After tying New Brunswick in the team’s lone exhibition game, No. 9/8 Harvard will officially begin its quest to build off of last year’s success in Hanover, N.H. on Halloween. The team takes on a Dartmouth squad that finished fourth in the conference last year on the road on Saturday before rinsing and repeating in the Bright-Landry Center the day after.
The Harvard men’s hockey team started last year off with tempered expectations coming off of a disappointing campaign, but broke through its glass ceiling, buoyed by the rise of its underclassmen. The team stormed through the ECAC playoffs to take home the Whitelaw Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
This year, having been voted the top-ranked team in the ECAC Coaches’ Preseason Poll, expectations are much higher.
While the Crimson finished sixth in the ECAC in the regular season, it returns a front line that looks largely the same as the one which led it to average a conference-high 3.27 goals per game. Co-captains Kyle Criscuolo and Jimmy Vesey highlight the attack for the Crimson this year, having led the league in assists and goals, respectively. The first line composed of the aforementioned duo and junior Alexander Kerfoot do not seem to have missed a beat after the seven-plus month hiatus from play together, notching two goals as a unit in Saturday’s tilt versus the Varsity Reds.
“After a year under our belts, I think we know where we are,” Criscuolo said. “I think specially on the power play, we played pretty well. We still need to score some even-strength goals.”
On top of all of the accolades that Vesey garnered last season—most notably being named at Hobey Baker Award Finalist—the Charlestown native now bears one more burden: captaining the team alongside two-time co-captain Criscuolo.
“Towards the end of last season, he took on a bigger leadership role,” Criscuolo said. “I think it’s been a seamless transition for him. He earned the guys respect last season.”
The team also added some new faces that can boost an already-competent offensive lineup. Bruins draftee Ryan Donato comes highly touted out of Dexter Southfield and has already made his mark, scoring on the man-advantage in the preseason tilt off assists from Criscuolo and junior forward Tyler Moy.
“I think our power play has some guys that are good with the puck and I think he fits in well with that group,” Donato said. “But I also think that there’s a lot to learn there.”
While the Crimson returns the majority of its offensive firepower, Dartmouth trended in the opposite direction this past offseason. The Big Green lost five of its seven top seven point-getters to graduation, while the Crimson surrendered just over a quarter of its total point production to the same phenomenon. Seniors only teamed up for eight of the squad’s 121 goals last year.
The narrative is different for the Crimson defense.
Perhaps the biggest question coming into the season for the Crimson is who will skate from the bench to between the pipes at puck-drop on Saturday in Thompson Arena. Harvard coach Ted Donato still contests that the position is up for grabs between freshman Michael Lackey, senior Peter Traber, and sophomore Merrick Madsen. Madsen, however, did not play in the exhibition, as Lackey conceded one goal in the first 40 minutes while Traber let in two in the remainder of the game. Donato did not rule out a rotation going forward.
“I think it will be like every other position,” Donato said. “If we think we need to change things to keep things in flux and give ourselves the best chance to win, then we will.”
Questions also remain for the back line as to who will fill the void left by last year’s star defensemen Patrick McNally ’15 and Max Everson ’15-’16, the former of which was Second Team All-League.
In the exhibition game, Senior Desmond Bergin and junior Clay Anderson manned the first line while senior Brayden Jaw skated with sophomore Wiley Sherman on the second line. Two freshmen—Jacob Olson and Viktor Dombrovskiy—rotated through behind them in what has been the only insight into potential pairings this year.
—Staff writer Kurt Bullard can be reached at email@example.com.