There’s something to be said about a conference of well-matched opponents. After all, it makes competition that much more exciting for the players and nail-biting for the fans.
But with five draws in its last seven ECAC contests, Harvard men’s hockey is looking to break free from the pack with outright wins in a pair of conference matchups this weekend.
The Crimson (4-6-8, 3-4-6) will take on Yale (8-9-2, 5-6-1) Friday evening at Bright Hockey Center and then follow up with another home match against Brown (8-8-3, 5-5-2) on Saturday.
All three teams are members of the ECAC, a conference in which third through 10th place are currently separated by only three points. With the Bulldogs and the Bears both travelling to face Dartmouth as well, this weekend is guaranteed to be critical in shaking up conference standings.
To add to the excitement, Harvard’s Friday night game against Yale is being televised on NBC Sports Network.
“I think it will be a cool experience to play on TV because it’s something that most people haven’t done before,” freshman goaltender Steve Michalek said. “But it won’t affect the way we play.”
Although struggling just below the .500 mark in conference play, Harvard is coming off a weekend that included two overtime ties against nationally-ranked opponents.
The Crimson saw its one-goal lead slip away versus then-No. 18 Colgate last Friday, resulting in a 2-2 draw, but then came back from a 2-1 deficit of its own to tie No. 9 Cornell the following evening.
Junior forward Marshall Everson stepped up in the matches, netting a power-play score and assisting on senior Alex Killorn’s game-tying goal against the Big Red.
Both Everson and Killorn, the team’s point leader, along with other Harvard offensive contributors, including juniors Danny Biega and Alex Fallstrom, will need to take advantage of scoring opportunities against Yale’s junior goaltender Jeff Malcolm, who boasts a .913 save percentage and has manned the net in all eight of the team’s wins this season.
But although the Bulldogs also possess the country’s sixth-best penalty kill at 87.5 percent, the Crimson owns the country’s No. 1 power play at 33 percent. In fact, Harvard has scored 30 of its 54 goals in man-up situations, failing to record a power-play score in only one matchup this season.
Meanwhile, Brown has been able to convert on barely 15 percent of its man-up opportunities. Despite those scoring struggles, the Bears are tied with the Crimson for sixth place in the ECAC thanks to earlier wins over Cornell and Union.
This weekend’s matchup between Brown and Harvard will be the 159th meeting in a series that dates back to 1898, making it the oldest rivalry in collegiate hockey.
This year the teams are battling to break out of the stagnant ECAC standings, and although one would think that being at Bright Hockey Center may give an edge to the Crimson, the road team has won each of the last eight games between the two squads.
Harvard’s defense will have to contend with the Bears’ points leader, captain Jack Maclellan. The senior forward is responsible for nearly a fifth of the team’s goals and was recently named a Hobey Baker Award candidate for the second time.
Fortunately for the Crimson, Michalek has posted impressive performances, and he has proven himself as an anchor for the Harvard defense despite being new to collegiate play.
This weekend will be a test for the Crimson to see if they can put together the rookie’s skills in net and the veterans’ play up front to come out with the team’s first win in nearly seven weeks.
“I think we’re all pretty optimistic about this weekend.” Michalek said. “We played a couple of games against good teams last weekend, and we’re looking to carry that momentum into this one.”
—Staff writer Madeleine Smith can be reached at email@example.com.