Sophomore Jon Pelle shared the George Percy trophy as Rookie of the Year last season, and he will headline an offense with plenty of fresh faces as Harvard attempts to continue its NCAA tournament streak of four consecutive appearances.
The Harvard men’s hockey team has made the NCAA tournament four years running, but every time, the Crimson has lost to its first-round opponent.
Having lumped that in with the recent graduation of a handful of stars, preseason voters were skeptical this time around, tabbing the Crimson third in the ECAC coaches’ poll and fourth in media balloting.
Not that the skaters pay much attention to the media.
“I look back on the season before, and we lost eight seniors that year as well,” captain Peter Hafner says. “A lot of people were asking the same questions back then as they are now. But with great coaching and a good young team, we’ll have similar results to last year.”
The Crimson jumped out to a 2-1-0 start, with hard-earned wins over Princeton and Dartmouth and a lackluster loss to Quinnipiac.
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Last year’s 21 victories made coach Ted Donato ’91, fresh from the Boston Bruins, the winningest rookie skipper in Harvard history. His chemistry with his assistant coaches—and that group’s chemistry with the players—set up an atmosphere conducive to success.
“I feel like the team responds a lot to [Donato’s coaching staff],” junior defenseman Dylan Reese says. “The guys are having a lot of fun.”
As Donato moves into his second season, the Crimson can finally enjoy some continuity. Sean McCann ’94 and Bruce Irving are now fourth-year assistant coaches, and Bobby Jay is now in his second season, which means Harvard’s 2004-2005 staff remained intact.
“We haven’t had a coaching staff as a whole stay together in any of the three years I’ve been here,” Hafner says. “The continuity is really going to help us this year, and a lot of the guys understand what the coaches want from them.”
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The second-stingiest unit in the nation last year, Harvard’s blueline corps returns four of its six starters in seniors Hafner and Tom Walsh, junior Reese, and sophomore David MacDonald. Gone are Noah Welch ’05 and Ryan Lannon ’05, two stalwarts now in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
Solid on defense, Reese can also find his way to the net, and his offensive flair gives the Crimson a valuable weapon. MacDonald enjoyed a solid freshman season skating alongside Walsh, who says the sophomore “got incredibly stronger over the summer. He’s already thrown a couple of nice hits in practice so far, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him light a few people up.”
Freshmen Brian McCafferty and Jack Christian have started all three games and improved by the minute.
“We’re going to have to wait and see how the rest plays out,” Hafner says, “but we’re going to have a really solid ‘D’.”
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How do you replace a Hobey Baker finalist?
That is the question that goaltenders John Daigneau and Justin Tobe have to answer in the wake of the graduation of Dov Grumet-Morris ’05.
With his Harvard-record six shutouts and a 1.63 goals-against average, Grumet-Morris was the Crimson’s MVP last season. Though Tobe started three games and Daigneau played in two, Grumet-Morris accounted for almost 90 percent of the Crimson’s total time in net. Now, the team hopes that a friendly competition between the former backups will inspire both.
“[This is] a good situation, because no one’s getting complacent,” Walsh says. “[Both Daigneau and Tobe] know that one bad practice [or] a tough game, and maybe that means the other guy is going to get some more playing time. So they’re both going to be on top of their games the whole time.”
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When Donato took the reins at Harvard, many speculated he would pursue a “Billy Cleary offense,” focusing on speed and agility, and this year’s team is indeed fast.
In the season opener against Dartmouth, the Crimson’s forecheck got stronger as time wore on and footraces continually fell in Harvard’s favor.
A slew of freshmen—including Jimmy Fraser of the U. S. National Program Development Team and Nick Coskren from St. Sebastian’s—are already adjusting, and Reese says they’re transitioning well.
Seniors Charlie Johnson and Dan Murphy have the most experience, but the juniors and sophomores will be significant factors as well. Third-year skaters Ryan Maki and Kevin Du scored some of the Crimson’s most significant goals last year, and though sophomore Jon Pelle stole the show last year, it’s another sophomore who has his teammates talking.
“[Mike Taylor] had a little tough luck putting the puck home [last year],” Walsh says. “I think he led the team in posts and crossbars. But he’s come back and he’s looked a lot stronger, too, and I think he’s ready to have a breakout year.”
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.