JONNIE ON THE SPOT: Seniors Try To Handle Heartbreak

Most of them spent last week in South Florida.

Tim Pettit was in Cancun. He liked it.

Rob Fried stayed in Cambridge and, since he doesn’t know how to relax, got ready to join the lacrosse team.

Kenny Smith was on his way to the airport (and Sunshine State) when a phone call from his agent changed his course for Toronto and an amateur tryout with the Edmonton Oilers organization.

The Harvard Hockey Class of 2004 scattered after its season ended two Fridays ago.

Their travels and thoughts took them far, far away from Albany, N.Y., site of their nightmarish 5-4 loss to Maine in the NCAA East Regional.

The Crimson led that game, 4-1, early in the third period. It was the biggest, latest lead Harvard had in the NCAA tournament in a decade. These guys were going to upset the nation’s top-ranked team, shock College Hockey Nation and absolutely, without a doubt, win the next night to play in the Frozen Four—in Boston, no less.

“For the first time in my career, I truly believed we had a Frozen Four-caliber team,” Fried said.

At that moment, it couldn’t get any better.

Then, it got hauntingly worse.

The Black Bears scored four unanswered goals to win. Harvard fans lurched forward with each goal, mouths agape, as if they’d all been socked in the gut. By the middle of the third period, it was clear Maine wouldn’t be stopped. The only question was whether the Black Bears would win, or simply run out of time.

Greg Moore scored to give Maine its first lead of the game with 4:10 left. And, after the Crimson made a futile attempt to change its mindset from timidly defensive to desperately offensive, it was over.

When the horn sounded, all that Harvard’s seniors could do was hug and cry. For the eight of them who lived and ate and slept and watched TV and studied together for four years, that was it.

No more games together. No more North Country road trips. No more Mark Mazzoleni-authentic mixed metaphors. No more kangaroo court sessions.

And, one week later, it’s that feeling of loss—rather than the loss itself—that seems to pain Harvard’s seniors the most. And, at the same time, make them feel a little better.

Fried described this year’s team as “hands down the best group of guys I have ever played with.”

“Outcomes aside, what a wonderful team we had,” he marveled. “I will never forget the stories and antics on and off the ice.”

“The guys that have come through that locker room in my time are some of the best friends and teammates I have ever had,” Smith said. “I will maintain many of those relationships the rest of my life.”

Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that the loss still hurts. It was an awful, awful defeat, the kind of game that gives you night sweats 30 and 40 years after the fact.

Smith said he “tried very hard” to keep the Maine game out of his mind last week. But, he admitted, “everybody I see wants to talk about it.”

“It doesn’t feel any better having had a week pass,” he said this weekend. “We are all less emotional about it now, but those types of defeats never feel right for competitive athletes.

“It was a very tough way to end our season and the seniors’ careers.”

What more can you say about it than that? It happened, you know? Four goals in 12 minutes.

Yes, it was a missed opportunity to take Harvard hockey to a higher level. Yes, it was a kick in the pants. Yes, they really blew it.

In the end, though, there will be little mention of Maine and Greg Moore and the 2004 NCAA East Regional when 41-year-old Kenny Smith picks up the phone to see how his man Timmy Pettit, that high-rolling Seattle businessman, is doing these days.

Instead, they’ll talk about the stuff none of us will ever know about. The stuff they went through together, from their first day on campus, to their two ECAC titles, to their last loss, to The Walk they take June 10.

“We will be making fun of each other for years to come,” Fried predicted. “Personally, every time I drink salt water or have my shorts pulled down in public, I’ll think of these guys. They’re a special group.”

Of course, that’s not to dismiss the seniors’ on-ice accomplishments: a 71-55-11 record, 16 ECAC tournament victories, three straight NCAA tournament appearances (longest streak since the ’80s), and two ECAC titles (first for a Harvard senior class).

They played some great, classic college hockey games. Tyler Kolarik winning the 2002 ECAC final against Cornell, the longest game in school history. Smith scoring with 38 seconds left to win this year’s ECAC crown. The six-goal comeback at The Whale in February that began the thrilling second-half run.

Turnabout came just over one week ago, with a comeback of equally epic proportions that saw Harvard on the sad, shell-shocked side. And it really, really hurt.

From Cancun to Cambridge to Key West, last week was spent trying to forget about it.

As for the rest of their four years? They’ll be remembered fondly. For a lifetime.

—Staff writer Jon Paul Morosi can be reached at