Entering the 2011-12 season, expectations couldn’t have been much lower for the Harvard men’s hockey team.
Picked to finish seventh in the ECAC in one preseason poll and 12th in another, the team rode an NCAA-record 11 ties to a top-four seed in the conference playoffs. And from there, the Crimson continued to prove the prognosticators wrong with an improbable late-season run that landed the team one victory short of an ECAC championship.
Accordingly, expectations are a bit higher for the 2012-13 squad that is eyeing the program’s first ECAC title since 2006.
Pegged to finish third by both major preseason conference polls and ranked No. 17 in the nation, Harvard returns a stacked senior class and brings in a new crop of rookies that many consider the best in the conference.
“I think top to bottom we have the strongest roster since we’ve been here,” senior forward Marshall Everson says.
Everson plays a key role in an offensive attack that last year scored 3.12 goals per game—14th best in the nation—and boasted the best power play in Division I hockey.
But much of that spark a season ago came from forward Alex Killorn ’12, who led the team with 23 goals and 46 points. Killorn’s graduation leaves a hole on the attack that may prove tough to fill.
“It’s very difficult to replace a first-team All-American and a player of Alex’s stature,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 says. “He had a great season.”
Despite Killorn’s loss, Donato is confident in the depth of his team, which returns key offensive weapons from a season ago like Everson and senior forward Alex Fallstrom, who combined for 58 points last year.
But perhaps the team’s top threat is captain and defenseman Danny Biega. A first-team All-American as a junior, Biega tallied 35 points in 34 games last season, and his 1.03 points per game were second best in the nation among blueliners.
“[Biega has] been an impact player all three previous years, and I don’t think it’s going to be any different this year,” Fallstrom says. “He’s come back stronger, faster, and better. He’s looked great this preseason, and I think he’s going to have a great season, both offensively and defensively.”
Biega, also named the top defensive defenseman in the conference a season ago, leads a Crimson backline that allowed 2.79 goals per game last year, seventh in the 12-team ECAC. But with the return of players like junior Dan Ford and sophomore Pat McNally, Biega is optimistic.
“I think the defense is actually our strongest position on the team,” the captain says. “We have many returners coming back, and the guys have really matured throughout their time here, so I think that’s actually going to help our team a lot.”
Anchoring the defensive line are a duo of goaltenders who split time a season ago, junior Raphael Girard and sophomore Steve Michalek. Though Girard had the statistically better season, allowing over a goal per game less than his counterpart and playing a critical role in Harvard’s late-season run, Donato plans to stick with a platoon system that he has employed in years past, at least in the early going.
The goalies along with the rest of the Crimson squad will be tested early in the season. Following the season opener at home against Bentley on Oct. 27, Harvard begins a stretch of six consecutive league contests, including a Nov. 16 rivalry matchup at No. 7 Cornell, picked in both preseason polls to finish second in the conference.