The answer: too close to call. And you don’t even have to be an Engineer to figure that out.
Monday’s 2-1 loss to BU in the first round of the Beanpot represents the recent humbling Harvard (13-7-1, 12-3-0 ECAC) has suffered against the top 15 teams in the country. There was a 5-2 loss to Cornell, a 3-0 November loss to BU, a 3-2 loss to Northern Michigan in the Badger Showdown Tournament, a 4-2 loss to Maine in Portland, and the Crimson’s latest loss to the Terriers.
“BU was a very hard loss for us,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “I thought for the majority of the game, we were going to win.”
Fortunately, Harvard has had little trouble with teams the Crimson should defeat. With one notable exception (a 2-1 loss to last-place Princeton), Harvard has taken care of business against its weaker opponents.
The Engineers (8-12-1, 2-10-2 ECAC), currently battling with Princeton for last in the conference, represent an opponent with far less talent than Harvard. However, in the past, Harvard has allowed losses in the Beanpot to trigger a domino-like losing streak, a fact of which Mazzoleni is keenly aware.
“We’ve proven we can be a vulnerable team if we’re not able to pick ourselves up from a loss,” Mazzoleni said.
Thus far, losing streaks have been avoided. The Crimson has lost two consecutive games only once this year.
“We’ve done a good job this year of bouncing back after a loss,” sophomore goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris said earlier this season, responding to concern of a losing skid like last years 2-8-1 slide.
Grumet-Morris, who shined under the bright lights at the Beanpot, will be a critical factor in helping Harvard to avoid a long losing streak during the stretch run. His job gets increasingly difficult, with Northeastern, Colgate and Cornell looming on Harvard’s horizon.
Earlier this season, the Crimson defeated RPI 3-0 in a post-Thanksgiving victory at Bright, leaving Engineer coach Dan Fridgen especially impressed with the Crimson’s special teams.
“They are offensively gifted, no question. They’ve got a lot of firepower there, especially on that first power play unit,” Fridgen said after his team’s defeat.
In an interview after the loss to BU, Mazzoleni hinted at possible line changes at RPI. He mentioned that he might reassemble the Packard-Nowak-Kolarik line that was Harvard’s top scoring grouping last season. Mazzoleni also stated that he was likely going to maintain the Pettit-Cavanagh-Bernakevitch line, which appeared to be the Crimson’s most effective offensive unit against the Terriers.
Mazzoleni also discussed the possibility of using what he termed his “energy line,” consisting of senior Aaron Kim, freshmen Dan Murphy and junior Rob Fried.
The coach’s line shuffling returns to earlier in the season when Mazzoleni would shuffle his players nearly every game. When the team came back from break, Mazzoleni made mention that the auditions were over and that he had finalized his lines.
New pairings, however, may not be a bad thing. Though the Crimson has the second best offense in the ECAC, averaging over four goals a game, its scoring average has fallen recently. The team has scored only five goals in its last three games.
Whatever the line combinations that Mazzoleni chooses to employ, the Crimson must regain its scoring touch and its confidence against RPI to prepare for games against Cornell, Dartmouth and Clarkson in the coming weeks. A loss tonight would certainly sound the alarms for another post-exam break collapse—a fate Harvard would much like to avoid.
—Staff writer Timothy M. McDonald can be reached at email@example.com.