A Baptism in Rough Olympic Waters

Imagine you are a freshman member of the 1987-'88 Harvard men's hockey team. You came to Cambridge as a highly-touted recruit, a hope for the future. You want to help Harvard defend its ECAC title. You can't wait to play your first-ever collegiate hockey game.

Then you look at Harvard's first opponent: the United States Olympic Team. What a way to begin your collegiate career.

Last night at Bright, the freshman contingent of Aron Allen, Scott Barringer, Peter Ciavaglia, Ted Donato, Michael Francis, Michael Vukonich and John Weisbrod, did just that. They didn't face Brown or even Yale, but a world-class hockey team.

And even though the Crimson--like every other college team the Olympians have faced--was manhandled by some of the best players in the nation, Harvard Coach Bill Cleary expressed nothing but optimism, especially for the guys who played in their first game at Harvard.

"I was impressed with all the freshmen," Cleary said. "They all did a good job. Those kids were a little bit nervous."


A little bit nervous? How about very nervous, or completely jittery?

"In the first period I felt lost," Weisbrod said.

Yet Weisbrod found himself again when he scored early in the second period, a score that brought the Crimson within two goals. What a way to respond to nerves.

"The goal was certainly one of the biggest thrills of my career," Weisbrod said.

Then there was Francis, the goalie who had to replace a shaken-up John Devin in the second period and face the Olympic firing line. The team that would try to shove pucks down the throats of Russian goalies in February was now using Francis as a target. He had to defend the Harvard net from the lighting-quick attack. What a way to begin your Harvard career.

"It was a good baptism for Michael," Cleary said.

Baptism? More like diving into the deep end of a pool and getting stuck at the bottom.

Yet considering the talent of Team USA, Francis responded well, lifting his head above water for a small gasp of air. It's not like any other goalie in the college ranks has been able to swim happily against the Olympians. Team USA has averaged nine goals a game against college teams.

Donato and Ciavaglia--two-thirds of Harvard's second line--also proved that nerves can suddenly disappear once the puck has been rolling around the ice for a while. Both freshmen picked up assists off Don Sweeney's late third-period goal. What a way to lash out against those first-game jitters.

Now, the real season begins and each freshman will remember his first game. The one in which he did not face another college team, but a team that will be participating in a world-wide winter tournament his response to them.

Image you're a freshmen member of the 1987-'88 Harvard men's hockey team. It's early March and the ECAC playoffs are just beginning. You have been a major reason why Harvard is in the playoffs and in a position to capture its second league title in a row. The nerves are gone title in a row. The nerves are gone and you are now a force to be reckoned with on the rink.

You look back at the season Harvard had and return to the first game, the exhibition against the Olympians. You remember the nerves and the "baptism" to Harvard hockey.

But you'll never forget how well you responded to such pressure. And, as the playoffs begin, you thank yourself for having learned so much in that first game.