later the visiting team does the same.

The Crimson was penalized because it exited the locker room—in Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni’s estimation—a mere 10 seconds late.

And that call had Mazzoleni heated.

“I didn’t get my team out from what [referee Matthew Smith] told me at the beginning of the game, and that’s why we got whacked there,” he said.

And Mazzoleni was right to be upset. While Harvard was clearly late coming onto the ice, that particular penalty is rarely called, especially in the specific situation last night: Harvard was the home team, and the referee and his assistants were hired by the ECAC for the Crimson’s contest against a nonconference (Hockey East) opponent. The rarity of the penalty aside, the ‘home’ officials will usually exercise a little discretion before penalizing the home team, especially against a nonconference opponent.

And while Mazzoleni wouldn’t go on the record about the officiating and the game protocol violation, his counterpart across the ice was less hesitant.

“I’m not really supposed to talk about the officiating,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “It’s pretty clear it made my decision to jump leagues pretty easy.”

“If I had that type of officiating on a regular basis—I feel for the guys in that league,” he added.

Cahoon knows of what he speaks; while he has been coaching the Minutemen for the past four seasons, Cahoon spent the previous nine years coaching in Princeton, N.J. and he still sports a smart-looking Princeton hockey watch as a reminder.

“Six calls by the linesmen, we had a protocol, we had three calls for too many men on the ice—not against us, in the game—that protocol to start the game…It was an absolute circus,” Cahoon said. “An absolute circus.”

That circus included, most notably, two whistles for icing against the team on the penalty kill—when icing is turned off—numerous non-calls on both sides for fouls near the puck and, as Cahoon mentioned, three penalties for too many men on the ice, only one of which had an actual impact on the play around the puck.

It was a frustrating game to watch, both from the press box and from the bench. And while ECAC rules about commenting on officiating may have held Mazz’s tongue on that subject, the coach was less than shy about his team’s play, the quality win over UMass notwithstanding.

For the whole of last season, the Crimson went 1-5-1 against opponents outside the ECAC, and that lone victory—a 4-1 win over Northeastern in the Beanpot Consolation game—can hardly be counted as a ‘big’ win. This season, Harvard stands at 2-1 in non-conference play, and those two wins came against nationally-ranked Hockey East opponents.

That being said, this season has not begun as expected. Less than halfway through the season, the team stands at 6-5-1, and its record of 4-4-1 in conference play places Harvard tied with Dartmouth for fourth place.

“We haven’t gotten to where we should be this year,” Mazzoleni said after Saturday’s win.

“We’re not that talented,” he added. “I don’t know where the perception [comes from] that we’re talented. We have 12 kids that are drafted—a lot of them are drafted on size and potential.”

There is a certain degree of validity to Mazzoleni’s words. Harvard certainly was highly touted coming into the season; picked in both the coaches’ and the writers’ polls to win the ECAC and ranked in the preseason top 10, the team has not come close to fulfilling its (probably too great) expectations.

“[The team] has to take hold of this thing and understand what we can be if we decide we want to play and lay it on the line,” Mazzoleni said.

Saturday night against UMass was such a game, as Harvard came out strong in the first, firing as many shots—18—in the first period against the Minutemen as it did the entire game against Boston College.

“I thought we outworked them,” Mazzoleni said. “There wasn’t one guy out there that didn’t play hard, and we haven’t had that the whole damn year.”

“We’ve got to play with a lot of jam, and if we don’t bring jam, we’re a .500 team at best,” he added. “That’s the bottom line. If we bring jam, we can play with anyone—and probably beat anyone, too.”

Asked what he expected from his team during tomorrow’s game against Princeton in the post-game press conference, Mazzoleni turned the question around on this reporter.

Mazz: “What do you expect? I mean, you tell me. You cover us. What do you expect?”

This reporter, in a much lower voice: “I don’t know.”

Mazz, not really stopping to listen to my answer: “You don’t know, do you? Honest to God, you don’t know; I don’t know, I’m saying I should know, I don’t know.”

Pause.

Mazz: “Are they going to come out and play like they did tonight? Or are they going to come out and play with 15 guys playing and five imposters?”

* * *

Taken slightly out of context, it’s possible to say that Saturday night’s press conference included a discussion about the importance of always having strawberry preserves handy. Underneath Mazzoleni’s tendency towards odd food analogies, though, the question does remain: which Harvard team will show up tomorrow night in the fine state of New Jersey?

There were two keys to Harvard’s win over UMass, and really only one major difference between that win and the previous close losses to Cornell and BC.

The first key—the one that has been steady and sure—is the play of junior goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris. Dating back to the day after Harvard’s third-period implosion against Princeton in mid-November, Grumet-Morris has been playing the best hockey of his life.

“Dov has been so good for us since the Yale thing,” Mazzoleni said. “He’s confident, our team is confident in him and he’s making timely saves for us.”

“He’s given us the type of goaltending we need to win, and we haven’t done our part scoring goals on that end,” he added. “If we hadn’t had Dov since Yale, I’d hate to see what our record would be.”

The team’s record with Grumet-Morris over that stretch is 5-3 and, as Mazzoleni said, that winning record comes despite the team’s difficulty putting points on the board. And that is the second key for Harvard: finding a way to overcome its futility scoring.

In losing to Cornell and BC, the Crimson took 21 and 18 shots, respectively. In important and convincing wins over BU and UMass—both nationally-ranked when Harvard faced them at Bright Hockey Center—the team has fired 33 and 36 shots, respectively. The difference between the wins and the losses is obvious.

“How can you win hockey games when you don’t shoot?” Mazzoleni asked, in another part of the most rhetorical press conference of his career. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen points added to the scoreboard for not shooting the puck.”

“We’ve got to shoot the puck, and we’ve got to get to the net away from the puck,” he added.

When Harvard does get the puck on net and follow its shots, good things happen. This team is not the same as last year’s; it does not have a Dominic Moore or a Brett Nowak, players who could create their own shot and seemed to have a preternatural knack for finding the net.

What this team does have is one very gifted playmaker (junior Tom Cavanagh), three talented offensive weapons (senior Tyler Kolarik, sophomore Charlie Johnson, and junior Brendan Bernakevitch) and any number of players who can make things happen around the net. But the last phrase in that sentence is the key—around the net.

If Harvard shoots early and often, and if the team charges hard to the net following its shots, good things will happen. The offense will get back on track, and the games that Harvard lost by one goal or the games in which the team was shut out will be much less likely to occur over the rest of the regular season.

If the Crimson works cohesively, if the team bring “the jam” every night, if it comes out with 19 players skating hard every game, results like Saturday’s 5-3 win will be far more common.

That’s a number of ifs. And as Mazzoleni told me, I really don’t know what to expect from this team. (Neither does he, remember.)

But I can hope—hope that Harvard takes along some jam, some preserves, some marmalade and any number of other breakfast spreads for the Princeton game and for the rest of the season.

—Staff writer Timothy M. McDonald can be reached at tmcdonal@fas.harvard.edu.

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