CANTON, N.Y.--Nil points (pronounced "neel pwanh"). No points.
In the bilingual world of North Country college hockey, only a slap-shot away from the Ontario border, these are the words which no visiting team wants to take home from Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Travel for light years, throw your sleep schedule into total disarray...and still get nothing tangible from your journey? Such is the ECAC's version of death by the rack.
But this is what Harvard did on Friday and Saturday--nothing. For the first time in five years, the Crimson skaters limped home to Cambridge from this trip without so much as a moral victory to hang their hats upon, this after a total of fifteen hours on a bus and five more hours on the ice surfaces of Cheel and Appleton arenas.
In real terms, the Canton-Pots-dam trip is Harvard hockey's equivalent of the West Coast swing for the Celtics or the Bruins. You feel very far away from home; geography allows the parents of some of the Canadian players a rare chance to see their kids play; each point taken from each game can slingshot your season forward.
But nil points? Ouch.
Need we remind you that both the Celtics and Bruins recently completed West Coast swings of their own without so much as a solitary notch in the "W" column? Both of those teams are basement-dwellers in their respective conferences; and though Harvard still has four teams between itself and the ECAC cellar, somehow comparisons with the B's and C's seem apt for a team dangerously close to flunking out of the 1996-97 season.
For it isn't as though the players on the Crimson aren't trying--they are. Desperately, sometimes. Harvard fell behind by two goals on four separate occasions Saturday; three times it came back and narrowed the St. Lawrence lead to one, seemingly grasping the game's initiative as it did so.
But this team still lacks something. This "something" is significant--but frustratingly, it also remains elusive to identify, and thereby impossible to correct. If there were one department (offense, defense, goaltending) in which Harvard was deficient, Ronn Tomassoni might be able to find a suitable blueprint for repair.
As it is, Harvard continues to wallow in a puddle of general inconsistency. Were the Crimson to have taken nil points from a road trip like this, say, just after its Beanpot debacles, nobody would have been terribly surprised. But after showing glimpses of brilliance last week, losing narrowly at Cornell one night and then toying with a good Colgate team for long stretches the next, a lot of people might have expected more from this latest odyssey.
Many Harvard boosters seem to think that this year's edition of the Crimson is somehow underachieving. I'm not sure if this is the case; the alternative is that the current roster is young, that it lacks bright lights like Steve Martins '95 and Ted Drury '92-3, that it is doing well enough to even be in eighth place right now.
We don't want to believe this. Harvard just can't be so god-awfully mediocre, can it? But when Joel Prpic, the six-foot-seven beanstalk of a St. Lawrence forward, can score three goals against you, including one from inside the center-ice face-off circle, something is dreadfully amiss.
And so, we who follow Harvard hockey all season long are left to face the dire prospect of another trip to the frozen North, or maybe even two. Harvard will definitely play on the first Tuesday of the ECAC playoffs, stuck in the preliminary round for the first time ever; at this rate, that first game might just be played right here in Appleton Arena, against these very Saints. And even if Harvard wins that game, it might very well have to travel up to Clarkson again three days later for a three-game series against the likely regular season champions.
Two more fifteen-hour travelogues? Unless this team somehow finds a way to come together at just the right moment and solve its mysterious problems, problems which loom much larger than those faced by last year's team at this juncture of the season, such prospective voyages do rather seem to have nil point.