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Welch Seeks All-American End to College

Harvard’s captain looks to become school’s ninth two-time award winner

By Timothy J. Mcginn, Crimson Staff Writer

There is no shortage of painful memories from last season for Noah Welch to contemplate during his senior year. A pair of losses to Cornell. Another disappointing Beanpot. A two-period NCAA tournament masterpiece erased in just 20 minutes.

In short, plenty of fodder for a captain looking to prevent a repeat of yesteryear.

“It’s real easy this year considering how last season ended,” Welch says. “All the guys are kinda—it didn’t settle well how our seasons ended.”

But for Welch, the two-time All-ECAC defenseman, last year’s disappointment extends well beyond Harvard’s stunning collapse against then-No. 1 Maine.

Prior to the 2003-04 slate, Welch, in many ways, embodied the smothering hopes heaped on the Crimson’s collective shoulders. Highly touted in pre-season projections, both he and his teammates were expected to easily repeat and improve upon their performances from the season before. Not an altogether easy task considering Welch’s second-team All-American nod and Harvard’s at-large NCAA berth the season before.

“I think myself and the team put way too many expectations on ourselves last year, and that’s one thing I’m staying away from this year,” Welch says. “The pre-season All-American—stuff like that—that’s great, but I know that maybe that will happen if I just play my game and don’t worry about all that other hype.”

Because last year, well, the hype caught up with the Crimson—and Welch.

Between Dec. 6 and Feb. 13, Harvard won just four times in 15 games. After starting the season as nearly unanimous favorites to capture the ECAC crown and a series of false starts that refreshed hope of attaining that goal, the Crimson’s season was in undeniable freefall.

And Welch? Well, he fared little better.

“Noah took a very strong step forward from freshman to sophomore year and I think he will make a similar jump from sophomore to junior year,” former Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni had said prior to the season’s start. “He has the ability to control a game, and he needs to do that consistently now.”

Though not the most egregiously underperforming defenseman, Welch struggled to do just that, most notably during the Crimson’s mid-year swoon.

And when Harvard, its season hanging by a thread, fell behind Yale by four goals in a crucial February matchup, Welch’s year hit rock bottom.

“I think,” Welch said then, “I hit an all-time low in my hockey career in the first period.”

But though hopes for national accolades had faded, neither Welch nor Harvard was beyond resuscitation.

And as the Crimson drove towards its second ECAC postseason championship in three years, Welch’s game took care of itself. Scoring six points—one goal, five assists—in as many games, Welch had, like Harvard, arrived. At last.

“I was just making easy plays, not trying to make the difficult plays,” Welch says. “[I was] just jumping up in the play when the time was right and just kept having fun.”

THE SEASON AHEAD

Maintaining that form asks little from Welch aside from playing to his natural strengths. An offensive-minded blueliner, Welch will look to return to the basics that garnered nationwide praise in the first place.

At its simplest level, that means peppering opposing netminders and punishing those who try to do the same to Dov Grumet-Morris.

“I’d say getting the puck to the net and getting through traffic [are my offensive priorities],” Welch said. “On the flip side, not letting guys get to the net, and not letting the puck get to the net. I think those are two things extremely tough to do but can obviously have a really, really positive or negative impact on the game.”

The greatest challenge for Welch, though. may not be realizing those goals, but staying on the ice—and out of the penalty box—for long enough to do both well enough to garner All-American attention.

Welch is, well, notorious for his time spent in the sin bin. And while his reputation among detractors as a malicious player or a “goon” is certainly not warranted, new rules emphases this year figure to work against his strengths.

At 6’4, 212 lbs., Welch is a physical defenseman regularly relied upon to set the tempo with an opening shift hit and maintain that style of play for 60 minutes.

Of course, the definition of contact to the head penalty naturally works against such a tall defenseman, particularly when defending a shorter forward. And this year, renewed focus on enforcing clutch and grab infractions forces a player like Welch—a banger along the boards who admittedly doesn’t mind using his stick to slow struggling opponents—to unlearn more than three years of successful tactics.

While one game does not a season make, Welch hasn’t made the transition seamlessly, whistled four times in the season opener against Brown.

“It’s a whole different game this year,” Welch says.

Not to worry though. Welch knows a thing or two about struggling early, and this time he only has the rest of the season to bounce back. No matter what setbacks he faces, he won’t be settling for a lifetime of those painful memories.

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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