It wouldn't be hard to convince the average Harvard hockey fan that the team won't finish among the top four in the East next year. When you combine the lack of experience among next season's defensemen and the toughest schedule Harvard has ever had, the prospects are indeed dismal.

But I'm optimistic by nature, and I don't think things will be all that bad. For one, the team will once again have a wealth of forwards and a lot of scoring potential. The Crimson may have to win a good many games by 7-4 and 8-5, but after all, a win is a win as long as you score at least one more than your opponent.

Harvard loses the "Locals"--or what's left of them, Bob McManama and Bill Corkery--and there's no question that they are two of the best forwards to play in a Harvard uniform. Larry Desmond, who filled admirably the gap left by Dave Hynes in mid-season, Harry Reynolds and Jay Riley also depart.

They will surely be missed, but returning are two great lines in Randy Roth, Bob Goodenow and Jim Thomas, and the hustling trio of Jim McMahon, Ted Thorndike and Dave Gauthier. Sophomores Roth and Thomas along with junior Goodenow will also add experience to the power play.

Rounding out the returning lettermen up front, fans should also be seeing a lot of Leigh Hogan and Steve Dagdigian, both of whom saw limited ice time this past season because of the depth of the squad. Combined with one of the freshman pospects, they should make a solid third line.

The freshman skaters who have a chance of breaking onto the varsity next season are all forwards. Dan Bolduc, Kevin Burke, Kevin Carr, Phelps Swift and Peter Owen appear likely candidates to fill the third and make a fourth line. Coach Bill Cleary likes to skate a fourth line, and it appears that next season he will again have the depth on the squad to do so.

Defense remains the big question mark for Harvard Three of the top four defensemen and the starting goalie are graduating. Captain Kevin Hampe, who has played steady hockey all season, along with Bob Muse and Doug Elliott move on, as does Joey Bertagna. Mark Noonan is the only one remaining of four regulars. Also returning on defense are Dave Hands and Levy Byrd. They saw action while Elliott was out with an ankle injury during the middle of the season, but that's about the only experience they've had.

Ed Rossi and Steve Janicek will be moving up from the junior varsity to take regular shifts with the varsity. Both were among the last to be cut from the varsity this past season. Larry Pietelli, who played with Janicek on the freshman squad two years ago, is also a possibility.

There appear to be no outstanding prospects from the freshman defensive corps who will move right up. With the exception of Noonan, who has proven himself a solid defenseman, there won't be much experience in front of the goaltender. This brings us to the final and most important problem: Who's minding the nets?

It appears that junior Steve Perry has the job wrapped up, not so much because of his outstanding play (he's seen little ice time this year), but because he's the only one there is. He remains as a mystery for he's never started a game as a member of the varsity.

Steve's only claim to fame is last year's Yale game, when Cleary thrust him in halfway through the game and he preserved a slim Harvard lead under pressure. This season he's played in eight contests and allowed five goals. In all of the games Harvard was either way ahead or too far behind to make any of these goals matter.

As it looks now, the schedule will hurt most. Of the 22 games, only seven will by played in the cozy confines of Watson Rink, where the Crimson lost but one game this year. The six Ivy teams as well as B.U. will be Harvard's home foes.

It will be an uphill battle for Harvard next season, but with a little luck on defense, the Crimson should again be a strong contender in the East.