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They might be small, but this group packs punch.
5’8. 5’9. 5’11. These aren’t the dominating statures common to hockey, but height doesn’t help you find the back of the net.
And because finding the back of the net is just fine by first-year coach Ted Donato ’91, the incoming freshman class is perfect for the fast-paced style he looks to bring to the Harvard men’s hockey team. The class is one of the biggest in recent Crimson history—nine new skaters will break onto the ice this season—and their hype precedes them.
“They all work hard, and they all have a lot of skill,” senior center Brendan Bernakevitch said. “They can find the back of the net so far.”
Donato may not have recruited this group, but he’s more than willing to reap the benefits of its talent. The rookie coach brings a more up-tempo mindset to the Harvard program, and six new freshmen forwards won’t complain about that.
Last year’s senior-laden Crimson squad graduated three of its top five scorers and six forwards, leaving the Crimson without 41 percent of its offense. This handful of eager newcomers is more than willing to fill that void.
Speedster Jon Pelle, one of this year’s most coveted recruits, is certainly hoping to make an impact. The standout from West Islip, N.Y., starred on the New York Applecore in the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL), leading the squad to an EJHL championship in 2003. The 2004 Northeast Junior Hockey Player of the Year, Pelle netted 56 goals and tallied 58 assists in his final season—the former statistic good enough for first place the EJHL.
Though undersized at 5’8, Pelle is an aggressive playmaker who has already tasted success on the Crimson’s second line this winter. In Saturday’s exhibition against the US Under-18 team, he scored a goal and had an assist.
“Even though Pelle’s half the size of most of our defensemen, that doesn’t mean he can’t knock one of us down,” senior captain Noah Welch said.
And thanks to the NCAA’s recent effort to clean up the clutch-and-grab game collegiate hockey has become, Pelle and the other small freshmen will be able to showcase their talents—instead of being corralled by bigger defensemen.
That change will benefit both Donato’s aggressive style and the scrappy freshmen skaters who look to employ it.
And then there’s Mike Taylor, the Minnesotan who stands 5’11, who won a gold medal as part of the United States 2003 Under-18 World Cup team and skated 10 games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) in 2003.
Attempting to fill the void of prolific scorers Tyler Kolarik ’04, Dennis Packard ’04 and Tim Pettit ’04, Pelle and Taylor hope that speed and tenacity prove productive, especially as the Crimson looks to attack the net more frequently.
A pair of 5’9 prolific high school scorers—Paul Dufault and Alex Meintel—will add further depth to Harvard’s small but quick offense. Dufault, a two-year EJHL All-Star for the Walpole Stars, demonstrated no trouble finding the back of the net when he led the Stars with 14 goals and 20 assists his senior year. Meintel recorded similar numbers while at Taft, tallying 16 goals and 19 assists as a junior.
As their high school numbers suggest, these guys aren’t easy to defend.
“I was chasing Dufault, Taylor and Pelle around in captain’s practice and it was a pain in the butt,” Welch said. “They’re little skilled guys, but they compete, and sometimes those are the toughest guys to play against.”
Welch won’t have to worry about covering his own teammates come game time, but the Crimson certainly hopes opposing defensemen have similar difficulties with the speedy freshmen.
And the taller skaters in the group of forwards? Tyler Magura, the 6’1 native of hockey heartland Fargo, N.D., also brings USHL experience to the front line.
He spent his junior and senior seasons with the Lincoln Stars, tallying five goals and seven assists in his final season.
And then there’s Dave Watters, a skinny 205 pounds at 6’4, who was named the offensive MVP of his team at Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota.
In the U.S. Under-18 exhibition, he racked up four points, including an empty-netter that sealed the 7-4 victory for Harvard.
Harvard returns a veteran corps to its blueline, a group of looming upperclassmen who look to be particularly stingy this winter.
But when one of your freshmen was drafted by the NHL—well, you might be able to spare some minutes for him.
Dave MacDonald, a 2003 product of St. Paul’s School (N.H.), spent last year with the New England Junior Coyotes and was named an EJHL All-Star. In June, the San Jose Sharks selected the 6’3 blueliner in the seventh round of the National Hockey League (NHL) draft. But the pros will have to wait for MacDonald, and Harvard coaches have no problem with that.
Joining MacDonald on the blueline are J.D. McCabe and Chris Kelley.
The two rookies, both well over 6’0, will be ready to contribute as Harvard shifts towards a more aggressive offensive style of play.
Kelley managed a +5 in the plus/minus column, good for fourth on the Gamblers. He joined the team after high school but before joining the Crimson.
Playing behind a slew of talented upperclassmen, the incoming blueliners might have to wait to show off their skills.
Not that they won’t try, though.
“When you are a freshman, you try and just do the little things to get into a lineup, and I think they’re going to be key to that,” Welch said.
For the rookies, there’s no time to wait. The once senior-laden Crimson must now rely in part on youth, while last year it had the luxury of experience on both ends.
Small or not, these freshmen have got big shoes to fill.
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