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Sophomore goalie Wade Lau figures that no matter how he plays tonight, he's left his mark on Harvard hockey as "the kid with the target."
This season, before every game, Lau taped a red bullseye to the neck protector so it dangled ominously below his chin. At 6-ft., 1-in., Lau hoped that his opponents would aim for the target, causing them to shoot high and send the puck sailing over the net. (Assuming, of course that they didn't shoot straight and knock him out.)
While Lau does have some doubts about the effectiveness of his theory, fans and sportswriters now see it as his trademark.
Although the target distinguishes the Minnesota native from other goalies as soon as his skates scratch the ice, once in the net Lau's singular goaltending style also separates him from your everyday run-of-the-mill netminder.
Taking advantage of his large size and excellent coordination, Lau meshes flopping and straight stand-up techniques to keep the puck out of the net. This style--"or lack thereof," he says--proved particularly effective against UNH this year when the defending ECAC champions pelted Lau with over 40 shots but beat him only once--a fluke shot which deflected off a player's leg into the net.
That incident exemplifies Lau's belief that his true opponent is not the other team, but the puck, and that the key to goaltending is seeing and anticipating the puck correctly.
"Before a game I just start thinking about The Puck," Lau says. "I worry about the puck and really zoom in on it when the actual shooting is taking place. At the beginning of a game when the first shots come, if I'm seeing the puck right, I know that generally it's going to be a good game."
Lau's extraordinary 20-15 vision helps him focus on the disc. Still, he feels he could be more aggressive about coming out of the net to anticipate shots. But with experience, he is gaining confidence, and with it, aggressiveness.
Last year as a freshman, Lau said in his Kirkland House room last week, he felt nervous in the starting goalie slot. Now, however, he's realized that these are the last three years he'll play competitive hockey and he wants to settle down and enjoy them.
A full Harvard hockey career will give Lau a grand total of 14 seasons in the game. "I'm an old man," he exclaims at the thought, "I'm catching up to Gordie Howe!" But in his hometown of St. Paul, where hockey is the state religion, growing up on skates was not unusual.
After receiving All-State honors as goalie of the St. Paul Johnson high school team, Lau was heavily recrutied by Notre Dame and the Ivy League schools. Although at the time going to Harvard was "the farthest thing from my mind," Lau was impressed with the school and decided to try to be a student-athlete.
"None of the people from Minnesota could figure out why I wanted to got to Harvard--I just told them I could spell," the Economics major recalls. "In the Midwest Harvard is a myth--it doesn't really exist."
The highlight of being recruited came when Lau's childhood hero, Ken Dryden called about his alma mater, Cornell.
"I told Dryden right away that I was going to the best, but you should strive for it.'
And if he can combine that striving with education, Cleary is positively ecstatic. Like his idea for more international competition on the college level. "Wouldn't it be great for the kids to go to Europe for Christmas or something?" he asks. "And they wouldn't go out to some bar every night and drink beer. We'd make it an educational experience."
He tells a-story about the Czech army team that visited the U.S. in January, 1973. Although a game with Cornell, a perennial Division One powerhouse, was scheduled for Wednesday, Cleary let his team play the touring Czechs two days earlier, the only available date. The Crimson tied the squad, 4-4, in a rough, physical contest, and then--you gussed it--lost to Cornell two days later, 5-2.
"And I'm sure it was the fatigue, too," Cleary says. "But, I wouldn't trade the tie with Czechoslovakia for anything--the kids'11 remember that their whole lives."
As a player and a coach, Cleary has compiled a list of many memories, like most people involved with hockey. But unlike many, he claims not to live vicariously through his players. "My day is over--I don't get any satisfaction myself from the wins and losses." he says. "I just see these kids work so hard that when they don't win, it kills me for their sake."
But when they do win, Billy Cleary turns red
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