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When one looks back at the 1994-95 Harvard men's hockey season, one sees many ups and downs. Fourteen of each, that is.
A team that was picked fifth in the preseason national rankings, Harvard (14-14-2 overall, 12-9-1 ECAC regular season) could never find that offensive spark, and that ultimately led to the team's elimination from the ECAC quarterfinals by RPI this past weekend.
"We just had a difficult time putting the puck in the net," Harvard coach Ronn Tomassoni said. "It's hard to win hockey games with one and two goals."
One year ago, the Crimson was readying itself for the ECAC semifinals at this time. That team would win the ECAC tournament and go off to the NCAA Final Four, where it lost to eventual NCAA champion Lake Superior State in overtime, 3-2.
That team also boasted five players who averaged over one point a game. This year's squad featured only one who put up those statistics--senior Steve Martins.
Other teams knew what to concentrate on in preparing for Harvard. If they could take Martins off his game, they felt they could win. So they threw their goons at the scrappy senior and goaded him into taking retaliation penalties.
"It's a disgrace," Tomassoni said. "Nobody should have had to endure the abuse that he took."
A .500 record is by no means a bad season. When one looks at the effort the team put in, one knows that the team tried hard and had the potential to win a lot more.
But there were several key ingredients missing.
Harvard's shortcomings were evident in game one back on November 5 down at Brown. Harvard lost that contest, 4-3, but in that match the following happened:
1) Brown scored first and took a 2-0 lead after one period. Harvard had to play catch-up hockey, and after it was able to tie the game in the third, the Bears went ahead again for good.
2) Martins scored two of Harvard's three goals. It wasn't a bad thing that Martins scored, but it was symbolic of the Crimson's crash late in the season when the offense was mostly Martins.
3) Harvard found itself shorthanded nine times. The Crimson had good penalty killing all year, but playing a man down tired out the team and threw the forward lines out of whack.
4) Bad luck. A Harvard goal was disallowed. The Crimson scored with 1:36 left to tie the game, but the whistle had blown beforehand, and the team still trailed.
5) The power play struggled. Although Harvard scored two power-play goals, the team could not convert on two different two-man advantages.
Now look at the season-ending games against RPI.
1) RPI scored the first two goals Friday and the first goal Saturday, even though it was Harvard that dominated the early action of both games. Harvard tied the match at 1-1 Saturday, but RPI regained the lead in the third period.
2) Martins scored Harvard's only goal Saturday, and he set up both of Harvard's tallies Friday.
3) Harvard only took four penalties Saturday, but one of them was a 10-minute misconduct. Although it didn't affect man power, Harvard was forced to switch around its lines for that time.
Friday, the Crimson nullified four consecutive man-advantages by committing penalties.
4) After the Crimson tied the match Saturday, it scored what it thought would be the go-ahead tally, but the goal was waived off because a player had encroached the crease.
5) Harvard was 0-for-7 on the power play Saturday, including a two-man advantage late in the second period.
And occurrences like these surfaced in numerous games in between.
Harvard's season can be divided into three distinct periods. Harvard struggled early in its first 10 games, going 4-5-1.
In that stretch the Crimson went 3-3-1 at home, and the home record would not get better. Bright Hockey Center had been a place that teams feared to play in, but that wasn't the case this season. Harvard would finish 5-8-2 at Bright this season, after having lost only eight home games in its last six seasons combined.
In phase two Harvard hit the road for seven straight games and won six of those. The offense was clicking, as was the defense and goaltending. Included in that stretch were 5-2 and 9-2 wins at Alaska-Fairbanks and a 4-3 come-from-behind overtime victory over eventual league champions Clarkson.
Then came the rest of the season, starting after the exam period. Harvard went only 4-8-1 through February and early March.
The Crimson just couldn't buy a goal in most of those losses--there were defeats where Harvard had many great chances but hit a hot goalie (Princeton--February 3, RPI--March 11) and games where the effort was lacking (Dartmouth--February 17 and Union--February 25.)
Harvard would repeatedly, fall behind early and not be able to overcome those deficits.
One only has to look at the 7-6 Beanpot loss on February 6 to Boston College. Harvard fell behind 4-0 in an awful first period and then battled back only to fall one goal short.
There were games where the whole package was there--a 5-3 win at RPI on February 24, and an 8-3 clubbing of St. Lawrence on March 3 come to mind. Even in a 5-4 loss to Clarkson on March 4, the Crimson played extremely well, and that performance gave Harvard confidence once again as it headed into the post-season.
The Crimson's effort was solid in the playoffs against RPI, but it just wasn't meant to be. Harvard ran into a hot goaltender and was unable to find the back of the net.
Next year is eight months away, but as the saying goes, hope springs eternal. Harvard has a strong recruiting class and many talented players coming back for the 1995-96 season, but they will have to step up their production if the team is to be successful.
However, the Crimson will lose eight players to graduation: forwards Martins, Perry Cohagan, captain Ben Coughlin, Cory Gustafson and Keith McLean; defensemen Brian Lonsinger and Michel Breistroff; and goaltender Steve Hermsdorf.
Those seniors (except Breistroff, who took last year off) leave the same way they came in--with a loss to RPI in the ECAC quarterfinals. But they won three straight ECAC regular-season titles, the 1993 Beanpot, and the 1994 ECAC tournament; they qualified for two consecutive NCAA tournaments and came just one goal away from playing in last year's national championship--not too shabby.
The team as a whole this year played hard, right to the end. The sad thing is that they couldn't put it all together.
"It's just too bad that they worked so darn hard, and they can't see the results," Tomassoni said. "They worked right to the very end--I feel badly for them."
"Overall, I can't ask for more of an effort than the guys gave."
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