The Harvard men’s hockey team has not swept the weekend trip to Colgate and Cornell since the 1992-1993 season, but this is hardly the time to focus on history. The Crimson travels to New York this weekend in desperate search of a pair of wins in what junior defenseman Noah Welch deemed “our biggest road trip of the year.”
The Crimson (4-3-1, 3-3-1 ECAC) faces off against Colgate tonight at Starr Rink before spending Saturday night inside the electrifying confines of Cornell’s Lynah Rink. Two Harvard victories would lessen the pain of last weekend’s home 3-0 loss to Clarkson and give its rather inconsistent record a much-needed shot in the arm.
The Crimson meets Colgate (5-5-2, 2-2-0 ECAC) with memories of last season, during which Harvard drubbed the Red Raiders on three separate occasions (7-1, 8-1, and 7-0).
There is a good chance that Colgate has not forgotten.
“I’d like to think their memories are long,” Raiders coach Stan Moore said of his players. “People may be quite motivated at a 22-2 deficit in goals scored, not that my memory is short or long.
“Some people may not look at [the score] … and others may look at it as motivation. In either case, I certainly hope that our team is prepared.”
For its part, the Crimson is not underestimating Colgate.
“Our focus has been on Colgate, and it has to be, because they present the…style of play that can give you fits if you’re not ready to play against them,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “They’re going to attack you.”
“Colgate’s going to be a tough team,” said senior forward Tyler Kolarik. “Everyone’s gunning for us now. They know that we’re down.”
A week ago, Harvard was anything but “down.” In a decisive 5-2 win over BU, a team the Crimson hadn’t beaten in three years, the Crimson seemed to have finally clicked. But four days later, the Crimson suffered a home shutout at the hands of the Golden Knights, in which it capitalized on none of its six power plays.
“The Clarkson game was tough,” Welch said. “[Special teams] would have won that game.”
Mazzoleni agreed, citing that the upper hand in special teams often leads to the upper hand on the scoreboard.
“We [won the special teams battle] against Yale, we did against BU, we did against St. Lawrence—we didn’t against Clarkson,” he said.
His players are more than aware of the problem, and they are working to correct it. And if ever there was a time for Harvard’s power play to take charge, tonight would be it. Last season, special teams were particularly productive against the Raiders, as the Crimson exploited nine of its 21 opportunities.
This season, the Harvard power play is 5-for-28 (17.9 percent), sixth-best in the league.
“It’s not like we’re not getting our chances out there, because we certainly are,” Kolarik said. “It’s just a matter of executing, just getting the pucks on net, getting screens, knowing where the open guy is going to be, adjusting our formation to compensate for their pressure throughout the game.”
Meanwhile, Harvard will have a different look at even-strength. Freshman Steve Mandes skated on the top line with Tom Cavanagh and Dennis Packard in practice this week and is expected to play there this weekend. Senior wing Tim Pettit, who has one goal this season after scoring 17 last year, will take the place of Mandes on the team’s third line, alongside Kevin Du and Ryan Maki.
Defensively, Mazzoleni said senior David McCulloch is out “for an extended period of time” with ankle injury. Freshman Dylan Reese (back) is questionable.
Despite injuries to its defensive corps, Harvard looks to have an advantage between the pipes with junior netminder Dov Grumet-Morris, who has a 1.50 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage—statistics which place him fifth and tied for fourth in the nation, respectively.
“He’s obviously a great goalie, and he’s also real tough mentally,” said Welch. “He’s given us a chance to win every game, which is all you can ask of a goalie.”
Grumet-Morris started two of last year’s Colgate games, amassing 62 saves in 63 chances. His approach to this weekend is simple.
“It’s a lot of fun to go on the road with the guys, especially when you have this many home games at the beginning of the year,” he said. “It feels like it’s a great opportunity to come away with a couple big wins.”
Not only would the wins bolster the Crimson’s record but, as both the Raiders and the Big Red are ECAC rivals, the victories would significantly impact the conference standings. While Cornell (3-2-4, 3-0-1 ECAC) currently shares a three-way tie for third place with Harvard, Colgate is resting in 11th place.
Only three points separate them, and the Crimson is careful not to place more significance on one game than on the other.
“Two points against Cornell, if we do get it, means absolutely nothing unless we get that two points Colgate,” Kolarik said.
Mazzoleni agreed, asking, “What happens if we lose Friday and we win Saturday? We’ve got to win Friday and then we’ll worry about Saturday.”
Moreover, Harvard is well aware of its shared history with the Big Red, and dwelling on the past would probably not make for a pleasant bus ride.
Just the opposite of the Raiders, Cornell defeated the Crimson in each of the three meetings last year, including a 3-2 overtime victory in the ECAC championship game.
“We know what we’re going to get out of Cornell,” said Mazzoleni. “They’re going to come at us and throw the kitchen sink at us in the first period and continue it for 40 [more] minutes.”
Kolarik, who managed three points against the Big Red last season and whose goal clinched Harvard’s double-overtime win in the 2002 ECAC championship game, thinks his team is fully capable of withstanding the weekend’s pressure. In fact, he sees it as a good change of pace to leave the Bright Hockey Center after a five-game homestand.
“The road-style game is really going to benefit us right now,” he said, “because that’s the kind of game we have to play night in [and] night out, whether we’re at home or not. We have to play that tight defensive game, and we have to really limit our mistakes and win those one- or two-goal games.”
Two of last year’s three losses to Cornell were one-goal affairs. This year, the Crimson is determined to have the weekend go its way.
“If we do play our game and we play hard, we’re capable of beating anyone in the country,” said Mazzoleni, “but if we don’t, we capable of getting beat by anybody in the country.”