Very rarely does a team have the chance to make a big statement in the early games of its season. This weekend, the Harvard men’s ice hockey team has one of these uncommon opportunities—to take down the defending national champions on their own ice.
The Crimson (0-0-1, 0-0-1 ECAC) will face off against Rensselaer (3-5-0, 2-0-0) and reigning national champions Union (5-3-0, 0-2-0) in Upstate New York this weekend with a chance to send an emphatic message to the rest of the ECAC.
Emerging victorious in Schenectady will be no easy task for Harvard. Last season, the Crimson scored first in each of its two matchups with the Dutchmen but skated away with a pair of narrow regulation losses.
“Hopefully we play well Friday and we can take it into Saturday against Union,” junior co-captain Kyle Criscuolo said. “They’re the reigning champions, so everyone’s going to be targeting them before games.”
After a 22-game unbeaten streak that included their title run, the Dutchmen have lost their last three games--the last two against RPI in a home-at-home series last weekend. The Engineers dominated Union at home on Friday, 6-1, before edging their in-state rivals on the road the next night in overtime, 2-1.
The Union offense, which was held to one goal in each of its last two games, will look to rebound with the help of senior Daniel Ciampini and sophomore Mike Vecchione. Ciampini finished second in the ECAC last year in goals scored and has eight points in eight games thus far in the year while Saugus, Mass. native Vecchione leads the team with 12 points.
In net, Dutchman senior Colin Stevens will also try to reassert himself after uncharacteristically ceding four goals in less than two periods of play last Friday. He was outdueled in both games by junior RPI goaltender Jason Kasdorf, who has shown fine form through six games after missing most of last season to injury.
In addition to Kasdorf, other players have taken on increased responsibility for the Engineers this year. Sophomore forward Riley Bourbonnais scored his first collegiate hat trick on Friday. RPI will have to continue to find new sources of offense with the departure of leading scorer Ryan Haggerty to the professional ranks.
RPI was one of only two ECAC teams that failed to beat Harvard last season. The Crimson picked up three points on the Engineers in a 3-3 tie on the road and a 2-0 home win.
This weekend, Harvard will attempt to add to its conference point total after opening the year with a 3-3 tie against Dartmouth. In order to do so, the Crimson’s top line of Criscuolo, junior Jimmy Vesey, and freshman Alex Kerfoot will have to continue to click.
“Our forwards played really well,” junior defenseman Patrick McNally said. “Our first line dominated when they were out there.”
Kerfoot scored the team’s first goal of the season with a pair of assists from his linemates last Saturday. Vesey, who led the team with 13 goals last season, had seven shots on goal and will try to break out of an eight-game scoreless streak this weekend.
On the blue, McNally also loomed large for Harvard last Saturday with a pair of goals, doubling his season total from last year. In 2013-2014, the Crimson defense trailed all ECAC teams in scoring with only four goals but debuted a more aggressive attack in its season opener.
Overall, the Crimson struggled in its opening shifts, failing to register a shot in the first 10 minutes, but gained strength as the game progressed, ultimately outshooting the Big Green, 37-32. This Saturday, Harvard will need to put together last season’s quick starts with last weekend’s strong finish to have a shot against the champs.
“I think we had a lot of good energy,” Criscuolo said of the Crimson’s opening tie. “But we can definitely get some more shots to the net early in the game and work on our start.”