Two weeks ago, news broke that a second installment of the Rivalry On Ice will take place between the Harvard and Yale men’s hockey teams in 2015. However, the rivalry is set to renew itself even sooner.
After picking up two points during the season’s final weekend, the Crimson (10-15-4, 6-12-4 ECAC) received the 11th seed in the conference tournament, earning itself a trip to New Haven to take on the sixth-seeded Bulldogs (15-9-5, 10-8-4) this weekend.
“We’ve played Yale three times, so we pretty much know what we’re going to get,” sophomore defenseman Patrick McNally said. “They like to play it fast, they like to play offensively, [and] they like to get their [defense] up in the rush. We’ve got to be ready for all of that.”
Harvard will have its work cut out for it against the defending national champions. Ranked No. 15/16 in the nation, the Bulldogs are currently on the bubble for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, likely needing to make a postseason run to secure a spot in the field for the fifth time in the last six years.
On the other hand, there is only one way the Crimson can expect to hear its name called on Selection Sunday—by winning the ECAC tournament. That quest will begin Friday night at Ingalls Rink in the opening game of a best-of-three series.
“We’re expecting it to be a hostile environment,” sophomore forward Kyle Criscuolo said. “We know they’re going to come out firing, especially trying to defend the national championship last year. They obviously don’t want to go out in the first round.”
These Ivy League rivals have certainly seen plenty of each other this season, as the two sides have met three times. In their most recent tilt in February, Yale mustered three power-play goals against Harvard’s then league-best penalty kill unit en route to a 5-2 victory. The Bulldogs also bested the Crimson in the inaugural Rivalry on Ice matchup, 5-1, on January 11.
Harvard’s best performance against Yale came back in December. The Crimson appeared poised to knock off the defending champions after goals from freshman forwards Alexander Kerfoot and Luke Esposito put Harvard up by two heading into the third period. However, the Bulldogs stormed back with two tallies of their own in the final frame to earn a 2-2 tie.
“We tied them at their place, so we know we can play with them,” McNally said. “Obviously the results we got two weekends ago and at Madison Square Garden weren’t what we wanted, but we knew that they weren’t anything special or anything we [couldn’t] handle. We’ve just got to go in and play our game and hope for the best result.”
If the Crimson hopes to advance past the first round, it will need to find a way to break Yale goaltender Alex Lyon. The freshman has recorded 77 saves and allowed just one even-strength goal against Harvard this season.
On the other end of the ice, the Crimson will have to be wary of the Bulldogs’ senior duo of Jesse Root and Kenny Agostino, which has combined for 59 points this year.
This will be the second time in three years that the Crimson has played Yale in the postseason, as the two sides met in the 2011-2012 quarterfinals. Harvard dropped the first game but won the next two, including a double overtime thriller in game two, in which now-senior captain Dan Ford netted the game-winner.
The Crimson fell just shy of receiving an NCAA tournament berth that year, falling to Union in the ECAC championship game. The team last reached the national tournament in 2006 in Harvard coach Ted Donato’s ’91 second season at the helm.
Now, coming off strong performances against two ranked teams last weekend, the Crimson will look to carry its momentum into the playoffs and end its eight-year tournament drought. Harvard has won eight out of nine postseason contests against the Bulldogs, but the team still has a difficult task ahead.
“We’ve been trying to play our best hockey come this time of year,” Criscuolo said. “Yale’s obviously a great opponent, but it’s also a rivalry for us, so we’re going to go into it taking one game at a time. [We want to] keep playing like we’ve been playing as of late and hopefully ride it out.”
—Staff writer Jake T. Meagher can be reached at email@example.com.