AROUND THE ECAC: Men's Hockey, Vesey Aim to Make Postseason History

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Harvard sophomore goalie Merrick Madsen will have to outduel RPI netminder Jason Kasdorf if the Crimson wants to advance to the ECAC semifinals. That’s no easy task, as Kasdorf has stopped 92 of Harvard’s last 93 shots against him.

What a difference a goal makes.

A year ago, Jimmy Vesey lifted a deflected puck over the right pad of Yale goaltender Alex Lyon in New Haven. The double-overtime strike clinched the ECAC quarterfinal series for the Harvard men’s hockey team and set up the Crimson’s conference title in Lake Placid the very next week.

In a Players’ Tribune article last week, Vesey identified the quarterfinal victory as the tipping point in his decision to forgo a pro deal with the Nashville Predators and return to Cambridge for his senior season. The column, an emotional ode to Harvard and college hockey, conveniently coincided with the NHL trade deadline, in which Nashville General Manager David Poile avoided any major acquisitions to preserve an open roster spot for his team’s prized draft pick.

Vesey’s admission might have prompted some particularly passionate (or neurotic) Predators fans to ponder an alternate reality—one in which Vesey never scored that goal. One in which Vesey signed with Nashville last March, slid into the Predators’ top-six forward rotation in April, bridged the difference in those overtime losses to Chicago, and boosted Nashville to a Stanley Cup championship in June.

While the Music City can only dream, the goal’s impact on Vesey’s present team is clear. As Harvard prepares to host Rensselaer in Game 1 of the 2016 edition of the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals later today, Vesey and company are no longer frustrated underachievers. They’re defending champions.

The role change comes with new expectations and opportunities. A series win this weekend would all but assure Harvard a spot in the NCAA regionals, earning the program its first tournament berths in consecutive years since 2006. Meanwhile, a sweep of the next two weekends would place this Crimson squad among Harvard’s best. In the 53-year history of the ECAC tournament, Harvard has yet to win back-to-back postseason titles.

For Vesey in particular, the next two weekends offer an opportunity to cement a special legacy.

Last year, the Charlestown native scored an ECAC tournament-record nine goals over seven games in perhaps the most dominant individual performance of the entire NCAA postseason. This year, Vesey again finds himself in the national player of the year conversation after a consistent regular season punctuated by flashes of brilliance, but the co-captain has yet to string together a stretch of play that quite matches his effort from last March.

Harvard men’s hockey has churned out a long line of all-time great alumni. If I had to rank them, I’d place the national players of the year and Olympic gold medalists—Lane MacDonald ’89, the Fusco Brothers and the Cleary Brothers—firmly in a top tier of greatness. Joe Cavanagh ’71, C.J. Young ’90, Dominic Moore ’03, and Alex Killorn ’12 are among other stars of yesteryear who could factor into a first- or second-tier conversation.

Vesey already ranks among the greats. He currently sits tied for fifth with Dan DeMichele ’71 on the Crimson’s all-time goal list at 77 scores, seven behind Young and 34 behind MacDonald. It’s just a question of what tier. Another title would go a long way, but that will require besting a deep ECAC headed by the nation’s No. 1 team.

The final measure of Harvard’s season—and Vesey’s collegiate career—will be taken sometime over the next four weekends. A single goal might make all the difference.

Let’s take a look at this weekend’s quarterfinal match-ups:

CORNELL AT QUINNIPIAC

In a clash between old-hockey snobs and new-hockey snobs, Cornell will need to double Quinnipiac’s season loss total to get out of Hamden alive. Meanwhile the nation’s top-ranked Bobcats are still in search of their first ECAC postseason win after collecting their third regular season title in four years.

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