This season marked the 20th anniversary of the Harvard men’s hockey team’s last NCAA title.
To celebrate the occasion, the 1989 championship team—which included tournament MVP and current head coach Ted Donato ’91—reunited at the Bright Hockey Center.
But the very same night that the NCAA team was honored, Harvard suffered a 6-2 loss to Yale, yet another humiliation in the midst of a 13-game winless streak.
The contrast was all too apparent.
And now, when all is said and done, the Crimson will not be a part of the NCAA tournament pool for the third consecutive year.
It almost comes as a shock.
After all, Harvard had a Cinderella season and looked like a dark horse candidate for the ECAC title.
Although the Crimson seemed doomed after a double-digit slump through the winter months, the squad nearly upset No. 1 Boston University and then-No. 15 Boston College in the Beanpot tournament, pushing each rival to the brink until giving up a one-point game in the final minutes.
After that, Harvard made a huge comeback, picking off league-leaders such as No. 6 Princeton and second-place Cornell on its way to a six-game unbeaten streak.
But the Crimson’s dramatic comeback was cut short last weekend when it yielded two losses to bottom-feeder Brown in the first round of the ECAC tournament.
Instead of making headlines as the comeback kids, the Crimson made the kind of history no team ever wants to make. Giving up back-to-back shutouts against an American collegiate team for the first time ever is hardly the way the 2009 squad would like to be remembered.
So what happened that caused the Crimson to choke in the ECAC tournament?
Unfortunately, this storyline has become all too familiar.
Last season unraveled in an uncannily similar way. After showing some initial promise, Harvard spiraled into a 10-game losing streak that was finally snapped with a 3-1 win over Dartmouth.
A few games later, the Crimson advanced to the championship round of the Beanpot for the first time in a decade and pressed eventual NCAA champion Boston College to overtime before surrendering a 6-5 loss.
From then on, Harvard continued on a hot streak that carried it to the ECAC championship game.
But once again, the Crimson choked, falling in a 4-1 loss against Princeton.
And the season before that, as I entered into the tradition of Harvard hockey reporting, I watched the Crimson fight its way to the quarterfinals, dazzling me as I gained my education in Harvard hockey.
But yet again, the squad gave it all up in the ECAC tournament, handing victory to Clarkson.
Back then, the turn of events in the ECAC tournament still came as a surprise for the 06-07 seniors, who had had two ECAC championship titles and three NCAA tournament appearances under their belts.
But now, as this year’s seniors—the last class who has advanced to the NCAA series—approaches commencement, the Crimson’s failure in the ECAC run-off is nothing new, and is perhaps even expected.
What happened to the fabled Harvard hockey teams of old? The teams who danced across the ice to secure eight ECAC championship titles, 13 ECAC regular-season championships and 21 NCAA championship appearances? Is this all that’s left of the legacy that had inspired me to cover ice hockey in the first place?
I’m not sure if I have the answers to those questions. But I hope Donato finds them fast.
The class of 2010 has one more season to make the NCAAs. If the Crimson fails to reach the tournament then, the rising seniors will be the first class to graduate without an NCAA appearance in 12 years.
That means assistant captain Alex Biega, who not only anchors Harvard’s defensive line but also leads the Crimson in assists, and junior Doug Rogers, who is the Crimson’s offensive powerhouse with eight goals and has the leading faceoffs average on the current roster, will have never seen time in the NCAAs. Biega and Rogers—the two players who lead the Crimson in points both this season and in career stats—have a combined 137 points with one more season to go. Maybe it’s just me, but those stats seem to merit tournament time.
For some reason, they have yet to hit the big payoff.
But there’s still another chance.
We’ve got one year left, boys.
Let’s make it count.
—Staff writer Courtney D. Skinner can be reached at email@example.com.