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The Harvard men's hockey team has won six games in a row.
The Crimson's opponent tonight, Northeastern, has lost three in a row.
In the Beanpot, you can throw statistics out the window. Streaks are nice, but when four teams ranked among the nation's top 15 invade a jam-packed Boston Garden to continue bitter rivalries that have criss-crossed the city for 38 years, rested, healthy bodies are nicer.
And Harvard (10-7-1 overall, 10-5-1 ECAC) doesn't have enough of them to defend its 'Pot with confidence. After watching Kevan Melrose exhaust his collegiate eligibility before exam period, Coach Bill Cleary saw his other first-line defender, Scott McCormack, go down with strained ligaments Saturday night against Army.
That leaves Cleary with a rotation of only five healthy defenders, including Tod Hartje, who played his first game at defense Friday night. And to make matters worse, the Crimson's high-powered offense will have to operate without freshman phenom Ted Drury, who suffered a severe charley horse at the hands of the Cadets' hackmen.
"We're going to have to pick up the slack," blue-liner Brian Popiel said. "We'll probably be a little sluggish after this weekend, but the fact that the Garden's rink is so small should help us. We won't have to run around as much."
Now that's a switch. Historically, the diminutive Garden rink has frustrated the Crimson's speed demons, while helping close-checking squads like the Huskies (13-13-2 overall, 7-8-2 Hockey East). But as the only team in the tournament playing its third game in four nights, the Crimson may develop a new love for the Garden's cramped quarters.
"The key to the game for us is team defense," said forward John Weisbrod, whose goal with two seconds remaining in overtime gave Harvard a victory over Princeton Friday night. "We tend to give up too many goals in the Garden. Even last year, when we won, we gave up six goals. There's such a small offensive zone that you can shoot from almost anywhere."
Especially men like Harry Mews and Brian Sullivan, forwards on the Huskies' first line who have combined for 40 goals and 47 assists in North-eastern's 28 games.
"They're a real strong defensive team with an opportunistic offense," Weisbrod said. "When you make a mistake against them, they'll capitalize."
Look for the Huskies to try to pester the Crimson out of its offense with some overly physical play. Look for Harvard to turn the other cheek. Or look for the Crimson to retaliate, and watch Cleary explode. When Mike Vukonich got in a fight against Brown near the Harvard bench, Cleary yanked the 6-ft., 210-lb. forward out of the fray himself.
"Coach really stressed that you have to walk away," said Pete Ciavaglia, Vukonich's linemate. "We've learned the lesson not to fight back."
After the Crimson's dismal start, this season's edition of the 'Pot takes on added significance. If Harvard does not win the ECAC tournament, the Crimson will need a strong non-league record to gain an at-large bid.
"We already lost two games to Minnesota, and that doesn't sit too well with the NCAA committee," Hartje said. "To lose two more outside the league certainly won't put us in a good situation."
But the Beanpot is about much more than tournament rankings. It's about tradition, excitement and noise. And it's not about second place.
"We want to win that Beanpot again," Cleary said. "We don't want to wait another eight years."
BEANPOT WINNERS Year Champion (Harvard Finish) 1989 HARVARD (1st) 1988 Northeastern (4th) 1987 Boston University (4th) 1986 Boston University (3rd) 1985 Northeastern (3rd) 1984 Northeastern (4th) 1983 Boston College (4th) 1982 Boston University (4th) 1981 HARVARD (1st) 1980 Northeastern (3rd) 1979 Boston University (4th) 1978 Boston University (4th) 1977 HARVARD (1st) 1976 Boston College (2nd) 1975 Boston University (2nd) 1974 HARVARD (1st) 1973 Boston University (3rd) 1972 Boston University (2nd) 1971 Boston University (2nd) 1970 Boston University (3rd) 1969 HARVARD (1st) 1968 Boston University (2nd) 1967 Boston University (4th) 1966 Boston University (2nd) 1965 Boston College (4th) 1964 Boston College (3rd) 1963 Boston College (2nd) 1962 HARVARD (1st) 1961 Boston College (2nd) 1960 HARVARD (1st) 1959 Boston College (3rd) 1958 Boston University (3rd) 1957 Boston College (3rd) 1956 Boston College (2nd) 1955 HARVARD (1st) 1954 Boston College (2nd) 1953 HARVARD (1st)
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