ON HOCKEY: Crimson Project to Earn Sixth-Seed in ECAC Tourney

Lowell K. Chow

Freshman forward Kevin Du shoots on Union goaltender Kris Mayotte during Harvard's 3-2 win Saturday night.

The Harvard men’s hockey team began the 2003-2004 season, or pre-season I suppose, at the top of both the Coaches’ and the Writers’ ECAC polls. Harvard players cluttered the pre-season All-Conference teams, and the Crimson was picked at No. 6 in the national poll.

Disappointment has followed those great expectations. The team that finished second in the ECAC last year—losing to Cornell in overtime—the same team that made two consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament and lost only three starters from last year’s team, has struggle return to winning form.

Most Harvard hockey followers, this one included, failed to account from the role that Dominic Moore ’03 and Brett Nowak ’03 played. Both were dynamic offensive players, capable of involving linemates, creating their own shot or just plain old finishing.

Moore and Nowak, it seems, had a knack for the net that is prominently lacking from many of this year’s forwards.

There have been positives from this season, though, both for individuals and for the team as a whole. The play of freshman Dylan Reese, limited by back and leg nerve injuries, offers tantalizing promises of a truly aggressive and offensively-minded blue-liner. Prior to injuring his shoulder in the waning moments of a comeback win at Yale, sophomore Charlie Johnson was beginning to become more offensively assertive and had started to find the net. Playing on the same line as Moore a year ago benefited Johnson, and he finished last season with 20 points. Right now his point total stands at nine, but seven of those points have been goals and four have come on the power play.

Not coincidentally, two of Johnson’s goals this season came in one of the Crimson’s biggest wins—a 5-3 victory over nationally-ranked UMass in December. While comeback victories at Union and at Yale were important in the context of Harvard’s struggles this season, the team’s wins over UMass and BU (and its solid performance in two losses to Boston College, the No. 1 team in the land) ended the Crimson’s well-documented reputation of folding in the face of non-conference foes.

This year’s team, for all its struggles, did what last year’s could not: It won big games, though both were home contests at Bright.

In contrast to those “big” wins against UMass, BU, Yale and Union, the Crimson has struggled against a number of less-talented teams. Harvard has been swept in its season series against Brown, Cornell, Rensselaer and Princeton, and stands at 0-1-1 against the Golden Knights of Clarkson with one contest remaining. Those five teams just seem to create problems for Harvard, either through their personnel (Brown with Yann Danis in net) or their playing styles (Clarkson’s physical intimidation or Princeton’s trap).

What then can we expect of the Crimson in the last two weekends of the season? Where will it finish relative to its rivals in the ECAC? It seems unlikely that Harvard could avoid all five of the ECAC teams it has struggled against, but much depends on the seeding in the first round of the playoffs and which teams manage to secure opening round byes.

Here then is one writer’s look at the ECAC stretch drive. Teams are listed in their current league standings, not their projected order of finish. That is represented in the accompanying box.

1. Brown: The ECAC leading Brown Bears travel up to the North Country this weekend. It’s a tough road trip—some might say the toughest in the league—and Brown will be hard pressed to take four points from it.

The following weekend Vermont and Dartmouth skate at Meehan Auditorium, providing Brown’s stifling defense with another chance to shut down Dartmouth’s potent forward combination of Hugh Jessiman and Lee Stempniak.

Brown will go 3-1 over its last four games, with a win at St. Lawrence, a loss at Clarkson and two home wins versus Dartmouth and Vermont.

2. Colgate: Despite its success in January—the Raiders went 7-1-1 to jump near to the top of the ECAC standings—Stan Moore’s team has struggled of late.

Colgate spends this weekend on the road in Union and RPI, before hosting the North Country duo at Starr Rink in the season’s finale.

Colgate will go 2-2 down the stretch, with a win at Union, a loss at RPI, and a home split with a win and a loss verse Clarkson and St. Lawrence, respectively.