The Harvard men’s hockey team has not lost a game since students began arriving back on campus for the spring term. During this two-month window, the squad has celebrated a Beanpot championship, an Ivy League title, a Cleary Cup, and an ECAC playoff crown.
Now, for the third straight year and the fifth time under coach Ted Donato ’91, it’s NCAA tournament time for the Crimson with the ultimate prize on the line—a national championship. But just 60 minutes of hockey could put an abrupt end to Harvard’s memorable ride.
On its way to achieving several milestones, Harvard has bested both conference rivals and local adversaries—Boston University, Cornell, Quinnipiac, and Yale among its triumphs. This Friday, however, the No. 2 Crimson (26-5-2, 16-4-2 ECAC) will clash with a much less familiar foe—one last seen in 1984—as it embarks on its quest for the Division I title.
“It’s been a special year, very fun to be a part of,” senior forward Sean Malone said. “But at the same time, this is going to be our toughest game of the year…. You’re going to face adversity in single-game eliminations, and I think we’re prepared for it.”
The Crimson icemen enter their 24th NCAA tournament in program history as the East Regional’s top seed and will battle No. 13 Providence—in Providence, R.I.—at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Friday afternoon. This season marks the first time since 1983 that Harvard holds a No. 1 seed in the tournament’s regional round.
“It’s one game, so you have to be able to stay away from major mistakes and major penalties,” Donato said. “But I think this group has handled adversity really well…. That’s what we’re going to have to do in a one-game set.”
Following the Crimson’s clash with the Friars, No. 15 Air Force will compete with No. 8 Western Michigan for the other spot in Saturday’s East finals. All three of these Regional foes are foreign to Harvard, as no current Crimson player has ever faced any of them. What’s more: Coach Donato, across his four-year playing career and 13 seasons as bench boss, has never encountered these squads either. But the team is taking the challenge in stride.
“Sometimes you get sick of playing the same teams over and over again,” Malone said. “You just become too familiar with teams…. I think this is good for us.”
Coach Donato also weighed in on playing against some untraditional competition.
“That’s the challenge you earn: to play in the national tournament, to play with refs you’ve never seen and teams you haven’t played against,” Donato said. “It poses challenges as far as knowing exactly which way a team is going to come at you, or some of the strengths they may have.”
While Providence is certainly less familiar to Harvard than an ECAC rival, the Crimson does have some insight on the Friars since their head coach, Nate Leaman, served as a Harvard assistant from 1999 to 2003.
“We know how his teams are led, and they play extremely hard,” Donato said. “They’re very disciplined—very physical—and so we know it’s going to be a great challenge.”
The Crimson hopes to avoid an eighth straight NCAA first-round exit Friday against Providence (22-11-5, 12-7-3 HEA), who comes into its tournament opener on almost two weeks’ rest after being eliminated by Notre Dame in the quarterfinal round of the Hockey East playoffs.
Despite the Friars’ forgettable performance in their conference tournament, the effective home team in this weekend’s East Regional kick-off boasts season wins over St. Lawrence, Vermont, UMass-Lowell (two), and current No. 1 overall Denver.
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