A demoralized fan slumped over a Quincy House pin-ball machine on the Saturday night after the Harvard-Yale football game and sighed with relief. "Thank God the hockey season starts next week."
This winter, he can forget about Endzone Crone while he sits in Section 18 getting his yah-yah's out over what is probably the best Harvard hockey team in history (nostalgia for the days of the Cleary brothers and Tim Taylor's '62 team aside). Harvard unquestionably has its most explosive offensive team ever. With 15 goals in its first two games against very respectable opposition, the Crimson is off to a fast start. B.U. may be having an off-year compared to its last two national championship teams, but it is a testimony to Harvard's power that the B.U. fans, who should be spoiled by now, stood and applauded their team after it had lost to the Crimson on Wednesday night.
The Local Line will once again annihilate opposing defenses. Hynes, Corkery, and McManama have racked up 25 points between them thus far, eight more points than all the other Harvard scorers combined.
The real key to Harvard's strength, however, is not the first line, but the Crimson's offensive depth. Second line sophomores Randy Roth and Jim Thomas may get knocked around a little this year, but as skaters, stick-handlers and fore checkers, they make the second line a very potent unit, probably even better than Tommy Paul's line last year.
There is no comparison between last year's third line and this year's third line. Harry Reynold's, a strong man on the boards and a good two-way forward, is back on the third line. But instead of having to work with Leif Rosenberger and Bobby Havern, whose scoring totals never improved from sophomore to senior year. Reynolds is skating with ex-second liners Jarry Desmond and Teddy Thorndike, a strong sophomore who has scored two goals in his first two varsity games. And for the first time, Harvard has a respectable fourth line to throw at the opposition, a luxury that only Cornell has regularly enjoyed in the past. Fourth line sophomore Dave Gauthier chipped in a goal against B.U.
Harvard has a tradition of blowing more games over the course of the long season than teams with comparable talent. This is generally attributed to a lack of personal discipline on the part of Harvard's players and the usual drivel that I and others cough up about Harvard being such a diverse, distracting place. The depth provided by Harvard's wealth of good sophomores will test that explanation this year, because for once Harvard has the depth to pick up the slack if some of the super-stars get tired at mid-season, which is when Harvard usually starts losing to teams like Penn and Dartmouth.
Harvard's supply of good forwards will also pay off in penalty situations. On the power play, Cleary has been using five forwards -- Corkery and McManama in the corners and Roth's very quick stick in front, with the bullet shots of Hynes and second liner Bob Goodenow on the points. So far, they have converted seven of 11 opportunities, which is an incredible percentage. This offensive strategy backfires occasionally -- Hynes was burned twice at the point for goals by B.U. -- but only teams like B.U. and Cornell have the penalty killers to get away with many short-handed goals. And with a fourth line, Coach Billy Cleary has been able to use his quickest skaters -- Hynes, Corkery, Roth, and Thomas -- as penalty killers without over-tiring the first two lines. Thus far, Harvard has given up only two goals in 13 man-down situations.
Harvard's weakness is the defense. The defensemen are all experienced, but they are not of the same calibre as the forwards. Goalie Joe Bertagna is a good American goalie, but he does not compare with such former Canadian greats as Cornell's Dryden, Clarkson's Bullock and Harvard's Durno. Bertagna still leaves too many rebounds in front and against B.U., he gave up two questionable goals, one a 90-footer that never left the ice.
So this could be Harvard's year. If the sophomores produce as expected during the season, and the defense rises to the test in play-off hockey. Harvard will be the number one team in the Fast and perhaps in the nation as well.