After a busy best-of-three series last weekend in which it outlasted St. Lawrence, the No. 4-seeded Crimson faces off against top-seeded Dartmouth at 4:30 this afternoon in Pepsi Arena. The St. Patrick’s Day showdown will determine which team will play for the ECAC championship.
“It was obviously a real tough weekend last weekend,” senior Tom Walsh said. “Our only goal was to get to Albany, and we’re here, so we’re real excited about it.”
The road to this point certainly wasn’t easy. After a 5-1 loss to the Saints last Friday night, Harvard was forced to play catch-up all weekend. The Crimson evened the series on Saturday with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory, which sophomore Dave Watters sealed with less than three minutes remaining. Harvard finished off St. Lawrence on Sunday in an 8-4 thrashing, led by a hat trick from senior Dan Murphy.
This afternoon, the Crimson will face a Big Green squad which has won seven of its last eight games, including five straight. Last weekend, Dartmouth swept past Yale in the quarterfinals.
Coach Ted Donato ’91 knows the test that lies ahead.
“It’s a great challenge for us—they’re the ECAC regular season champions,” he noted. “They’re a team that struggled early on in the season but has played as well as anybody else in the country over the last 12 games.”
Harvard also brings an impressive track record to Albany. Winners of five of the last six, the Crimson is ranked No. 12 in the country, just ahead of No. 15 Dartmouth.
What Harvard hopes to avoid, though, is the lackluster effort that they brought to the rink on Friday night in the loss to St. Lawrence. This time around, as the tournament format shifts to single elimination, there won’t be an entire weekend to right wrongs.
“We just didn’t come out and play well [on Friday night],” Walsh said, adding, “they just wanted it more that game, but luckily we had the whole series to get it back.”
But this time, “if we lose the first game [this weekend], we’re in the consolation game, so that’s certainly not something we want to do,” Walsh said. “But I think we’ll be ready for the drop of the puck [against Dartmouth].”
The Crimson split the season series with the Big Green, with each team winning on its home ice in dominating fashion. Harvard took the first game, 6-2, in both teams’ first regular season matchup of the season, while Dartmouth captured the most recent contest, 5-1. The teams haven’t faced off against each other since mid-December.
“That second game we didn’t play too well, and they took it to us,” Walsh said. “We know they’re a really good team, but we think that if we play well, then we have a shot.”
The winner of Friday’s Harvard-Dartmouth contest will go on to play the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Colgate and Cornell, the second and third seeds, respectively. The ECAC championship round will be played tomorrow.
In recent years, the Crimson has made four consecutive appearances in the championship game, winning in 2002 and 2004. Harvard is 15-11 all-time in the semifinals and has captured the tournament championship seven times.
But first, the Crimson focus is on Dartmouth because, as Donato notes, “There are no second chances” in this tournament. “It’s one and out.”
While the team is thrilled to make it to Albany, the goal there is clear.
“It’s a great sense of accomplishment to get to this point,” Donato adds. “But we’d like to hold the trophy over our heads on Saturday night to really feel good about it.”