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It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Although a saying that accurately defines usual college careers, the 1994-95 Harvard men's hockey team experienced equal amounts of both.
The Crimson (14-14-2, 12-9-1 ECAC regular season, third place) came into the season with high expectations. Sporting News' preseason college hockey poll ranked Harvard fourth in the country, while the Troy Record's college hockey poll ranked the Crimson sixth.
With returning ECAC Player of the Year and first-team All-America senior Steve Martins at center, as well as a host of defensemen that held opponents to under 20 shots a game several times last year, the team looked ready to repeat the previous year's trip to the NCAA semifinals.
But this season marked a falling out of the scoring punch that led the Crimson into the spotlight, as the team struggled to live up to the increasingly high expectations. Of the five players who averaged a point a game last year, only one remained in that elite category when the 1994-95 season finished--Martins.
In fact, Martins' presence served as the beacon for the team, leading it on through the night in victory. But Harvard quickly learned that those who live by the sword, die by it as well. This was no better exhibited than by the last game's linescore: "Martins (unassisted)" was the squad's only tally, as the supreme effort of the squad could not amount to anything further.
Apart from the team's reliance on Martins, the other extraordinary talent on the team often did not show up for a full three periods. Several times Harvard would fall behind early and by huge margins, only to mount a fierce comeback only to be ended just short at the final buzzer.
Lady Luck also seemed to be working against the Crimson this year, as nearly every goalie who stood in net for the opposition seemed to have his best game of the year. Mike Tamburro of RPI shut down the Crimson forwards in the ECAC quarterfinals. Princeton, Vermont, Union and Yale also had their netminders come up big, while Harvard seemed to have as many goals waived off and last-minute disasters strike.
Harvard began by shocking the nation--struggling to a 4-5-1 record, including a paltry 3-3-1 at the friendly confines of the Bright Hockey Center. The Crimson would then lose eight of the 15 games it would play at home this season, after losing just eight games at home in the previous six years combined. Also, by this point Harvard had fallen out of the national rankings and would not return.
However, bright spots would emerge at different times during the season: returning junior goalie Tripp Tracy had the game of a lifetime against Brown on December 3rd--a game televised on ESPN2. But then, the squad was trounced once again by a Hockey East opponent on December 7th, losing 5-2 to New Hampshire in Cambridge.
On December 10, Harvard began a road stretch that would eventually span seven games and bring the Crimson to such exotic places such as Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 miles from Canada in upstate New York and Burlington, Vermont. The road seemed to be the only rest and relaxation for the Crimson, who went 6-1 on that road stretch.
Harvard was 10-6-1 entering February, but stumbled through February and March, going 4-8-1 in a series of roller-coaster rides.
February also means Beanpot time for the Crimson, and this year's opening round matchup against Boston College was not Harvard's shining moment. Harvard allowed four goals in the first period, then in a gallant effort rallied in the third stanza, only to fall 7-6.
The season could be characterized by a typical weekend such as February 24th and 25th. A Harvard squad of old turned things around in a 5-3 win at RPI, as Martins seemed to be all over the ice and the Engineers in the Friday night shootout. But the Mr. Hyde of the weekend again bore his ugly head--Union scored early and often on Saturday, before Harvard made it close late in a 5-3 loss.
The last regular season weekend of the year witnessed yet another split, as Harvard poured it on against St. Lawrence, before dropping a heartbreaker against Clarkson to close out the season.
Despite the roller-coaster ride that the 1994-95 season was, Harvard still finished in third place in the ECAC, good enough to play RPI at home in a first-to-three points series. A tie Friday night produced a winner-take-all Saturday night affair, where RPI goalie Mike Tamburro stood on his head to propel the Engineers onward (and eventually to the ECAC tournament crown). But for the Crimson it market the end of a certainly atypical year, marked by big wins in big rinks but lacking the consistency seen in past champions.
"It's too bad NCAA tournament bids aren't given out in terms of effort," Harvard coach Ronn Tomassoni said, and indeed it holds true for this year's squad.
Blessed with a host of talent and some enthusiastic young faces, Harvard never quite came into sync as a unit, as brief glimpses of greatness showed themselves to be far too rare.
"We just had a difficult time putting the puck in the net." Tomassoni said. "It's hard to win hockey games with one or two goals."
For the seniors, they leave Harvard hockey in the same fashion they left their freshman year: losing to RPI in a thrilling game at the Bright Center.
Harvard will lose eight players: goalie Steve Hermsdorf; forwards Martins, captain Ben Coughlin, Perry Cohagan, Cory Gustafson and Keith McLean; defensemen Bryan Lon singer and Michel Breistroff.
So with the end of one season begins the hope for the future of another. Although no All-Americans will return to the roster next year, a strong incoming freshman class, along with a plethora of experienced talent, should provide a good foundation for success. The Crimson went 13-15-2 a year before progressing to the NCAA final in 1983, so anything is possible.
But unfortunately for the 1994-95 squad, a strong effort didn't necessarily produce the desired results.
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