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It's hard to knock a 17-4-1 season. Only one other team, Cornell, managed a better record than that. The Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division I produced a lot of tough competition this year, and counting B.U.'s forfeits, only three teams finished with five or fewer losses.
Crimson coach Bill Cleary insisted all season that any division I team was capable of beating even a heavily favored opponent on any given night, and perhaps he was right. After all, Clarkson with a spotty 11-9 record in the division beat Harvard. And heavy underdog Penn walloped B.U. 7-3, also in ECAC quarterfinal play. But when you come right down to it, that wasn't Harvard's problem at all. The squad didn't just lose to 'any' team on just 'any' given night. Harvard handled those contests with relative ease. The four losses came in the 'big ones, Cornell twice, B.U. and ECAC quarterfinals.
The first loss to Cornell wasn't so bad, at the time anyway. The squad played a tough game all the way and didn't fold after falling behind. A goalie named Dave Elenbaas coupled with a lot of bad breaks for the Crimson told the story. Harvard was still number one.
The second half of the season, however, proved to be another matter. Coming off exam break, a traditional thorn in the side of Harvard hockey, B.U. humiliated the Crimson in the opening round of the Beanpot tournament, 8-3. Unlike the Cornell loss, Harvard was never really in it. The worst was yet to come.
The biggest game of the regular season was the rematch with the Big Red up in Ithaca. The Ivy title was at stake, or at least a share of it, as was Harvard's standing as number one in the East. Despite the loss of Dave Hynes eleven days earlier, the squad had won three and tied one coming into Cornell, and there was a very real chance that it could win this one.
But it was not to be. Bertagna had one of his worst games of the year and he didn't get much help from up front. Harvard was psyched out by the crowd and Big Red Skaters and it showed in a disorganized first period. Like B.U., Cornell dominated all the way and the best Harvard could do was to pull within two goals in the second period.
So went the Ivy League, the top spot in the East and a ranking among the top five in the country. But even then you couldn't really knock the team. The Crimson came on strong at the finish, taking its last four while outscoring its opponents 30-6. Harvard grabbed the number two seed in the ECAC tourney, which didn't seem too bad as the predicted outcome had the top four seeds winning the quarterfinals, leaving Harvard to play B.C. in the semis, while Cornell and B.U. slugged it out for the right to play the Crimson in the finals.
By all odds before the game, Clarkson should have lost to Harvard Tuesday. But this wasn't just 'any' game, and holding true to the pattern, Harvard lost. Badly. Once again, the Crimson was out of it most of the game, with the exception of the opening minutes of the second period when the game was tied at two.
Harvard is by far a better team on paper than Clarkson. But on the ice the Golden Knights wanted to win a lot more than the Crimson. Clarkson was psyched and showed it with a lot of hustle. Harvard was flat and excepting the two Crimson goals in the second, didn't show the spark a team needs to go all the way.
It's been said many many times before, and probably will be echoed again and again, but it all comes down to Harvard clutching in the games that really count. Why?. Nobody seems to know for sure, but a look at the record of top rated Harvard teams will show that the pattern exists.
It's really hard to knock a team that has compiled such an impressive record. One could only wish that the Crimson icemen had saved some of the hustle, desire and spark that led them to a 4-4 'victory' against Dukla Jihlava, for Cornell, B.U. and Clarkson.
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