For most sports fans, the trip across the river to see a Harvard hockey game is another chance for students to demonstrate school spirit, and hopefully gain bragging rights against rival schools. But for diehard hockey fans, a night at Bright Hockey Center also holds a glimpse of the future.
Throughout the history of the program, over twenty Crimson alumni have made the transition from college to the National Hockey League, and even more have been drafted. In any given year, it is a safe bet that a handful of Harvard's players are eagerly anticipating a future at any of the professional teams.
The 2000-2001 team is clearly no exception. After the first successful recruiting class brought in under Harvard Coach Mark Mazzoleni, the Crimson boast seven potential NHL players. Captain Steve Moore and senior winger Chris Bala head up the list of draftees, followed by junior winger Kyle Clark. Sophomore classmates Dominic Moore and Brett Nowak were recently nabbed, along with rookies Tyler Kolarik and Rob Fried.
"It's amazing to think that these are the guys that are soon to become some of the best players in the NHL," Nowak said. "We play with and against a lot of these guys that we'll see in the NHL some day."
As a result, a handful of Harvard alumni have invested time and energy in improving their game, and have emerged as veteran superstars in the NHL. Don Sweeney '88 has earned a solid reputation with the Boston Bruins, while Ted Donato '91, an integral member of the 1989 championship roster, has garnered national attention with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Ted Drury, the 20th all-time leading scorer in Crimson history, has made a name for himself throughout the league, most recently with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Critics may argue that, although the Crimson can boast of a rich and storied hockey history dating back to the last decade, Harvard has declined somewhat from the national scene. But despite the Crimson's dearth of NCAA tournament appearances--Harvard has not been there since 1994--these and other recent hindrances to national recognition have not adversely affected the Crimson's draft performance, or advancement to the NHL.
Many of Harvard's recent graduates are laboring in semi-professional leagues or NHL farm teams, and are doggedly working their way through the ranks. Former captain Craig Adams '99 tops the list, with a recent promotion to the roster of the Carolina Hurricanes, and former captains Jeremiah McCarthy '98 and Trevor Allman '00 are currently in the Carolina farm system.
Defensive linemates Ben Storey '99 and Matt Scorsune '00 are with the Colorado Avalanche's farm team. Mark Moore '00 and J.R. Prestifilippo, one of the most formidable goaltenders in Crimson history, have recently teamed up in the Pittsburgh system.
While other teams can boast having astonishing individual talent--B.U.'s Ricky DiPietro made college hockey history as the first ever goaltender to be picked No. 1 in the draft--the Crimson can boast its depth of NHL potential. Compared to other Division I programs, Harvard touts one of the lengthiest NHL draft lists in the country.
"We have the most in college hockey," sophomore center Dominic Moore said. "Boston is a large city, and scouts get to see us here more often than other schools that are in the middle of nowhere, like Clarkson and Cornell."
Given that there are a limited number of scouts, it makes sense that college towns in metropolitan areas are going to get a majority of the viewing time. But that still does not explain how Harvard remains on par with national powerhouses and cross-town rivals Boston University and Boston College.
"Year in, and year out, we have two, three, or four guys picked, and I don't know why that is," Bala said. "It's an honor and it says a lot about our program. Harvard has always recruited talented kids, and it attracts the attention of the NHL, even though it's not intended to be an NHL theater."
Many smaller, academically rigorous colleges are unable to field hockey programs that are competitive at the Division I level. Therefore, many incoming players jump at the opportunity to play college hockey at one of the most academically challenging institutions in the nation. Harvard's dual commitment to academic and athletic excellence is a huge incentive for many recruits in making their final decisions.
Prospective draftees receive multiple questionnaires from various NHL teams throughout the season, but have very little, if any, personal contact with interested parties. Bala and Steve Moore were two of the exceptions. After dazzling the ECAC with their offensive one-two punch, they sparked more than a passing interest.
"Steve and I both had interviews with the San Jose Sharks during freshman year," Bala said. "But in general, it really doesn't happen all that often."
Other than the questionnaires, players have very little information to go on regarding their draft potential. The only aspect they can control is their performance, which has a direct impact on draft selection. Subsequent rankings and ratings are published that give informative, but not definite, indications of how the draft will turn out.
As the process moves along, teams that show more than a little interest in a player will set up interviews throughout the spring. Like the questionnaires, interviews hardly guarantee selection, but they do suggest possibilities.
"You think you might know who is going to draft you, but in most cases, you're wrong," Dominic Moore said.
At the draft, which is held in a different location each year, players spend most of their waking moments hustling to interviews designed to give NHL organizations one final look at the options.
"Steve and I were pretty confident heading up to Buffalo. We figured something was going to happen for us," Bala said. "But going to the draft is a big risk because there's no guarantee. You could sit there for nine rounds and not hear your name called, which is pretty difficult."
Fortunately, neither Moore nor Bala had to wait very long--both were picked in almost rapid succession of each other in the second round of the 1998 draft. The Colorado Avalanche chose Moore, while the Ottawa Senators nabbed Bala shortly thereafter.
Clark, Harvard's lone draft pick in 1999, was picked up by the Washington Capitals in the sixth round.
The 2000 NHL draft, held in Calgary last June, was one of the Crimson's more successful showings. Of the ten ECAC student-athletes selected, nearly half came from Harvard's roster. Fried went first for the Crimson, selected 77th overall in the third round by the Florida Panthers. Dominic Moore quickly followed suit, as the New York Rangers drafted him 95th overall. Nowak went early in the fourth round, as he was selected 103rd overall by the Bruins. Kolarik rounded out the list with a selection by the Blue Jackets in the fifth round and 150th overall.
"It honestly didn't matter who drafted me," Bala said. "Any kid would agree that being drafted is something you hope for your whole life. If you're fortunate enough for it to happen to you, you can't ask for anything more."
While this step is a long way off for Nowak, Dominic Moore, and the recruits, it is right around the corner for Bala and Steve Moore. Both are almost assured post-college opportunities, as they both have had repeated contact with their respective teams.
"[The Senators] have never come out and said 'we want you now,' and I've been honest with my intentions," Bala said. "Their general manager understands my situation and appreciates the time I put in here. It's not just a decision to leave because there's a lot more to it than that."
Moore, however, has received more than just innuendoes. He has been offered contract negotiations the past two years, but opted to stay with the Crimson until graduation.
"It's definitely tempting because it's what I'm working for, but there are a lot of reasons why I decided to stay," Moore said. "Last year, I wanted to play with my two brothers, which I thought was pretty special. And this year, I felt that it would be good to have one more season here. I was also voted captain, so I didn't want to put the team down either."
The opportunities afforded to drafted players are enormous and amazing. Both Dominic Moore and Bala were invited to play with their respective teams' rookie and main camps this past summer.
"I had a great time, and it seems like the best players are the nicest guys," Moore said. "They split the team up into four groups, and I was lucky enough to get to play with the big gunners--[Theoren] Fleury, [Mark] Messier, and [Adam] Graves."
Bala had a similar out-of-body experience.
"We had scrimmages each day where they would split the entire roster in to three teams," Bala said. "In the first scrimmage, my linemates were Alexei Yashin and Daniel Alfreddson, the all-star, all-world guys. It was kind of a shock to me."
Although they have not played with the main camps of their respective teams, Steve Moore and Nowak have been in close contact with them. Moore has attended pro-conditioning camps, where professional players from all different leagues come to play. In addition, he and his brother Mark played with the Canadian National Team. Nowak also spent some time last January playing with the World Juniors.
"I haven't spent much time with the team," Nowak said. "Since I'm really close, [the Bruins] can watch me whenever they want, and they plan to do so this coming season."
Though it's an honor and a privilege to be drafted, it has little bearing on the Crimson as a team.
"I'm not trying to take anything away from being drafted because it's an honor, and I'm proud it happened to me, but it's irrelevant," Bala said. "All it is is a tryout and a team to work with. It gets your foot in the door. A guy drafted six rounds after me has just as much chance as I do to make the team."
So for all you diehard hockey fans out there, keep your eyes open next time you make the trip to Bright Hockey Center because it's not just an extra-curricular. It's your first opportunity to see some of the players that are destined for NHL fame.
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