Depending upon who you are, the last two weeks in December can mean anything from catching up on long overdue work to a trip to Acapulco to a 14-day snooze. For the Crimson icemen, it meant five games, a trip to dairy country and a Christmas vacation that required a Rand McNally road map.
It also meant a 2-2 record, an exhibition triumph against a touring Swedish National outfit and a victory against the then number-one ranked team in the country, the Wisconsin Badgers.
First for the Swedes. The team that played Harvard some two and a half weeks ago in Watson Rink--just about the time everyone else was heading out to Logan--was by no means Sweden's number one unit. Had it been, the Crimson would not have triumphed by a 10-5 margin, a win which did nothing for its record but wonders for its ego.
After three successive losses to eastern teams, Harvard's highest scoring output (by far) of the season was well received. The Crimson assumed a 5-1 advantage in the first period, John Cochrane accounting for two of the goals, and held on for the victory as Cochrane notched a hat trick and Gene Purdy added two goals.
After a weekend in which the Patriots were robbed, Notre Dame rolled into Cambridge and rolled out on the wrong side of a 4-3 score. Goals by Cochrane and Bill Nolen 22 seconds apart in the third period wiped out a 3-2 Irish lead and evened Harvard's season record at 4-4.
So with the Swedes and the Irish taken care of, the Crimson bade adieu to home cooking and said shalom to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The victory against Notre Dame, in the words of goalie Brian Petrovek, was "the first big close one we've won." The game against the Gophers marked the fourth big close one they've lost.
The score, 4-3, was a familiar one, as the home folks tallied eight minutes into the overtime for the Crimson's second O.T. defeat of the season. "I think we should've won," Petrovek remarked later, "but we couldn't capitalize on our opportunities."
Two nights later in Wisconsin, Harvard capitalized and then some. For one thing, this wasn't a good night for number-one ranked teams. Michigan's top-rated basketball team fell to Providence the same evening, so for those of you who believe in trends, the Crimson's 4-3 (that score again) triumph shouldn't have come as much of a surprise.
But it was. Playing in enemy territory, Harvard held the lofty Badgers to a 1-1 first period deadlock and then erupted for three goals within a two-minute span in the second stanza. George Hughes scored two of those goals while Petrovek more than held his ground on the other side of the rink.
Twenty-four hours later, the puck turned as the Badgers played for this week's rankings and used one goalie instead of three. The result was a 7-5 Wisconsin win after the Crimson had wiped out a 5-1 Badger lead. "Things just evened up," Petrovek said, "we had the same opportunities as the night before but we didn't click."
The icemen thus ended their Christmas tour of the midwest with a defeat which makes their current mark stand at 5-6. "We're coming back as a much better team," Petrovek said. "I just hope that we don't lose what we accomplished out there."
If history and Petrovek are to be relied upon, then the hockey team which takes the Watson ice this Wednesday night against St. Lawrence should be a far superior one to the squad which appeared there in 1976.
Last season, after a similar mediocre start, Harvard went west, young person, and upset highly rated Michigan State twice. The momentum from these wins carried over into reading period when the Crimson went undefeated and emerged as a team to be reckoned with in the ECAC.
A similar situation exists this time around, for, as Petrovek said, "We really can't afford to lose many more games."
And don't worry about the team's Christmas non-vacation. At least the players did something productive and didn't sit around watching Happy Days like some of us.