Fresh off their most successful seasons of the last decade, the Harvard men’s and women’s ice hockey teams will enter 2015-2016 ranked among the top 10 squads in the nation.
According to U.S. College Hockey Online’s preseason rankings released Monday, the Crimson icemen will open the year ranked No. 8 in the country. Meanwhile, less than a year removed from a national championship game, the women’s team nabbed the No. 4 spot in last week’s USCHO and USA Hockey Magazine polls.
Earning the top two spots in the women’s rankings were Harvard’s two 2015 Frozen Four opponents—Minnesota and Boston College. The Gophers, the defending champions following their 4-1 title-clinching win over the Crimson, received all 34 first-place votes between the two polls. The Eagles took second after suffering just three losses last season, two of which were to Harvard—one in the Beanpot championship and another in the NCAA semifinals.
This year, the Crimson will have a chance to compete for a title closer to home as the Frozen Four moves to New England. And with co-captain defenseman Michelle Picard, senior goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, and its three leading scorers all returning in 2015, Harvard has the makings of a team built to make another national run.
With nine of 12 first-place votes in the ECAC coaches’ preseason poll, the Crimson also has been tabbed as the favorite to earn the conference crown. But with three other teams from the ECAC cracking USCHO’s top 10, Harvard’s path back to the NCAA tournament will be far from a cakewalk.
Right on the Crimson’s heels is No. 5 Clarkson, who stole a share of the regular season ECAC title with a 1-0 win over Harvard on the season’s final day. Trailing close behind is No. 7 Quinnipiac, who fell to Harvard by a score of 2-1 on three separate occasions, and No. 10 Cornell, whom the Crimson defeated in the ECAC title game, 7-3.
For a team that has won at least 20 games in four straight seasons, a conference championship was hardly a surprise. The same could not be said, however, for the other squad that calls the Bright Center home.
Last season, ECAC media members tabbed Harvard’s men’s team to finish 10th in the conference. But defying expectations, the Crimson climbed to No. 1 overall in the Pairwise rankings midway through the season and then rebounded from a sluggish second half to capture its ninth ECAC tournament crown in program history.
Harvard will no longer be flying under the radar. With senior forward Jimmy Vesey and its four other leading goal scorers returning, the Crimson is expected to boast one of the nation’s most potent attacks. Vesey, who was voed co-captain this offseason, scored a Division I-best 32 goals last year and has been named to College Hockey News’s preseason All-America team.
The majority of the question marks surrounding the squad lie in the defensive zone after having lost blue-line scoring threat Patrick McNally, co-captain Max Everson, and starting netminder Steve Michalek to graduation.
Nonetheless, the USCHO panel gave Harvard a vote of confidence with a No. 8 ranking. With one first-place vote, the Crimson is among a record-10 teams to receive a first-place vote in a USCHO preseason poll.
Harvard was one of five ECAC teams to crack the top 20, along with No. 12 Yale, No. 18 Quinnipiac, No. 19 St. Lawrence, and No. 20 Colgate. Last week, the Crimson topped the ECAC coaches’ preseason poll, while the Bulldogs earned the top spot in the media poll.
The pair of Ancient Eight rivals battled six times last season, with Yale sweeping the regular season series, 3-0. But in the ECAC tournament quarterfinals, Harvard erased a decade-long losing streak in New Haven en route to a 2-1 series win.
The Crimson then advanced to Lake Placid, where the team defeated Quinnipiac and Colgate for the conference crown.
In 2016, Harvard will also square off against No. 1 Boston College and No. 3 Boston University. The Crimson dethroned the then-No. 1 Terriers last November before falling to BU in double-overtime in the first round of the Beanpot. This year, Harvard will open the Beanpot against the Eagles, with whom the Crimson split its two contests last year.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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