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This is the Harvard men's hockey team's last game before Christmas break.
And the Crimson needs to go into the holidays in style.
After last weekend's disappointing loss at home to Brown, 6-5, the team now has a chance to prove its early season success was not a fluke when it faces off against archrival Cornell (4-2-0, ECAC 2-2-0) in Ithaca, N.Y. on Sunday.
Harvard (4-1-1, 4-1-1) definitely has some obstacles to overcome. The brutal road trip to Ithaca has never been pleasant and Lynah Rink--with its rabid hockey fans--always presents a challenge to the Crimson.
The team has, however, risen to the challenge before. Desperately in search of a win last year, Harvard came away with a confidence-building 2-2 tie over a tough Big Red squad in Ithaca, N.Y.
This year, the Crimson's main challenge will be to focus on the fundamentals that have secured them four solid victories and a place near the top of the ECAC.
Harvard's defense--which held oppenents to two or less goals in four out of the first five games--went South in the loss to the Bears. Though Cornell does not pack the punch it has in the past--its veterans are off with Team Canada--the Big Red still features some big guns.
The Crimson blue-liners must shut down forwards Joe Dragon (4-2-6), Ryan Hughes (1-2-3) and Alex Nikolic (2-2-4). The Cornell offense has shined at times this season, netting five goals against St. Lawrence and four against Providence. Most recently, however, Boston College blanked Cornell, 3-0.
Harvard is anticipating the return of Captain Kevin Sneddon, who will undoubtedly bolster the defensive corps. The Crimson's sole offensive imperative is consistency, which so far has not been a problem. Harvard has outscored its opponents 32-16 this season, with the five freshmen, notably Steve Martins (2-4-6) and Cory Gustafson (1-5-6), providing the muscle.
If there has been any weakness in the Crimson's offensive attack recently it has been on the power play. Harvard only capitalized on one opportunity out of 11 in its two games against Brown--a trend that the team will want to reverse in Cornell (which is second in the ECAC in killing power-play opportunities).
In addition, it is hard to tell whether the rookies might be fazed by the raucous antics of the Cornell crowd. Lynah veterans Matt Mallgrave, Tim Burke and Brian Farrell must lead the youthful Crimson under the tough conditions.
(Remember these are the same fans that every year tie a chicken--sometimes live--to the Harvard goal between the second and third periods.)
Harvard must also not fall into the trap it has in the past of not responding to the physical play of its opponent. The unusually small Crimson will look to its bigger men (and the small but scrappy Sean McCann) to match Cornell blow-for-blow.
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