It's been six years since the Harvard hockey team has gone into the ECAC Division I hockey tournament as an underdog.
But considering that the Crimson icemen haven't won the tournament since 1971, the squad's current status may not be so bad. "There won't be so much pressure on us this year," goalie Brian Petrovek commented last week.
The pressure is all on New Hampshire, the number two seed and host to Harvard in tonight's contest at Snively Arena (8 p.m., WMEX radio, Ch. 11 T.V.) in Durham. UNH raced through the regular season ECAC schedule compiling an impressive 24-6 record and looks like a sure bet to make it to Boston Garden for the semifinals Friday.
Harvard, sporting an unimpressive 12-8-3 league record, would be a little more than a practice session for the Wildcats if it weren't for one thing, the much-publicized ECAC curse that hangs over the UNH hockey program.
That curse has resulted in six losses in the last seven ECAC quarterfinal contests and is seemingly all that Harvard has going for it tonight. It goes a long way toward explaining why Petro last week expressed the opinion that, given the choice of playing UNH, Boston University, Cornell, Clarkson or Brown, his teammates would most like to play the Wildcats.
At first, that seems like a rash statement, taking into account New Hampshire's record and thinking back to a Crimson victory over Brown and a tie with Cornell. But Brown has won 11 straight since a mid-season slump, and Lynah Rink is the last place the team wants to play in after its reception last month.
That goes for Clarkson, too, another of those true snake pits out in the New York boondocks that takes its home ice advantage quite seriously. And as for B.U., all you have to do is look at Harvard's record against the Terriers before you decide to forget them.
So that leaves New Hampshire and its fear of playing in the Boston Garden. It's the least of all the evils for Harvard.
Two years ago, all that eighth-seeded RPI and its star goaltender Don "The Razor" Cutts had going for it was that curse on the Wildcats. And sure enough, Cutts was brilliant and RPI snuck past the top-seeded UNH squad, 7-6, in an overtime shocker in Durham.
If RPI could rise to that occasion, so could Harvard. But the squad tonight will have to play a lot better than it did against Yale and Dartmouth last week. And that goes double for the defense, which has been notably erratic this season.
If a Wildcat offense, featuring the likes of Jamie Hislop, can get untracked, Petrovek may well wish he were playing someone else instead. UNH has an explosive offense, but the squad can also be scored upon quite easily in some cases.
Despite the present of Dan Magnarelli in the New Hampshire nets, the Wildcat defense has been porous on occasion. Tonight's game could be a wild one.
This will be the first meeting of the two teams since a scrimmage before the season. Harvard has not scheduled New Hampshire because of the Wildcat's unwillingness to provide tickets for Harvard to sell to its fans during the regular season, as well as other administrative squabbles between the two athletic departments.
Harvard had 700 seats on sale yesterday for tonight's contest, but they weren't going too fast. The Harvard Band will be there, as will a chartered busload of Pi Eta members and several cases of beer, but the response hasn't been over-whelming. Harvard fans aren't used to having to go further than Watson for the ECAC quarterfinal.
The Crimson squad will need all the moral support it can get and has to play a highly emotional game if it wants to upset New Hampshire. You can go only so far relying on a curse...