PROVIDENCE, R.I.-Crimson hockey coach Bill Cleary is really big on turning corners, and if his team's play since the new year began is any indication of things to come, it looks as if the Crimson icemen are heading in the right direction.
With an important 4-2 upset victory over Brown here on Saturday night, the Crimson concluded its holiday hiatus with a 3-2-1 record. But of the two losses, the first one, 9-7 to Notre Dame, occurred in the first game of the trip out west when it was still 1975, and the second, 4-3 to the U.S. Olympic team, doesn't count in the record anyway.
Besides, the Olympic match came the night before most Harvard players were to return home for an abbreviated vacation. Their minds, apparently, were anywhere but Madison, Wis., where the contest was held.
When the team reassembled this year, though, a marked difference emerged in its style of play. Suddently the players began to forecheck and take good shots on net, with the immediate results being back-to-back triumphs over national powerhouse Michigan State.
"No one was more surprised than we were," defenseman Bob Leckie said last night, in reference to his team's 8-6 and 4-3 wins--the former thanks to a 5-0 first-period explosion and a lengthy Spartan layoff, and the latter owing to a great performance by goaltender Brian Petrovek.
After the second victory, Cleary said that the team had turned the corner, but then it returned East and promptly ran into a dead end.
A 6-4 lead against Boston College last Wednesday night disappeared in the final four minutes of the game, as early-season defensive lapses returned to haunt Harvard. The teams battled through a scoreless ten minute sudden death period. The dead-lock did little to improve the Crimson's lowly perch of 15th (out of 17) in the ECAC standings.
Then came Saturday, and the same Brown team that had skated to an easy 8-5 win over the Crimson in December. Before the game was a minute old, Brown's Bill Gilligan, who had ruined Harvard a month ago, gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
George Hughes quickly tied it up, though, on a breakaway, and before the period was over, Gene Purdy and Phelps Swift had given Harvard a 3-1 lead.
The teams traded scores in the middle period, Swift converting on a power play for his second and the Crimson's fourth goal, and that was that. Harvard forechecking kept Brown bottled up in its own end, and even when the Bruins did break free, they were oftentimes more intent on fighting than scoring.
One scuffle behind the Bruin net ended with Harvard's Kevin Burke lying flat on his face and Brown's Neil LaBatte being ejected from the game for spearing Burke.