After a 5-0 rout of first-time opponent Bentley last Saturday, the stakes are a little higher for the Crimson this week as it prepares to host two of its oldest rivals.
No. 13 Harvard (1-0-0) will kick off ECAC conference play Friday evening against Brown before facing off against Yale on Saturday. The home games at the Bright Hockey Center will add new chapters to hockey rivalries that date back to 1898 and 1900, respectively.
“I think that [for] any of these old rivalry games, the kids really get excited,” Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 said.
The Bears (1-1-0) were ranked dead last out of the twelve conference teams in both the ECAC coaches’ and media preseason polls this year, but Donato is not one to underestimate a team that defeated Princeton, 2-1, last Friday and gave Harvard trouble in a preseason scrimmage two weeks ago.
“[Brown has] great team speed up front. They’re off to a good start,” Donato said. “They were excellent [in the scrimmage].”
“It’s going to be a tougher challenge,” junior goaltender Raphael Girard added. “[Brown] played well over our expectations.”
On Friday evening, Girard will be wary of Bear defender and Toronto Maple Leafs sixth-round draft pick Dennis Robertson. Forward Massimo Lamacchia will also challenge the Crimson’s defense.
“[Robertson] has a pretty good shot,” Girard said. “He’s not playing like [Harvard captain] Danny Biega, but [he] could score like Danny Biega. He’s got just as good of a shot, so he’s one to look out for.”
Harvard went 1-0-1 against the Bears during the 2011-12 season. Last year, the Crimson was in a position similar to Brown’s as the ECAC’s lowest-ranked team in the preseason poll. After a surprising season that included a run to the ECAC tournament finals, Harvard polled third in this year’s preseason rankings behind Union and Cornell.
Saturday evening’s meeting with Yale (1-0-1) represents a rematch of last year’s ECAC quarterfinal series in which the Crimson rallied from a first-game deficit to defeat the Bulldogs in three games. Yale polled fifth in the ECAC preseason rankings and will look to crack the national rankings with a win over Harvard. Last weekend, the Bulldogs tied Dartmouth, 2-2, before defeating Princeton, 3-2.
“Yale is a high-tempo, skilled team. They can be very dangerous offensively,” Donato said. “Last year, I think they were a little bit up-and-down but a very dangerous team at the end. [In the ECAC playoffs], we were able to take advantage of the fact that we were at home and that we got it to Game 3 and that they had played the weekend before.”
Yale must contend with the departure of All-American defenseman Brian O’Neill, but the Bulldogs still possess plenty of firepower on offense. Senior forward Andrew Miller led Ivy League skaters in assists last season, and classmate Antoine Laganiere also presents a potent scoring threat.
This season, the Crimson has been bolstered by the addition of the ECAC’s top-rated freshman class. Freshman forward and Nashville Predators third-round draft pick Jimmy Vesey had two goals and an assist in his collegiate debut Saturday.
“The freshmen impress me very much,” Girard said. “This year we’ve got a lot more depth than we’ve had in previous years.”
In the crease versus Bentley, Girard picked up right where he had left off from last year’s breakout season, turning away 31 shots to post the first shutout of his collegiate career. Donato hopes that Harvard’s skaters will provide a little more net support this weekend.