M. Hockey Looks To Keep Up Pace

The No. 10 Harvard men’s hockey team earned its 3-0 post-exam start over a trio of squads—Princeton, Yale and Union—that were underwhelming, to say the least. Tonight, however, the Crimson (13-5-2, 10-4-1 ECAC) will face its stiffest competition in a month in Dartmouth, a team that surged through January and is now nearing the top--- 15.

The Big Green (11-8-2, 8-6-0) has won seven of its last nine, notching 44 goals in those victories and resurrecting a season riddled with disappointing early losses, including those to Quinnipiac, Princeton and Clarkson.

And for Harvard, tonight’s contest might prove crucial. Currently third in the ECAC standings, the Crimson is just two points behind No. 6 Cornell and only one behind No. 11 Colgate.

The Big Red and the Raiders play a home-and-home series this weekend, so a sweep by either team—coupled with a Harvard loss—would substantially broaden the gap with less than a month of the regular season remaining.

“I think it’s big for a few reasons,” Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 said of tonight’s tangle at the Bright Hockey Center.

“One, they’re a very good team and they’re playing really well, and from an Ivy League perspective, it’s a very important game.

Donato called the matchup—Harvard’s first crack at the Big Green, the last ECAC team the Crimson has not yet faced—a “huge contest.”

The Crimson offense may be clicking, with 20 goals in the last week, but Dartmouth has been riding a similar wave, collecting wins over the Raiders, No. 7 New Hampshire and two over Vermont in the last five weeks.

The Big Green began its season with a 4-6-2 record and just 23 goals, less than two per game.

“They struggled early on,” Donato said, “but I don’t think that anybody believed that the tough times would last very long. They’re really hitting on all cylinders, so it’s a great test for us.”

It will be Harvard’s first true test since exam break, and the Crimson is well aware of what it is about to face.

“I’ve heard they’re a really good team,” said captain Noah Welch, adding that “they’ve had a lot of offense despite [Dartmouth forward Hugh Jessiman] being out.”

Welch was referring to the early-November, season-ending injury to the Big Green’s star, a blow that could—with all the attention it received—have shattered Dartmouth’s collective confidence altogether.

But, said Welch, “we watched some tape today, and they look good. We’re going to have our hands full.”

Harvard has resumed play after an extended layoff fresh and confident, the first time the team has been either after a break in recent years.

Even this season, the Crimson struggled after two scheduling gaps: following 11 competition-less days in mid-December, a sickly Crimson squad mustered just a tie and a loss in Minnesota’s Mariucci Classic, and, after the Christmas break, Harvard suffered a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Colgate.

Now, with three quick victories, the Crimson has finally found a post-break groove, only now to put it on the line tonight against Dartmouth.

“We’ve been playing well,” Welch said. “If we worry about our game, I think we’ll be fine.

“That being said,” he added, “it’s kind of tough to play the same way every night. If we don’t come to play [tonight], we should have our hands full.”

The Crimson has employed the same lines since it topped Cornell just before the exam break, the lone exception coming with the loss of junior forward Dan Murphy to an undisclosed shoulder injury.

Murphy, a key component of Harvard’s hard-nosed fourth line all season long, has since been replaced by Dave Watters. The freshman has made the most of his three post-break opportunities, garnering five points. while the line has managed 12 overall.

“It’s going to be a game-time decision,” Donato said of Murphy’s status. “It’s been a situation where there’s nothing you can do but wait.”

Meanwhile, Murphy is missing out on what is arguably the most complete Crimson stretch of the season—three wins by a 20-4 margin, three unforgiving games between the pipes by a pair of Harvard goaltenders, and three strong defensive skating efforts.

Unfortunately for the home team, Dartmouth is on a similar tear.

The Big Red boasts four players with 19 points or more, but, perhaps more importantly, the squad is, much like the Crimson, infrequently penalized. Dartmouth averages 16.1 minutes in the sin bin per game, and thus for Harvard—a team that has gone through prolonged periods this season relying greatly on its power-play production—the battle is one to be won at full strength.

“By no means,” said Donato emphatically, “are we going to overlook them.”

NOTES: Noah Welch is now in sole possession of second place on the Crimson’s all-time penalty list with 115. The record, 124, is held by current assistant coach Sean McCann ’94...Watters earned ECAC Rookie of the Week honors for his five-point effort...The Big Green game will be Harvard’s last before Monday night’s semifinal round of the Beanpot Tournament against Northeastern, held at the FleetCenter.

—Staff writer Rebecca A. Seesel can be reached at seesel@fas.harvard.edu.