The Crimson hockey squad, optimistic about the prospects for the coming season, opens its 1972-3 campaign against the University of New Hampshire tonight at 7 in the newly renovated Watson Rink.
UNH has played five games already this season, winning three and drawing one, and will be invading Cambridge coming off a 9-5 trouncing of Northeastern last Wednesday. The Crimson are at a disadvantage, having only scrimmaged Bowdoin in November.
"We won't make any excuses though," coach Bill Cleary said yesterday. "We'll go out there and do the best we can. The boys are really eager to play."
Not Taken Lightly
The Wildcats can not be taken lightly. Last year they had their best team in history, finishing fifth in the East and taking third in the ECAC tournament by virtue of beating Harvard 4-1 in the consolation round. The Crimson also dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to them during the regular season.
Despite the fact that four of UNH's five top scorers graduested last year, their entire defense is back and there is also the unknown "freshman factor." This year, with the exception of the Ivy League, freshmen have been allowed to compete on the varsity level in hockey.
"It makes it tough to predict what some of the non-league teams will be like this year," Cleary said. "But I really doubt that too many freshmen will be playing." UNH lists have frosh on their runner.
Harvard has been ranked third nationality in a pre-season poll behind Wisconsin and North Dakota. The poll, a survey of hockey coaches from across the country, voted Cornell number six and defending NCAA champion Boston University, ninth in the nation.
The season, however, will not be all easy sledding. The Crimson icemen face a rigorous early schedule, especially during the two week stretch after Christmas.
Cleary, reflecting on the schedule, leaned back in his office chair with a wide grin on his face and tongue in cheek. "Oh, we have a real easy schedule," he said. "Let's see, we play Michigan December 28, then the Czech National team on the fourth, they should be a pushover, then there's Cornell on the sixth, an easy win, and Dartmouth on the tenth. So, as you can see, we have a real easy time of it."
The two games with Cornell and Dartmouth will be crucial ones in Harvard's bid to regain the Ivy crown after a long ten year drought. Cornell has won the League the last seven years in a row, with the Crimson finishing second five of those years.
Although they've lost seven of last year's regulars, Cornell would still have to picked as co-favorites along with Harvard to take the Ivy League. The gaps in the team have been filled by some promising sophomores from last year's undefeated freshman squad. Big Red goalie, Dave Elenbass will be back this year, as will forward Bill Hanson, who notched up 46 points last season.
Dartmouth and Penn also have to be considered as threats this season. Although the Big Green finished fourth in the league, they have 13 returning lettermen, and will have to replace only three seniors lost to graduation.
Penn ended up third last season and finished fourth in the ECAC Division I. Among the 15 returning veterans are first-liners Bob Read and Bill MacDonell, who combined for 41 goals last season.
"You can't count out any of the teams in the league," Cleary said. "They'll all be tough this year." Indeed, even Brown, Yale and Princeton could provide some surprises as the season progresses.
Harvard, with the return of 15 lettermen, including the high coring "Local Line," and nearly all of the defense, should have a well-balanced team and certainly an excellent shot at the Ivy crown.
One factor that will make the season interesting however, is the new ruling that allows players to check all over the ice. Previously, checking was not allowed in the offensive zone in collegiate play.
"I don't know how the new ruling will affect us." Cleary said, "We're a skating club primarily. We like to get out there and develop plays with some sharp passing. This isn't to say we can't hold our own though, these boys can hit as hard as anyone out there."
Cleary predicts some exciting two-way hockey this season from the Crimson squad. "Hopefully everyone learned something from the Russians on how the game is played," he said.