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Boston University, the cross-town rival which has played the role of Globetrotter to Harvard’s inept General in recent years, faces off with Harvard (2-2-1, 2-2-1 ECAC) tonight at Bright Hockey Center.
Over four games spanning two seasons, Harvard has been unable to solve the Terriers, whether it be at Bright, at Walter Brown, in the Beanpot or in the NCAA Tournament. That losing streak sits within the larger context of the Crimson’s struggles with non-conference opponents: the team managed only one win in seven games against opponents outside the ECAC, and three of its five losses in non-conference play came to the Terriers. All of which combines to make tonight’s game the most important contest thus far in this young season.
“Usually [Harvard-BU] is a huge game because it’s an intra-city rival, because it’s a Beanpot rival, because we want to be the top team,” captain Kenny Smith said.
“This is an out-of-conference game, and an NCAA RPI [Rating Points Index] game,” junior goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris agreed. “Whether or not we are 5-0 or 4-1 or 2-2-1, we still have to win this game.”
And accomplishing that, Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni believes, will require a strong effort like the one his team turned against Yale on Nov. 15.
“We’re going to have to be ready from the opening face-off...to play a lunch-pail-type mentality,” he said. “To get to all the loose pucks, and compete and come up with loose pucks. And be physical when we have to, but at the same time play our game offensively because we like to skate and create plays and push the puck.”
“For us to be successful, we have to be a hard-working team,” Mazzoleni said. “We have to use our overall defensive scheme to create offense for us.”
A significant part of that scheme, in Mazzoleni’s mind, will be the play of his fourth line. Against Yale, the fourth line was composed of senior Rob Fried and juniors Andrew Lederman and Rob Flynn, and they provided a physical presence and an energy that was missing in many of the team’s early games.
“[Against Yale], they asserted their size, they were very good in the offensive zone and they play very well defensively,” Mazzoleni said.
Mazzoleni cited physical play as something his team will need against BU, and that is something that both he and Terriers coach Jack Parker agree on.
“BU likes to play an up-tempo style of game,” Mazzoleni said. “I’d expect a BU-Harvard game, it’s going to be very physical.”
“[I’m] expecting a real good skating team that’s going to come at us physically,” Parker said. “I’m expecting to see one of the best [power plays] in the nation of teams we play, because that’s what they were last year.
“And even though they lost Moore and Nowak—and those guys were important losses—they’ve got a lot of guys back, and they’ve got a pretty good junior defenseman of their own there, too, with Noah,” Parker added.
Parker’s information in this regard may be a little off or, at least, Harvard’s power play unit has not yet reached a level of success to match the potential Parker sees. A year ago, Harvard converted on 23.7 percent of its man-advantages, the best in the ECAC and the tenth most effective in the nation. Currently, the Crimson’s top unit has converted on only two of 16 chances—the second worst percentage in all the ECAC.
Early on Mazzoleni worried about his team’s penalty killing unit, but the Crimson has been getting better acclimated to assistant coach Gene Reilly’s penalty killing system and has not allowed a power play goal over the last two games. Now it is the power play that has Mazzoleni concerned, with the primary concern that his first unit has become too predictable, rarely moving the puck over from the Tom Cavanagh-Charlie Johnson side to the Tim Pettit-Tyler Kolarik side.
“We’ve actually worked on that, trying to get the puck to the other side and working on the other side,” Mazzoleni said after his team’s weekend split with Princeton and Yale Nov. 14-15. “But we’re stagnant, for whatever reason.”
“If you have a power play that’s predictable, you’re going to get stoned,” he continued. “Right now, we’re getting stoned.”
Special teams struggles aside, Parker thinks that tonight’s game will be a tight one, more like his team’s narrow Beanpot win than it’s cake-walk last November at Walter Brown.
“All in all, this is the same team we played in the Beanpot, and the NCAAs, and we struggled mightily to get by them each time,” he said.
—Staff writer Timothy M. McDonald can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Jon Paul Morosi contributed to this report.
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