Kolarik Coming Through in Clutch for M. Hockey

Timothy M. Mcdonald

Senior forward Tyler Kolarik battles St. Lawrence forward Kyle Rank during a 3-3 tie Saturday night at Appleton Arena in Canton, N.Y.

CANTON, N.Y.—Because of his speed and unrelenting aggression, senior assistant captain Tyler Kolarik generates more scoring chances than anyone else on the Harvard men’s hockey team. Because of the cruel, heartless Hockey Gods, he has converted only a fraction of them this season.

But Kolarik scored twice in the Crimson’s 3-3 tie at St. Lawrence on Saturday night. It was his first multi-goal game since Dec. 30, 2002.

Kolarik has been a microcosm of Harvard’s season: sometimes brilliant, usually unlucky and consistently streaky. He scored 11 points in the season’s first seven games, but endured a nine-game goal-scoring drought that lasted from December to February. Now, he has four goals in his last six games.

It took him 24 games to get his first power-play goal this season, but now has two in his last four.

He may be turning the corner for good. If that is the case, he will surprise no one. This is, after all, his time of year.

“He is,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, “a money player.”

With the possible exception of Dominic Moore ’03, no Harvard player in recent memory has been more reliable come tournament time than Kolarik.

As a freshman, he was named to the ECAC all-tournament team after recording 10 points in only four games. One year later, his double-overtime game-winner ended the longest game in program history, won the ECAC title, and delivered the Crimson’s first NCAA berth in nearly a decade.

Last season, he missed all or part of five straight games with leg and shoulder injuries, then returned for the ECAC championship game and scored a goal that, were it not for Cornell’s comeback, would have given Harvard its first back-to-back league titles.

And now, with the Crimson unbeaten over its last three and maybe, just maybe, breaking out of the depressing cycle of injuries, bad breaks and underperformance that have plagued its season, Kolarik looks like the clutch player everyone remembers.

“Ty’s really starting to get some of his bounces back,” said fellow senior Tim Pettit. “When he turns it on, the way he is right now, he’s going to carry the team.”

After Saturday night’s game, Kolarik admitted that his snake-bitten season has been “a little frustrating.”

“Maybe in the past I would’ve really been squeezing my stick tight, but I’m getting too old for that shit,” Kolarik said with a laugh. “It’s something Mazz has been working on with me…just controlling my emotions, not getting so flustered out there. Yeah, I’ve had some tough bounces, but stuff always evens out in the end.”

Kolarik knows that from experience. All of his stellar postseasons were preceded by dry spells.

He had only one goal over the final 10 regular-season games before his tour de force in the 2001 playoffs. His memory-maker in the 2002 final—scored with a broken thumb—was his first goal since Feb. 8 of that year. As a junior, he had three goals over the last two months of the regular season.

Kolarik is what those in the trade call a “gamer.” When his internal calendar flips from February to March, those Zamboni-sized thighs seem to churn with added ferocity, and his teammates can’t help but follow along.

“I just try to stay in the moment out there, playoffs or not,” Kolarik said. “I’ve been fortunate in the playoffs to have a little bit of luck, and have some things go my way.”

Maybe that sixth sense told him he needed to bring out Tournament-Time Tyler a couple weeks early this season. After all, he saw his team hit rock-bottom in the Beanpot earlier this month and is one of the Crimson’s most outspoken leaders.

He’s also a senior who seems to have taken a lot of the hard-luck losses to heart this winter.

“It took us awhile to figure things out this year,” said Kolarik, now tied for second on the team with eight goals. “Do I think we’re getting there? Absolutely. Do I think we’re there yet? No. We have a little bit to go, but we’re certainly on the right path.”

And history dictates that Kolarik’s play over the next several weeks will determine exactly how far his team walks down that path. Harvard is 5-1-1 this season when he scores a goal. Over four years, that figure jumps to 27-9-4—the kind of record over a hypothetical 40-game season that you might expect of a national champion.

“When Tyler Kolarik’s going,” Pettit said, “the whole team is going.”

So it’s good news for the Crimson that, with one regular-season weekend remaining, Kolarik has already begun to give his teammates their annual postseason pick-me-up.

“It’s very good to see him get on the scoreboard again,” Mazzoleni said. “He’s going to be a very key player for us down the stretch run, just as he always has been.”

—Staff writer Jon P. Morosi can be reached at morosi@fas.harvard.edu.