For the third straight season, the playoff fate of the Harvard men’s hockey team lies in the glove and blocker of Dov Grumet-Morris.
The team’s primary goaltender during each of his three years in Cambridge, Grumet-Morris will be in goal when the Crimson begins the ECAC tournament in a little over a week, Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said yesterday.
“Unless something happens out of the ordinary,” Mazzoleni said, “he’s the guy.”
After a regular season in which Grumet-Morris has seen his job security wax and wane with his performances, the on-again, off-again competition for the No. 1 spot with sophomore John Daigneau appears to be on hold.
“It’s just like the rest of our team,” Mazzoleni said. “We’re trying to solidify our positions. We’ve always done that at this time of year.
Grumet-Morris has started 23 games this season—including the last five—while Daigneau has started four. Daigneau’s last start came at Yale on Feb. 6, when he allowed four first-period goals and was replaced by Grumet-Morris before the second period. He hasn’t played since.
But Mazzoleni did not rule out using Daigneau if Grumet-Morris struggles. “I told John Daigneau, every day, he has to be ready,” Mazzoleni said. “He has to enter every game with the assumption that he could be in there.”
Statistically, Grumet-Morris has had the better season: a 2.42 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, compared to Daigneau’s 3.30 and .862, respectively. Daigneau (2-1-0) does have a higher winning percentage than Grumet-Morris (9-12-3).
In the end, Mazzoleni was compelled by Grumet-Morris’s playoff experience. He is 7-3 with a 2.28 GAA and .918 save percentage in 10 career playoff games. Daigneau has no postseason experience at Harvard.
“He’s got the proven track record,” Mazzoleni said of Grumet-Morris. “He’s played very well each year down the stretch. He’s risen to the challenge before, and we have to go with that right now.
“The key to winning the [NCAA bid] for our league is going to be who’s hot in goal.”
Grumet-Morris’s finest hour in a Crimson sweater came over five playoff starts as a freshman, during which he posted a 1.70 GAA, .932 save percentage and 4-1 record. Three of the wins came in overtime. Two stand as the longest games in Harvard hockey history.
He followed that up with a 3-2 record, 3.05 GAA, and .903 save percentage during last year’s playoffs.
“It helps to be confident in your netminder, and we have that with him,” captain Kenny Smith said. “His freshman year, he was spectacular in the playoffs. Same thing last year. We know he can do the same thing now.”
Only nine teams have made the last two NCAA tournament fields. The Crimson is one of them. Grumet-Morris expects that experience will benefit both him and his teammates down the stretch.
“We’ve played in the big games,” he said. “Hopefully those lessons will serve us well over the next couple weeks.”
ALL TOGETHER NOW
For the first time in nearly four months, Harvard has a healthy hockey team.
Charlie Johnson, the only player unavailable for last weekend’s North Country trip, should return to the lineup for this weekend’s home series against Vermont and Dartmouth. He has missed five games since sustaining a shoulder injury at Yale on Feb. 6.
At the time of his injury, Johnson was centering the Crimson’s third line, between Dan Murphy and Steve Mandes, and playing what Mazzoleni called his best hockey of the year.
Harvard has since received consistent play from its forwards and skated identical first, second and third lines during the last two weekends, so Johnson will likely break back into the lineup as a fourth-line center. But he said yesterday that he “[doesn’t] plan on being there for long.”
“I plan to get my feet wet again and go from there,” he said.
Johnson has seven goals and two assists this season and is tied for the team lead with four power-play goals. Mazzoleni cautioned that he didn’t want to rush him back, but expects him to be able to contribute again in relatively short order. “He’ll see some ice time,” Mazzoleni said. “He’s a good player.”
Any team with hopes of making a tournament run needs its role players to perform. Fortunately for the Crimson, that’s already started happening.
Fourth-line forwards Kenny Turano, Rob Flynn, and Dan Murphy combined for four points in Saturday’s 3-3 tie at St. Lawrence. Mazzoleni was impressed with that line’s play throughout the weekend and called Saturday’s performance the best his fourth line had played all year.
“It’s a simple job for us,” Turano said. “We try to get it in the zone and grind it out there. Whatever chances we get are a plus.”
Turano generated—and converted—a chance on Saturday night for his first goal of the season, a slapper from the right circle. It came in his fifth game back from a broken ankle sustained in November that almost ended his senior season.
“Getting that first goal was a big jump, confidence wise,” Turano said. “It just feels great to be out there, battling with the team again.”
Senior Blair Barlow, a converted defenseman, centered the fourth line during a 2-1 win at Clarkson on Friday. The simple act of playing forward would’ve been impressive enough for most blueliners—but then Barlow went out and had the best faceoff performance on the team (7-2).
“All my life I’ve played D, so I’ve never taken many draws,” Barlow said. “[Junior center Brendan] Bernakevitch taught me a couple tricks in practice last week so I decided to go out and use them.”
Barlow was expected to play strictly forward this season, but when injuries thinned the defensive corps in December and January, he shifted to the back line. With defensemen David McCulloch and Dylan Reese healthy again, Barlow has returned to forward.
All told, he’s split 19 games between defense, wing, and center. You don’t often see utility men in hockey, but Barlow is unquestionably one of them.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “There’s a different mindset at each position, but if we’re down a couple players, I have no problem hopping back on D, and likewise with the forwards.”
Mazzoleni has yet to determine which of his seven defensemen will sit Friday. Sophomore Tom Walsh was the odd man out for the first game last weekend, and senior McCulloch was a healthy scratch the next night …Saturday’s game against Dartmouth has added significance for Reese. His family and several family friends are coming in from Pittsburgh to watch him play against Big Green defender Grant Lewis—his best friend since they were five years old.
They still talk two or three times per week, but Reese said there’s been “less smack talk” back and forth this week than others. “We’re used to doing it when we’re not playing each other,” Reese said.
Lewis was recently named ECAC Rookie of the Week and is a strong candidate to be named ECAC Rookie of the Year. “He’s having an unbelievable year,” Reese said. “I’m so happy for him.”
—Staff writer Jon Paul Morosi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.