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Last season, in winning more than 20 games for the first time in nearly a decade, the Harvard men’s hockey team swept six ECAC regular-season weekends.
But as the Crimson closes the first semester with this weekend’s home series against No. 9 Cornell and Colgate, it is still searching for its first four-point weekend—an indication of the team’s inconsistency in a 7-8-2 (5-6-1 ECAC) start.
Harvard had an opportunity to record its first sweep last weekend, when it produced a riveting, come-from-behind win at Union on Friday. But then it fell flat in a 4-1 loss at Rensselaer the next night.
“It’s tough to say [why],” junior goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris said after practice yesterday. “Maybe some of it has to do with the [four] injured guys. We play the same defensive rotation and same forward rotation every game, and that maybe takes a toll on guys.
“But it comes down to execution, too. If you don’t come out and execute, it doesn’t matter what you did last night. You’re going to get your butt handed to you, just like what happened [last] weekend.”
This is the longest Harvard has gone without a weekend sweep in head coach Mark Mazzoleni’s five years here. The longest previous drought to start a season came in 2000-2001, but that ended Jan. 5-6, 2001 with home wins against Union and Rensselaer.
The Crimson has played everyone in the league at least once (Princeton twice), so it knows earning that first sweep won’t be easy—especially not this weekend. The Big Red come to town Friday, riding a five-game unbeaten streak that includes a 1-0 win over Harvard on Dec. 6.
Bright Hockey Center will be electric, with the game televised nationally on CSTV. And, despite a new ticket policy aimed at protecting the Harvard fan base, there is little doubt that the Lynah Faithful will be a big part of the evening.
“Even at home, we’ll face adversity in the stands,” Grumet-Morris said. “It’s all going to add to the atmosphere, with the cameras and a televised game.”
“Any game like this where you know the fans are going to get involved, you have to stay level-headed and not get too pumped up,” said junior defenseman Noah Welch. “It’s easier said than done for us, because we’re used to home games where the crowd doesn’t show up until after the first. They’re here early and have their band going.
“But I think we did a good job at Cornell, so I don’t see that as a problem for us,” he said.
Trying to turn the power on
The Harvard power play started the season badly—7-for-41 (17.1 percent) in its first 10 games—and has gotten worse—3-for-29 (10.3 percent) in its last seven—so the Crimson coaching staff has gone back to the drawing board once more.
“The power play has obviously not been where we want it to be,” said Harvard assistant coach Sean McCann ’94, who coordinates the power play. “We’ve been trying different combinations of breakouts, of in-zone play. Sometimes it’s worked, and sometimes it hasn’t.
“They want to do better. They want to score goals. It’s never been a lack of effort. Sometimes we’re executing well, but we’re so snake-bitten that we’re not getting the goals.”
Harvard began the season with the same umbrella set it used last year, then changed to a 2-3 alignment before a Dec. 10 loss at Boston College. Last week, the Crimson adjusted away from the 2-3. This weekend should bring another wrinkle.
“We’ll have a new look on Friday where we’ll get our chances,” said Welch, the power-play point man. “I promise you that.”
Following their allegiances
On Monday, Harvard’s normally close-knit team was divided by a sporting event held thousands of miles away.
The United States’ dramatic, 4-3 win over Canada to win gold in the World Junior (Under-20) Championships in Helsinki, Finland, was well-received by the 20 American-born Crimson players.
As for the seven Canadians? Well, consider the plight of sophomore forward—and Calgary, Alberta, native—Charlie Johnson. Johnson watched the game with Grumet-Morris and said it was a “big mistake,” since Grumet-Morris grew up outside of Chicago and (apparently) knows many of the U.S. players.
“He was talking like he knew everyone on the team, calling them by their nicknames and stuff,” Johnson said.
The game-winning goal was scored when Canadian goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has already played in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, hit one of his own players with a clearing attempt and it went into the Team Canada goal.
“That was about the worst day of my life,” Johnson said, only half-jokingly.
Harvard freshman defenseman Dylan Reese was supposed to be on the U.S. team for the tournament, but a pinched nerve kept him home. The injury has forced him to miss the Crimson’s last 11 games.
Off the radar
For the first time all season, Harvard did not receive votes in the USCHO.com national poll, released last Monday.
Harvard began the season ranked No. 6 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/American Hockey Magazine polls. The Crimson stayed in the Top 15 through the end of November, but it fell out on Dec. 1 and hasn’t climbed back since.
Three ECAC teams appeared in this week’s USCHO.com rankings: No. 9 Cornell (6-2-5), No. 12 Dartmouth (6-2-5) and No. 15 Brown (8-3-3).
Senior defenseman David McCulloch tested out his sprained ankle in non-contact drills at yesterday’s practice, though it is not known if he’ll return for the weekend … Junior defenseman Ryan Lannon missed yesterday’s practice. Welch, Lannon’s roommate, said he had the 24-to-48 hour flu and should be back for the weekend … The University of Findlay (Ohio) announced yesterday that it will drop Division I men’s and women’s ice hockey as a varsity sport, effective at the end of this season.
—Staff writer Jon Paul Morosi can be reached at email@example.com.
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