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.