The status of junior goaltender Merrick Madsen, shown between the pipes against Union at Messa Rink last month, is very much in question for tonight's rematch with the ECAC frontrunners.
The No. 4/5 Harvard men’s hockey team currently ranks third in the ECAC with only five conference games remaining on its schedule. Luckily for the Crimson, both frontrunners have to pay a visit to Cambridge by month’s end.
Of the league’s two top dogs, No. 6 Union (19-7-2, 12-3-1 ECAC) will be the first to drop by the Bright-Landry Hockey Center. Tonight, just three days ahead of the highly anticipated Beanpot championship game, the Crimson (16-5-2, 11-4-2) will play host to the Dutchmen with the top spot in the conference up for grabs.
“They’re having a heck of a season,” senior Luke Esposito said. “That’s a good test for us.”
Ranked sixth in the polls and seventh in the PairWise (two spots behind Harvard), Union enters Friday tied for first in the ECAC with No. 18 St. Lawrence and a point ahead of the Crimson—with a game in hand over both sides. Therefore, a win for the Dutchmen could all but eliminate Harvard from the race for the Cleary Cup, given to the team that finishes the regular season in first place within the ECAC.
Co-captain Alexander Kerfoot, shown in action last season against RPI, will lead the Crimson onto the ice against the Engineers tonight at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center.
After a four-week recess, college hockey’s winter intermission is finally over. Tonight, the second half of the season gets underway as the Harvard men’s hockey team takes on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center (7 p.m.).
LOOKING BACK AT THE FIRST HALF
Already having exceeded some early expectations, the Crimson (8-2-1, 4-1-1 ECAC) currently ranks fourth in both the PairWise rankings and the national polls. Harvard’s offense has been a powerful force, averaging one goal more than it did a year ago when Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey was leading the charge. Generating 4.45 goals per game, the Crimson is third in the country in scoring and second in goal differential per game.
Meanwhile, six different Harvard skaters head into the second half averaging at least a point a game. Only Ohio State, who ranks second in the country in scoring, has more. Co-captain Alexander Kerfoot, freshman defenseman Adam Fox, and senior forward Tyler Moy in particular all rank among the top 15 in the nation in points per game.
All three also feature heavily on the Crimson power play unit, which has converted at a nation-best rate of 30.6 percent. Since a disappointing 2-for-17 showing on the man advantage over its first four league games, Harvard remarkably has netted at least two power play goals in four of its last five contests.
The Harvard men’s basketball team will play its final game of 2016 when it hosts Howard on Friday evening at Lavietes Pavilion (7:00 PM, Ivy League Digital Network). Harvard (5-4) has won its last four contests while the Bison (3-10) has dropped its last two. The Crimson made a trip to Washington, D.C. last season over Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend to take on Howard at historic Burr Gymnasium and visit the MLK Memorial. Harvard took last season’s matchup, 69-61. Men’s basketball beat writer Stephen Gleason highlights three things to watch in Friday’s contest.
By playing the nation’s ninth-hardest schedule as ranked by Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, the Bison has had to play eight of its first 11 contests away from Burr Gymnasium. Unfortunately for Howard, road gyms and Division I opponents in general have not been too friendly to the Bison. Howard is 0-8 on the road, with its only win against a Division I opponent coming at Burr Gymnasium against American on Dec. 3. The Bison is 0-8 on the road and has been outscored by an average of nearly 25 points per contest. Howard has dropped its last 11 road contests, with its last win coming against Delaware State on Jan. 11. The Crimson is 3-2 at home and has won its last two contests in Cambridge.
This year’s Bison team is being profiled in a documentary by The Undefeated, a sports website owned by ESPN, entitled View from the Hilltop. Howard is looking to make its first NCAA Tournament since 1992. Junior guard James Miller has been a bright spot on a veteran team. So far, however, the team has taken more than its fair share of lumps to begin the season. Harvard will avoid facing James Daniel for the second consecutive season. Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer when the Crimson traveled to the nation’s capital last January. Daniel, last season’s MEAC Player of the Year and this season’s MEAC Player of the Year pick in the preseason, has yet to appear in a game this season due to an ankle injury. Howard has struggled mightily in Daniel’s absence. The Bison is only averaging 61.6 points per game while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from three-point range. The most eye-opening stat for Howard, however, may be that it only averages 7.8 assists per contest on the offensive end. For context, Harvard co-captain Siyani Chambers averages 7.6 assists by himself while only playing 32.1 minutes a game. Like the Ivy League, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference figures to only get one team into the NCAA Tournament. While the Bison has struggled to begin the season, all would be forgotten if Howard catches fire once it begins its conference slate next Wednesday.
COMING IN HOT
The Crimson has won its last four contests, including road wins against Houston and Boston College. Despite shooting just 31.6 percent from the field, Harvard found a way to beat the Cougars last Friday night as freshman point guard Bryce Aiken took over in the second half. If good teams always find a way to win, the Crimson looked like a good team its last time out. Harvard has won each of its last four games in different fashions—taking a defensive battle against Fordham, shooting the lights out against Northeastern, dominating the paint against BC, and winning an ugly game against Houston. Unlike last season in which Harvard’s whole team seemed to go into slumps at the same time, the Crimson’s freshmen have provided an offensive spark for Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, one the Crimson may not need against Howard but surely will come Ivy League play.
Harvard and St. Lawrence square off tonight at Appleton Arena, shown during a much colder time back in February.
The nation’s third best offense versus the ECAC’s top defense: something will have to give tonight in North Country.
At 7 p.m., the offense—that of the No. 8 Harvard men’s hockey team—will look to get the better of the defense—that of No. 19 St. Lawrence, at Appleton Arena. The Crimson (6-2-1, 2-1-1 ECAC) has averaged 4.22 goals per game so far this season, but the Saints (8-4-4, 5-0-2) have surrendered just a goal a game in conference play.
Senior forward Tyler Moy is tied for the team lead with six points through four games this season.
While ‘all’ eyes won’t be on the Harvard men’s hockey team until Saturday, the Crimson still has two important points to play for tonight in New Jersey. On the eve of the ECAC championship rematch between Harvard and Quinnipiac, the Crimson is set to take on Princeton at Hobey Baker Memorial Arena tonight at 7 p.m. EST.
“Friday night is an incredibly important game in the Ivy League,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “In the standings, it’s the same two points as any other game in the season—certainly the same two points as Saturday night.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Harvard (3-0-1, 1-0-1 ECAC) enters tonight’s contest unbeaten through its first four games. After dominating possession in the attacking zone but struggling to find the back of the net in a 1-1 tie with Colgate last Friday, the Crimson bounced back with a 4-3 victory over rival Cornell behind the first career hat trick for sophomore forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage. As a result of the three points at home, Harvard jumped from No. 12 to No. 10 in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.
Meanwhile, Princeton (0-3-0, 0-2-0) will be looking for its first win of the season in its home opener against the Crimson. In its first conference weekend of the year, the Tigers traveled nearly 400 miles to North Country, where they fell 4-0 to St. Lawrence on Friday and 4-2 to Clarkson the following night. Princeton’s slow start to the season on the surface is hardly surprising given that the Tigers were picked to finish last by both the coaches and the media of the ECAC. Yet in Princeton’s most recent matchup against the Golden Knights of Clarkson, the two teams were tied in the third period; additionally, the Tigers outshot both of their weekend opponents.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
“I think Princeton has got a young team with good speed, good size,” Donato said. “They play very hard and are especially tough at home. I think it’s safe to say that all these Ivy League matchups bring a great amount of emotion and competitiveness to them, and I think that it’ll be a very hard fought, tight game.”
Thus far, Princeton’s exclusively sophomore top line has been responsible for practically all of the Tigers’ offensive production. Left wing Ryan Kuffner, who led the team with 20 points a year ago, has a goal and two assists; right wing Alex Riche scored Princeton’s only two goals in its season opener against Michigan State, then added an assist against Clarkson; and center Max Veronneau has logged three assists. Meanwhile, all the other forwards on the Tiger roster have combined for one point through three games.
Manning the Princeton net has been senior Colton Phinney. Largely because of a struggling blue line, Phinney led the ECAC in saves a season ago with 1058—a number that averages out to more than 35 a game. The last time Harvard played the Tigers at Hobey Baker Arena, Phinney eclipsed that average, stopping 39 of 40 shots against one of the top offenses in college hockey. But the Princeton offense left Phinney hanging. The Tigers were held scoreless, and once Phinney left his goal in favor of an extra skater, the Crimson added two empty-netters in what amounted to a 3-0 win for the visitors.
STATE OF THE CRIMSON
As for those visitors, they too received almost all of their offense from members of their first line last weekend. Co-captain Alexander Kerfoot picked up a goal and an assist over the two games, while sophomores Ryan Donato and Zerter-Gossage combined for seven points against Cornell alone.
Like Princeton, only one other forward got on the scoresheet over the weekend—senior Tyler Moy, who logged an assist in both games. Where the Crimson and Tigers differ, however, is in the fact that Harvard has seen what kind of potential its second line possesses. In the Crimson’s opening two games against Arizona State last month, Moy, Luke Esposito, and Sean Malone logged a total of 15 points. Granted, the level of competition is much higher in the ECAC, but that line likely will not remain quiet for long stretches of time.
Meanwhile on the defensive end, Ted Donato confirmed this week that sophomore D-man Adam Baughman has been a bit banged up. In the first game of the season, Baughman started alongside freshman Adam Fox on the Crimson’s second defensive pairing; but sophomore Jacob Olson has filled that spot in the three games since. Donato said he does not expect the injury, which remained undisclosed, to be long-term.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.