Men's Hockey To Battle No. 2 Boston College Tonight

Brenda Lee

Junior defenseman NOAH WELCH (5) will be counted on to lead Harvard's power play unit tonight against powerhouse Boston College

Struggling to stay above .500 was not how the Harvard men’s hockey team envisioned beginning its season. But then again, the Crimson (5-4-1, 4-4-1 ECAC) most likely did not anticipate early season losses to Brown, Clarkson or Princeton. A tie at Dartmouth and a loss at Cornell’s Lynah Rink are understandable, but a third period collapse against Princeton? Unexpected, to say the least.

Those early losses put Harvard in a tenuous position as it begins the toughest five-game stretch of its season. After Boston College tonight, the Crimson will host No. 8 UMass-Amherst on Saturday, travel to Princeton on Tuesday and play in a holiday tournament on Dec. 27 against No. 6 St. Cloud State and either Clarkson or Providence. Of the six possible teams Harvard could face in its five upcoming games, three are nationally ranked, and two of the others have already defeated the Crimson.

The Cantabs head into tonight’s matchup against No. 2 B.C. (10-2-3) at the Heights needing a big win to gain some momentum and restore team confidence. Unfortunately, a win over the No. 2 team in the nation is never easy.

“There are plenty of reasons for this game to be important,” captain Kenny Smith said. “We play them in the first round of the Beanpot, and we’re always recruiting against them.  But this time of year, the main thing is starting to compile some victories.”

Junior Noah Welch agreed with his fellow defenseman. “We play them in the first round of the Beanpot so if we play well against them, it’s something that, around Beanpot-time, could give us a lot of confidence,” he said. “This is probably a bigger game for us than if we were 7-0 or 8-0 right now.”

Harvard will enter the contest knowing that its banged up roster will field only five defensemen against the Eagles’ impressive corps of forwards, a group that Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni called “the most talented in the country.”

Boston College boasts four superstar offensive talents. Senior forwards Tony Voce and Ben Eaves, junior forward Ryan Shannon, and sophomore Patrick Eaves, the younger brother of Ben, could all have futures in the NHL. The quartet has combined for 65 points this season, part of the best offense—averaging 4.13 points per game—in the Hockey East conference. Harvard’s defense has not seen a more talented group this season.

“I’ve been playing against the better forwards in our league the last couple years, and it’s something that helps motivate me a little,” Welch said. “If I can shut down their forwards, not only am I doing my job, but it can really help the team win.”

“They’re great players, but if you take away their space, you’re going to give them problems,” he added.

It may be difficult for Harvard to contain swift skaters like Voce and the Eaves brothers, at least tonight, with numerous players inactive. Due to injuries to senior Dave McCulloch and freshman Dylan Reese, the Crimson will only dress five defensemen. The added ice time for each available defenseman might take its toll on the unit’s energy and quickness, a fact that has not escaped Mazzoleni. But there is little Harvard can do to alleviate the problem.

“We have to play with the cards we have right now,” he said.  “Our five guys are going to play very hard and very well [against BC].”

The key for Harvard may be avoiding penalties.

The Eagles’ have the second best power play unit in Hockey East, converting on more than 23 percent of their chances playing with a man up.

“We have to play our game and be very, very aware of they will do,” Mazzoleni said. “They have a tremendous transition game and an excellent power play.”

And if Harvard manages to contain BC’s explosive forwards and its proficient power play, the Crimson still must solve the Eagles’ defense, a group headlined by second team All-American defenseman J.D. Forrest and hulking (6’4, 215 lbs.) blue-liner Andrew Alberts.

Matti Kaltiainen will be between the pipes, a strong goaltender who won post-season honors in last year’s NCAA Tournament.