Where to start with the 2011-12 Harvard men’s hockey team? The Crimson set an NCAA record with 11 ties, skated at Fenway Park, the TD Garden, and Atlantic City, made it all the way to the ECAC Championship game, and—at one point in the season—had the most effective power play ever.
But perhaps it’s best to begin where everything got started for Harvard (13-10-11, 8-5-9 ECAC): with first-team All-Americans senior attacker Alex Killorn and junior defenseman Danny Biega.
“They elevated their game at the end of the season and were absolutely sensational,” Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 says.
Killorn, who was third nationally with 0.68 goals per game, and Biega, who was second nationally among defensemen with 1.06 points per game, were the first All-Americans to play at Harvard since Noah Welch ’05 made the first team and Dov Grummet Morris ’05 made the second team, both in 2005.
Killorn is currently making strides towards a professional career with the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Biega was recently named the 120th Crimson captain for next season.
“[Killorn] had a tremendous year, going from being a very good player to a guy who night in, night out was a threat,” Donato says. “With Biega coming back to lead the defense, there’s a lot of optimism and a lot of excitement.”
But the story of Harvard’s season goes well beyond the two Quebecois. With sophomore goalie Raphael Girard starting in goal for the last month of the season, Harvard finally found its stride, going 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. Thanks to the late charge, the Crimson earned a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs, home ice in the quarterfinals, and advanced to the conference championship against eventual national runner-up, Union.
“I think it was great to get back to the championship game,” says Donato, who until this season had not reached the title game since 2008. “It was a group that was resilient and hadn’t experienced a ton of success over the last couple years, but we set our sights on trying to get home ice and ended up making a run of it.”
2011-12 marked the first winning season since 2007-08 for a program that boasts 12 Frozen Four Appearances and 21 Ivy League titles in its illustrious history. Despite the strong finish, the Crimson extended an unfortunate streak during the regular season, failing to win the Beanpot for the 19th year in a row.
But Harvard did manage a couple key late-season victories over traditional Ancient Eight opponents.
“That taste that we left in our mouths of having some success and beating a couple very good Yale and Cornell teams, two of our big rivals—that taste of success is one that I think our guys recognize and are hungry to improve upon this upcoming season,” Donato says.
The Crimson bested the Big Red in the semifinals, 6-1, after beating the Bulldogs in a three-game ECAC quarterfinal series, which saw two games go to overtime. Harvard went to extra time in 14 of 34 games over the season and tied an NCAA record 11 times.
“There is certainly a mixed bag of feelings with ties,” Donato says. “We had a good many of them on the road, and getting points on the road is very important with securing home ice in the playoffs. So I think you can look at it [as], ‘Ah geez, we were that close to winning some of those games and having a more impressive record.’”
“But on the other side,” Donato continues, “you had an incredibly resilient group that defensively played in an intense environment and rose to the occasion. It built poise under fire for the group that really paid off at the end of the season.”
The challenge will be carrying that resiliency over to next season. Harvard has made a habit of starting slowly. The Crimson went 5-6-8 to start the 2011-12 season and 3-15 the year before. With nine of its top 11 scorers and Girard and freshman keeper Steve Michalek returning, the Crimson has reason for optimism going into next season.
“At the end of the season we established a new identity as a team and really finished off the year on a positive note,” Biega says. “It’s important to continue on that path and build off of it next year. This is a building block for the future of Harvard hockey.”
—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.