For the Harvard men's hockey team (9-16-2, 8-10-2 ECAC) the biggest question tonight and tomorrow night will be which team will take the ice against Dartmouth (10-15-2, 5-13-2) and Vermont (19-8-3, 11-6-3).
Will it be the team whose hustle has made it the third-ranked defense in the ECAC? Or will it be the team whose lack of staying power has allowed it to win two straight games only once all season?
The answer to that question will determine whether or not the Crimson plays its ECAC preliminary round match at home or on the road in Potsdam, N.Y. against St. Lawrence.
"The weekend's games are very important because we need a win this weekend to insure home ice [on Tuesday]," sophomore Craig Adams said.
Actually, a tie will do. Presently, the Crimson is three points ahead of the Saints in the ECAC standings. Therefore, the Crimson must at least tie either Dartmouth or Vermont in order to guarantee home ice advantage for the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
If not, Harvard must hope for a St. Lawrence defeat at the hands of Cornell or Colgate, or face the prospect of a midweek contest in upstate New York.
This possibility seems especially daunting in light of the 6-3 road loss Harvard suffered at the hands of St. Lawrence on Saturday. However, the Crimson has tried to move beyond that game and look toward this weekend.
"We didn't have a good weekend but now we are really focused on these next two games," freshman Trevor Allman said.
Focused play is exactly what the Crimson needs for all 60 minutes if it expects to emerge victorious.
"We have to be working hard out there on every shift," Adams said.
The major advantage Harvard has over both Vermont and Dartmouth is the size of its players. So far, the Crimson has successfully exploited this size differential to play strong, physical games against its opponents. This physical prowess will prove extremely important against both Vermont and Dartmouth, which are known for quick feet rather than size.
"We need to play physically against Dartmouth in order to throw off their speed," Allman said.
The Catamounts provide an added roadblock for the Crimson in their front line of Erin Perrin, Martin St. Louis and J.C. Ruid.
Affectionately known as "the French connection with the American protection," these three have proved nearly unstoppable this year and led Vermont to its current third-place standing in the ECAC. They will be the line that the Crimson is gunning for come Saturday night.
"Vermont is a one-line team. We beat them at the ECAC tournament last year by shutting that line down," Allman said.
More important than shutting anyone else down, the Crimson needs to focus on keeping itself in the game both mentally and physically.
If it does so, then home ice will be a lock; if not, then it may be in for a long trip come Tuesday.