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As the puck drops tonight at the Bright Hockey Center, the season will commence for the Harvard men’s hockey team in a head-to-head matchup with Ivy League rival Princeton (0-2-1).
Coming off a rough 2010-2011 season in which it finished with a 12-21-1 record, the Crimson will look to hit the ground running tonight with a strong core of returning players and an impressive freshman class.
Harvard’s group of freshmen is one of the nation’s top incoming classes, with four of the nine players being selected by NHL teams in this past year’s draft.
“I think we’re all good players, and we’re going to do everything we can to help the team out and have a good season,” rookie forward Petr Placek said.
Placek joins the Crimson after getting drafted 176th by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Another member of Harvard’s incoming class that will be looked to for offensive production this year will be forward Colin Blackwell, who tallied 33 goals and 33 assists in his senior season of high school.
“I’m pretty pumped up and anxious to get out there,” Blackwell said. “Obviously there will be some butterflies, but once you get out there it’s just another hockey game. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for quite while now, so once it’s all said and done it should be a blast.”
Blackwell had an eventful spring prior to entering Harvard. In March he received Boston’s inaugural Mr. Hockey Award, which recognized him as the top high school player in Massachusetts. Then, just three months later, Blackwell was taken 194th overall in the NHL draft by the San Jose Sharks.
The returning players have taken the freshmen under their wings, and are looking to integrate them into the lineup as smoothly as possible.
“The upperclassmen have treated the freshmen just like one of their own,” Blackwell said. “They’ve been really good to us, and it has been a really good transition.”
Returning for Harvard are seven of its top nine scorers from 2010-11, including junior defenseman Danny Biega, who led the team in points.
In addition to Biega on the defensive end, the Crimson brings back senior captain Ryan Grimshaw and sophomore Dan Ford, both of whom played in all 34 games last year.
This season, Grimshaw will not only be looked to as the defensive linchpin, but he will also be the emotional leader of the team.
“Grimshaw is the purest definition of a good leader,” Placek said.
Grimshaw and his teammates have been preparing for the season since the start of the school year.
“We had a lot of captain’s practices when we first got here, and since the season started its been going really well,” Blackwell said. “We’ve had a lot of tough practices and everyone’s working hard. We’re anxious to get on the ice and get things rolling.”
On the sideline, Harvard also welcomes in some new faces with assistant coaches Albie O’Connell and Jerry Forton. In just their first season, the two are already making their presence felt.
“One [of the coaches] is a defensemen coach and the other has been working with the systems,” Blackwell said. “I think if we listen to them and stick to the systems that they’ve implemented, then we’ll be successful.”
To prepare for Princeton, the Crimson coaching staff has held video sessions to familiarize the team with the Ancient Eight foe.
“We’ve been going over their film from past years, and hopefully we can learn a little bit about them and use that to our advantage,” said Blackwell said.
Tonight’s battle on the ice will be the opener to Harvard’s season, while the Tigers enter the matchup with three games already under its belt. To counter Princeton’s experience on the ice this season, the Crimson will look to adjust quickly and capitalize early on to put the Tigers under pressure.
Harvard will specifically try to tame Princeton’s sophomore standout forward, Andrew Calof, who led the Tigers with 33 points last season.
“Princeton’s a big physical team and they’re an Ivy League school, so this is a big ECAC matchup,” Blackwell said. “We’ll want to get off to a good start.”
With tonight representing the first hockey of the season and the student rewards game of the week, Harvard is hoping to have an advantage on its home ice with a strong fan turnout.
“Hopefully we can get a lot of people there,” Blackwell said. “I know it should have a good atmosphere, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
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