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The Harvard men’s hockey team has played just one regular season game. But in many ways, the pressure’s already on.
Bring home points from this weekend’s trek to Colgate and Cornell, and the Crimson (0-0-1, 0-0-1 ECAC) will be off to a good start. Struggle in tonight’s game against the Big Red, and Harvard will already be playing catch-up in the league standings.
“Absolutely a big test,” captain Noah Welch said.
It won’t be easy. Beating Cornell is something Harvard hasn’t done in five straight games, including 1-0 and 5-3 defeats last season.
“I haven’t had a win up at Cornell yet in my Harvard career,” Welch said, “so it’s a big game.”
And then there’s Lynah Rink, the Big Red’s home ice, where the fans toss around fish and insults with reckless abandon.
Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 affectionately remembers Lynah as “the most hostile environment in college hockey.”
“Looking back,” Donato said smiling, “it’s one of the best venues in college hockey. A part of me wishes I still got to play.”
A part of the Crimson probably wishes he still got to play too. Maybe the erstwhile Boston Bruin could help the team crack Cornell goaltender David McKee, who allowed three Harvard goals in 120 minutes last year.
“If a goalie can see every…shot that’s taken,” Welch said, “he’s going to make a save at this level. So especially a good goalie like McKee and a great defense that packs in around the net, we’re going to have to get bodies in front. And not only [get] pucks through, but guys are going to have to get through and are going to have to be right at the doorstep.”
Against the traditionally stingy Big Red defense, the Crimson must be aggressive early. In Lynah, Cornell leads don’t disappear so easily.
“It can be a home ice advantage,” Donato said of the rink’s atmosphere, “especially if you chase from behind.”
Harvard has learned this firsthand the last three years.
But with whistles more frequent these days, there’s reason to believe that tonight’s faceoff will lead to a somewhat different game.
Notorious for larger, slower defensive skaters who wholeheartedly employ the clutch-and-grab methods of the NHL, Cornell will now find its players under the microscope—and, more often than not, in the sin bin.
Not that Harvard escapes the whistles. In last weekend’s 2-2 tie with Brown, the Crimson accrued 13 minor infractions, four of which were Welch’s and one of which was taken by the Bears as a penalty shot.
“I thought it got a little ridiculous,” freshman Dave Watters said. “What I really didn’t like about it was that they were letting the major stuff go and then calling all the little insignificant stuff. It just kind of took a lot of flow away from the game.
“Hopefully they’ll let us play Friday night,” Welch said, “because that’s what the fans want to see.”
Though all eyes will be on the Crimson-Cornell contest tonight, tomorrow’s matchup with Colgate—last year’s ECAC regular season champion—should not be overlooked.
“If anything,” Welch said, “they’re just as big of a game. It just happens that we play Cornell first. If we played Colgate [on] Friday night, we wouldn’t even be talking about Cornell now.
“As soon as the [Cornell] game ends, our focus is on Colgate,” he added.
Old Raider coach Don Vaughn will return to Colgate, which won last year’s regular season ECAC title with a less than overwhelming campaign.
The Raiders’ netminder Steve Silverthorn—who was 18-9-4 last season with a 1.82 goals against average and a .927 save percentage—will challenge a Harvard offense that has yet to finish its plays with consistent authority.
The Crimson showed improvement in a US Under-18 exhibition and managed a 3-for-7 power play, though Donato noted, “I don’t think, by any means, we are where we want to be.”
Improvement is improvement, nonetheless, and this weekend provides the perfect opportunity to put all those practices to the test.
“I don’t want to go as far as [to say] I expect to win this weekend,” Welch said, “[but] as far as our team goes, beating Cornell and Colgate on the road—the two top teams in our league—will put us in really good position.”
—Staff writer Rebecca A. Seesel can be reached at email@example.com.
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