As the Harvard men’s hockey team will soon discover, there is quite a bit more ice in Minnesota than its skaters are used to.
No, the conditions in Minneapolis, where the Crimson will be competing in the two-round Dodge Holiday Classic starting tomorrow, won’t be worse than the blustery weather Cambridge saw yesterday. But the playing surface inside Mariucci Arena will be decidedly different from that of the Bright Hockey Center.
Unlike the Crimson, owners of a 204 foot by 87 foot sheet of ice, the No. 1 Golden Gophers (13-4-0, 9-3-0 WCHA)—the tournament’s hosts and one of two possible Harvard opponents on Thursday—skate on an Olympic-sized rink, measuring 200 feet by 100 feet.
That difference may seem negligible, but the 2,252 square feet of ice Crimson defenders aren’t accustomed to defending certainly won’t be. Like Minnesota, Northern Michigan (9-4-3, 7-3-2 CCHA), Harvard’s adversary in the opening round, also regularly competes on Olympic surfaces both at home and on the road—though not without exception, most wider rinks are concentrated in college hockey’s western conferences. That leaves the Crimson and Hockey East’s Merrimack (6-10-2, 1-8-1) at something of a disadvantage in the way of experience.
Harvard’s adaptation figures to be easier at the offensive end, however, where the Crimson’s smaller, quicker forwards should have ample opportunity to maneuver and showcase their speed.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” said freshman forward Jon Pelle, Harvard’s second leading scorer with 10 points. “We move the puck quick, we skate well, and I’m sure the ice should work to our advantage.”
Defensively, though, the Crimson’s blueliners, who have consistently drawn praise for effectively keeping the front of Dov Grumet-Morris’ net clear throughout the year, will have a greater challenge.
“It is a different game,” junior defenseman Peter Hafner said. “You’ve definitely got to protect the middle of the ice. You can’t get spread out with the bigger ice surface because you give up more scoring opportunities like that.”
While Harvard won’t be changing what has proved to be a very successful strategy, blueliners will certainly be conscious of the greater distance they need to cover and the larger seams any misstep will leave open to an opponent’s attack. And that, in turn, will tweak the split-second calculation that precedes riskier defensive efforts.
“On rushes, for example, when you’ve got a 3-on-2 coming against you, maybe at a rink like Harvard’s you can be more aggressive trying to step up, especially along the boards just because they don’t have as much lateral room,” Hafner said. “In an Olympic size rink, you definitely need to be more cognizant of the middle first, and then obviously at times you’re going to have to go out to the boards.”
NOTES: Despite its week off, the Crimson moved up in both the U.S. College Hockey Online/College Sports Television and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. In the former, Harvard advanced one spot, from No. 11 to No. 10, and in the latter, the Crimson jumped two positions from No. 13 to No. 11...Pelle’s former team, the New York Apple Core, was in attendance for the Crimson’s win over Maine on Dec. 11. Pelle scored a goal and an assist in the game. One of those former teammates, Billy Keenan, has reportedly committed to Harvard for next season.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.