The Crimson will look to kill two birds with one stone and try to avenge two past losses—last year’s 11-6 loss to UMass at home, and last week’s 15-4 loss at Bucknell—as it travels to Amherst tomorrow to take on the Minutemen.
Harvard (1-1) started out its 2004 campaign with a strong 17-6 home win against Hartford, but after a disappointing loss at Bucknell, there is a sense of urgency as the Crimson heads into a battle against the No. 14 Minutemen (2-1). Starting the season with five straight games against non-Ivy League opponents, this weekend’s game might be the Crimson’s most important test thus far.
“It’s a really big game, “ said senior defenseman Hani Malone. “The main thing is that we play a solid game against a good opponent. A win could give us some of the confidence we need, especially heading into the Ivy League schedule.”
There is still a question about which squad will show up in Amherst this weekend. In the first game against Hartford, Harvard rolled over the weaker Hawks and capitalized on many scoring opportunities. However, last week against a strong Bucknell team, the Crimson got throttled, despite having a 19 to 14 shot advantage.
“Last weekend we didn’t get off to a good start and that hurt our momentum,” said senior tri-captain Alex Vap. “It’s a game of flow and we’ve got to be able to turn it around if things are going badly.”
The game against Bucknell was not too different from the experience Harvard had last year at home against the Minutemen. The Crimson outshot UMass 38-30, fetched 27 ground balls to the Minutemen’s 18, won 17 of 21 faceoffs, and in general dominated the flow of the game.
But somehow, UMass won decisively 11-6, taking advantage of Harvard’s inability to capitalize on its scoring chances.
“Last year we out-shot [UMass] and controlled the tempo, but we didn’t finish off the game,” Vap said. “We’ve got to be more efficient with our chances and we have to score.”
Coming off a similar loss to Bucknell last week, the Crimson will have to avoid going extended periods of time without scoring and can’t get pigeon-holed by early mistakes.
“The most important thing is going to be to get off to a better start on Saturday,” said junior attackman Mike McBride. “We’ve got to put away a team early and we want to set the pace of the game.”
“It’ll be important for us when we have the ball on offense to finish and stay grounded on the fundamentals,” Malone said. “We have to stick to the game plan, go hard and communicate with each other.”
During this week of practice, Harvard has focused primarily on fundamentals and physical play.
“One important thing in practices this week is that they have been a lot more physical,” McBride said. “We’ve been getting after each other a little more and we’ll be ready to step up the challenge when we play a physical team like UMass.”
In addition, the Crimson expects the return of sophomore attackman Sean Kane, who has been battling an early injury.
“We’re hoping to have him back for Saturday,” said McBride. “He’s definitely a big part of our offense.”
Even with the sour taste of last week’s loss to Bucknell in addition to last year’s defeat against UMass, Harvard is confident about tomorrow.
“They’ll be a tough opponent and we’ll have to play well,” Vap said. “It’s definitely within our reach though. We’ve got the talent for it and we’re all positive going into it.”
“It’s a great challenge to face, and we’ll see what our team is made of after Saturday,“ added McBride.