There are no answers, only doubts, for the Harvard hockey team. "I honesty don't know," said captain Michael Watson in the Bright Center locker room after last night's 5-3 loss to Vermont. "I wish I knew," said coach Billy Cleary. "There has to be some kind of an answer," said defenseman Alan Litchfield.
The question was how a team that sprays 46 shots on net and gets a sharp performance from its goalie can manage to lose, and, if you can answer that one, how a team with this much talent can go seven games without a win, for that's what Harvard has done since beating Providence on Dec. 13.
For the third straight January, the Crimson (now 5-9-1 overall and 5-7-1 ECAC) has played itself into oblivion with a massive losing streak. The latest installment of the multiple-act tragedy hinged on a third-period goal by Vermont's Tony Messina that muted a Greg Britz tally of the previous minute.
Britz had narrowed the Catamount margin to one goal, 4-3, by beating UVM wunderkid Tim Camisa to the upper righthand corner of the net at 9:10. Harvard kept the momentum for about 30 seconds, but when Messina and Mark Litton worked a beautiful two-on-one breakaway on the overanxious Crimson defense and beat the helpless Wade (32 saves) Lau, the Cats took it back, settled down, and neither team scored again.
"Goals like that always hurt," said Watson, "but you try not to think about it. If you start thinking about it, you're dead."
Watson and linemates Greg Olson and Greg Chalmers, playing their first game as a unit after Cleary's complete shakeup of lines, managed half a dozen shots on goal in their next shift, but a Camisa glove save of a pop-up and other acts of God prevented a score. In all, Harvard managed 22 third-period shots with Britz's tally the only interest on the deposit. "Too little, too late," said Cleary.
Earlier, Mark Fusco's power-play goal at 9:24 of the first period set a new Harvard record for career goals by a defenseman. The tally broke Dick Greeley's (1945-49) mark of 25, and tied the game at 1-1.
It stayed tied until UVM's top line of Kirk McCaskill centering for Kevin Foster and Matt Winnicki clicked for two second-period goals. Junior McCaskill, who entered the game as the leading scorer in the ECAC (18 goals, 13 assists), notched a point in his 17th straight game with a feed to Winnicki, who beat Lau at 6:16.
The sophomore returned the favor three minutes later, and McCaskill bumped number 19 home for a 3-1 Vermont lead. Greg Olson cut the margin to 3-2 before the period ended with a power-play goal from Greg Chalmers and Fusco.
The game also marked the return to ECAC action of defenseman Mitch Olson, who took last year off to study botany in South America. Cleary had hoped to work Olson, a former honorable mention All-Ivy selection who has not played varsity hockey for almost two years, into his corps of blueliners slowly, but the illness of scrappy Ken Code forced a change in plans. The junior brother of forward Greg alternated with Scott Sangster as Mark Fusco's partner on regular shifts, and skated some of every power play, playing almost as well as ever with just a few signs of rust.
THE NOTEBOOK: The game's three stars, as chosen by a larger-than-usual contingent of Cambridge media: Camisa, McCaskill, Messina...Both McCaskill and Foster were hurt during the game. The former suffered a separated shoulder late in the second period and didn't see action the rest of the way, while Foster was put out of action by an Alan Litchfield check in the final stanza. Together, they have scored 30 of UVM's 75 goals...McCaskill is the son of former WHA defenseman Ted...Plaudits to Guy Hampson of the Catamount Radio Network and WDOT for the best play-by-play job the press box has heard this year...The Crimson junior varsity did better than its elders last night, beating Dartmouth, 6-3.
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