Riding a four-game decision streak into last weekend the Harvard men’s ice hockey team had hopes of earning home-ice advantage in the first round of the ECAC conference tournament.
But after dropping two critical matchups last Friday and Saturday, those dreams have all but disappeared. With a road playoff matchup on the horizon, the Crimson (9-14-4, 5-11-4 ECAC) will use its last weekend of the regular season to prepare for the tournament against some of the league’s top competition.
“We’re excited to play a couple of big road games,” said captain and defenseman Dan Ford. “[In] these games at the end of the year, teams are all fighting for spots.”
Harvard will venture to New York this weekend for its final two games before postseason play begins. On Friday, the Crimson takes on No. 17 Colgate (16-11-5, 12-5-3), which stands in second place and has already secured a bye in the first round of the ECAC postseason tournament. On Saturday, Harvard will travel to Ithaca to cap off its regular season campaign against No. 12 Cornell (14-7-5, 10-6-4).
The Raiders emerged victorious at Harvard, 4-2, in January. Despite the Crimson’s efforts to crawl back from a 3-0 first period deficit with two power play goals from sophomore forward Kyle Criscuolo, Colgate was able to stave off the comeback attempt, and earn the win. Colgate has been on a hot streak as of late, recording three victories and two ties in its last five games. In Ithaca, the Big Red will have more to play for than the Raiders, as the team holds a slim two-point cushion over No. 21 Yale. The Crimson fell at the hands of Cornell in Cambridge earlier this season, 3-2.
In that earlier matchup, after Harvard fought back to tie the game at two goals apiece late in the second period, a score from the Big Red’s Dustin Mowrey with 20 seconds remaining in the second frame proved too much for the Crimson to overcome.
“[Cornell’s arena is] usually one of the best atmospheres in college hockey,” junior defenseman Max Everson said. “If you can get a couple of goals and get a lead, it’s fun...because you can feel the frustration through the crowd.”
Cornell is currently riding a two-game win streak, including a convincing win at Princeton that allowed the team to officially clinch the Ivy League title. The Big Red also took down No. 6 Quinnipiac on the road, propelling itself into fourth in the conference standings.
The Big Red boasts one of the best goaltenders in the conference in senior Andy Iles. The fourth-year star ranks third in the conference with a 2.26 goals against average. In the past two years, Iles has missed only one start.
Harvard’s own goalies have performed just as well on the season in everything but the win column. Both senior Raphael Girard and sophomore Steve Michalek have save percentages of .922 on the year, tied for third in the conference. With the Crimson’s output of goals per game ranking second to last in the conference, the goalies have been crucial in each of the team’s wins.
“It’s healthy competition,” Everson said. “[Both of them] want to push each other in practice. They each want to be the best they can, and it shows up in games.”
With the season coming to a close, Harvard has one weekend before elimination play begins. After a tough pair of losses last weekend, the Crimson hopes to regain the form it displayed earlier in February by the start of the postseason.
“These games this weekend are a good opportunity [to see] what winning on the road and what playoff-type games will be like,” Ford said. “We want to have a good weekend and build off that as we move into March.”
—Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.