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Adding Craig Adams to the Harvard men's hockey team may be like adding the spark to gunpowder--light the match and watch the sparks fly.
Rebounding from a serious shoulder injury suffered during the middle of last year, Adams is prepared to captain a Crimson team that this season looks to be even better than its strong finish last year forebodes.
Adams sustained the injury over Christmas break last season during a game in Wisconsin. He had been skating along the right side of the rink when he was pushed into the boards with the door to the penalty box open. His head and shoulder crashed into the glass, and doctors later discovered that he had stretched a nerve in his shoulder.
It was initially projected that Adams would have to miss only a few weeks, and he eventually practiced with the team by the end of the season. However, he was unable to take contact and had to sit out the remainder of the season to let the nerve regenerate.
Prior to his injury, Adams had been playing the season of his life. In only 12 games, he had chalked up six goals and six assists. Drafted by the National Hockey League's Hartford Whalers in the ninth round of the 1996 draft, Adams had gained the reputation of being a tough, hard-nosed player who never gave up on the ice.
"[The injury] was disappointing," Adams says. "You wait for your big chance and when you think that it's finally come, then it's disappointing when it doesn't work out. It was pretty hard at the time, but there's nothing that I can really do about it now, so I'm just trying to learn from the experience."
Adams recuperated, and rather than dwelling on the seriousness of the injury, he instead used it as inspiration for the upcoming season.
"It was rough [sitting out]," the right winger says. "It was a very frustrating experience, but to take a positive outlook on it, I learned a lot. When you're always in the game, sometimes it's helpful to step back and see things that you didn't notice before. It helps you to see how you could improve."
Adams went through physical therapy and lifted weights throughout the offseason to rehabilitate his shoulder and fine-tune his skills. He has attempted this summer to increase his strength--a key to his aggressive style of play--as well as improve his accuracy and stick-handling.
"Craig's definitely become a lot stronger and bigger this season," says senior defenseman Ben Storey. "He's gotten to be more of a finesse player and fine-turned his game."
Thus far, Adams has been able to take contact, so the shoulder should not slow him in tomorrow's season opener against Brown. During preseason practices and scrimmages, he has proven to his coach and his teammates that he is in top form.
"Craig certainly looks completely recovered," says Harvard Coach Ronn Tomassoni. "We haven't seen him favoring [his shoulder] at all, and he's still playing with the same reckless abandon that he's always played with. Hopefully he'll have an injury-free season."
"I've been feeling good all fall, and when I'm out there, I don't even notice it," Adams says. "A lot of the summer was spent in rehab, but I tried to work on everything. I'm hopefully a little bit quicker and stronger."
Anxiety arose during the off-season that Adams' injury would force him to curtail his aggressiveness. Adams, however, believes that his game will still be just as physical.
"I was wondering how the injury would affect me, but I played some competitive hockey at the beginning of September, and before I knew it, I was pushing my shoulder right away and playing more physical than I ever had, and it didn't affect me at all," Adams says.
Last season, Crimson fans had great hopes about the combination of Adams working together with then-freshmen forwards Chris Bala and Steve Moore. Adams' injury limited their time together last season, but Bala and Moore continued to progress dramatically in his absence.
Although there are no guarantees, hopes have arisen once again that Tomassoni will reunite the three.
"I think that we do work well together, and I'd be happy to play with [Bala and Moore], but I'm not sure what Coach has in store for us," Adams says. "We'll just have to wait and see."
"Obviously they proved themselves to be a very good line last season," Tomassoni says. "It's just a matter of trying to spread the wealth a little and taking a look at the younger kids."
Adams takes his responsibilities as team captain seriously. He refuses to speak of his own accomplishments and instead lavishes praise upon his teammates. He has worked hard to make these younger members an integral part of the team.
"Craig is close to the guys on the team and isn't cocky to the freshmen," said freshman forward Kyle Clark. "He's definitely the best captain that I've ever had."
Adams' work ethic has made a lasting impression upon his teammates. Last season, doubts arose concerning the Crimson's ability to focus on the opponent and close out games, but Adams has set an example for his teammates with his concentration and determination.
"The best form of leadership that Craig brings every day is how hard he goes out and competes," Tomassoni says. "Regardless of whether we're at practice, at home or away, no matter who the opponent is, Craig only knows one speed, and that's full speed ahead."
"Craig's a vocal leader, and he's good at getting everyone involved in the game," Moore says.
Adams' return to the ice may be the catalyst to a successful season for the Crimson. Its improvement towards the end of last season--in which it won its final two road games for the first time in two years--signals hope for this year.
Harvard swept Colgate in the first round of the playoffs before dropping to Clarkson in the semifinals. The depth of the team as well as the added potential of freshmen such as Clark and defenseman Leif Ericson may help fulfill the hopes of Crimson hockey fans for an NCAA Tournament-bound season.
"One of our strengths this year is our depth," Adams says. "Chris [Bala] and Stevie [Moore] really proved themselves last year, so I don't think that they should surprise anyone. [Senior winger] Rob Millar had a fantastic sophomore year, and I definitely expect him to get back to where he was in terms of scoring goals and contributing. The juniors this year have incredible potential and might be the key to our team in terms of whether they step up or not. If they play up to their potential, then we'll be a great team, not just a good team."
"Nothing but a national championship will satisfy me this year," Adams adds. "Of my four years here, this is the best team that we've had. Of course, you can't control everything, but a lot of it is in our hands, and we have a good opportunity this year to see how much we can achieve."
A history concentrator living in Leverett House, Adams' enthusiasm makes him an ideal leader. By serving as an example to his teammates, Adams brings out the best in their play.
"Being with Craig last year on the line really made the transition a lot easier for me," Bala says. "Being able to be with someone who's gone through everything, through freshman year, helped me out. It was easy to ask him questions about anything and believe what he said. The best part of his leadership is his work ethic, and he taught us all a lot about working hard and competing."
"Craig, brings confidence, enthusiasm, intensity, eagerness," Storey says. "He's definitely fun to play with because if things aren't going well, he can get you going."
Adams' roots in hockey-crazed Calgary spurred his love of the game. In high school, he helped the Calgary Canucks, his club team, to the national championship. He hopes to continue his dream after graduation by playing professionally.
"Craig works extremely hard and is a great player," Storey says. "He will definitely play professional hockey one day. The sky's the limit when you know how to work hard, and Craig definitely knows how to work."
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