Crimson Faces Tough Early Tests

Times like tonight remind us of the poetry in sports. The Harvard men’s hockey team begins the 2007-2008 season in the same rink where last season ended. On the weekend following Halloween, fittingly, the Crimson has a chance to exorcise last year’s ghosts.

That chance comes against No. 11 Clarkson (4-2-0, 1-0-0 ECAC), reigning champs of the ECAC and the top-ranked team in the league.

Last year, Harvard’s season came to a heartbreaking end in Potsdam, N.Y., as it lost both games in a best-of-three series against the Golden Eagles in the ECAC quarterfinals. The Crimson lost the first game, 3-0, and, with its season on the line, fell, 2-1, in the second game.

“We battled really hard, one of our best games on the year,” then-captain Dylan Reese ’07 said after his final game. “We really deserved to win.”

Since last March, the team has taken on a new identity. Reese, the team MVP and an All-Ivy League performer, graduated along with top scorer Kevin Du ’07 and goalie Justin Tobe ’07.

“We had some big losses,” senior forward Alex Meintel said. “But this team is battle-tested. We have a lot of leadership in our class and some good freshmen coming in.”

This year, the squad looks to its upperclassmen, ECAC champions in 2006, to carry it. Meintel, Harvard’s leader in goals last season, and senior forward Jon Pelle, the Crimson’s active scoring leader, will anchor the offense. On defense, the experience of senior captain Dave MacDonald, senior J.D. McCabe, and junior Brian McCafferty should help compensate for the loss of Reese.

Harvard even has experience between the pipes, where sophomore goalie Kyle Richter will assume full-time duty after playing in 18 games last season.

“I have really high expectations,” MacDonald said. “We’ve worked harder than we ever have in the offseason and we have a ton of talent.”

On top of the fact that it is opening night, tonight’s game has added significance for players who were on the ice last March.

“For the guys returning, [last year’s loss to Clarkson] is definitely still fresh in our mind,” MacDonald said.

Tonight may offer a small measure of redemption for the Crimson and help it avoid the same kind of slow start that plagued it last year.

Tomorrow’s contest should be equally challenging as Harvard travels to Canton, N.Y., to face No. 16 St. Lawrence, which swept both games from the Crimson last season. The Saints were regular-season champs a year ago and are currently the second highest ranked team in the ECAC.

“It’s always tough to play at St. Lawrence,” Meintel said. “[The Saints] are a fast, gritty team, lots of small players who like to hit. Keeping our composure is going to be the key.”

Although the Saints (3-3-0, 0-1-0) have lost three of their last four games, including a 5-4 overtime loss at Clarkson, Harvard cannot afford to take them lightly. The Crimson suffered a historically bad start last season: 2-7-0 overall and 1-6-0 in league play.

“We only play 34 games all year, so, no matter whether it’s at the start of the season or the end of the season, it all matters,” MacDonald said.

The weekend looms as a daunting test for Harvard: consecutive games against two league titans that are already several games deep into their seasons.

“We’ve done everything to prepare,” MacDonald said. “I see no reason why we can’t get two wins.”