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Twenty-Eight Wins in, Merrick Madsen Still Seeks Two More

A year after having to fight for the starting job, junior goaltender Merrick Madsen has received the nod in all 35 of the Crimson's games this year. And he's won a program-record 28 of them.
A year after having to fight for the starting job, junior goaltender Merrick Madsen has received the nod in all 35 of the Crimson's games this year. And he's won a program-record 28 of them. By Thomas W. Franck
By Jake Meagher, Crimson Staff Writer

G.E.N.I.

That’s the acronym plastered in bold print upon the back of Crimson goaltender Merrick Madsen’s hockey helmet. And perched above custom-painted American and California state flags, the letters command some serious real estate.

Unsurprisingly, the characters caught the attention of Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 at the start of the season. However, the 13th-year skipper couldn’t make sense of them. So he asked his junior netminder for an explanation.

In addition to the G.E.N.I. acronym, the back of Merrick Madsen's helmet features the flag for his home state of California.
In addition to the G.E.N.I. acronym, the back of Merrick Madsen's helmet features the flag for his home state of California. By Thomas W. Franck

“I said what does that mean, and [Madsen] said, ‘Well we’ve made it to the tournament and we made it to the league championship last year, but as a group, good is not good enough. We want to win. We want to advance. We want to win...the opportunities we have for championships.”

The acronym technically stands for ‘Good Enough Never Is,’ a maxim befitting of Madsen—a winner of a program-record 28 games already, but still a steely seeker of two more.

With a series-clinching victory over Yale on March 11, Madsen matched that single-season record with victory No. 24, moving into a tie with Grant Blair ’86. Then in the games that followed, the Philadelphia Flyers prospect proceeded not only to eclipse Blair’s senior-season mark—he blew past it.

In four consecutive elimination games—two in the ECAC tournament and two true do-or-die contests in the NCAA Tournament—Madsen allowed a total of four goals and put together an astounding .967 save percentage. To hardly anyone’s surprise, the netminder subsequently earned the title of Most Outstanding Player for both the ECAC playoffs and the East Regional.

“He’s unbelievable,” said sophomore Ryan Donato after Harvard’s 4-1 win over Cornell in the ECAC championship game. “He’s a brick wall back there. Obviously we’re very fortunate to have him…. He’s been great for us this year, and hopefully he can stay hot.”

Merrick Madsen hoists the Whitelaw Cup after earning the win in the ECAC championship game in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Merrick Madsen hoists the Whitelaw Cup after earning the win in the ECAC championship game in Lake Placid, N.Y. By Jake Meagher

Over the course of the Crimson’s current 18-game unbeaten streak, Madsen boasts a 1.69 goals against average and a .938 save percentage—decimal points higher than the mark he produced a year ago (.931) that went down as the third-best seasonal clip in program history. Those numbers both rank third among Division I goaltenders with 10-plus starts since mid-January.

Despite his impressive sophomore save percentage, however, Madsen didn’t even appear in 18 consecutive games a year ago, never mind remain unbeaten over such a span. Surrendering a handful of starts early on to promising freshman tender Michael Lackey, Madsen didn’t truly lock down the starting job until the end of January.

These days, there’s no such thing as a goalie competition. Lackey, who had been banged up for a significant chunk of his rookie season, underwent hip surgery over the summer, leaving Madsen as ‘the guy.’

Knowing what would be asked of him, Madsen—an Acton, Calif., native—elected to spend the summer in Cambridge, where he skated with the members of the team who remained close to campus. More importantly, he was able to participate in Harvard’s “summer dog” workouts, which allowed the rising junior to work on his overall strength ahead of a season in which he’s spent 96.9 percent of minutes in the crease.

“When I came in, I was really lanky, and [Coach Donato] wanted me to fill out,” said Madsen, referring to his freshman frame. “I think staying here for the summer… I ended up putting on like 10-15 pounds and added a lot of strength.”

The Crimson’s roster claims that the junior still carries the 6’5”, 190-pound frame he allegedly arrived on campus with, but the truth can’t always be captured by a roster sheet. Much like the truth can’t always be captured by a stat sheet.

Madsen’s 2016-2017 numbers have been weighed down to a degree because of a five-day stretch in January that Harvard by now has put in its rearview. The Crimson dropped three consecutive games—including stunning losses to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Dartmouth, which saw Madsen yanked in favor of freshman back-up Cameron Gornet. Madsen surrendered 12 goals in roughly seven periods of action—more than he allowed in 18 periods over the entire month of March.

Three days after the Tuesday loss at Dartmouth, Harvard turned around to play conference bottom-feeder Brown at home—just what the doctor ordered. A day after a practice that assistant coach Rob Rassey considered one of Madsen’s best since joining the Crimson, the goaltender put together a performance worthy of Harvard’s Player of the Game hat, stopping all 26 shots he saw to get the Crimson back in the win column.

Merrick Madsen was all smiles after his shutout of Brown.
Merrick Madsen was all smiles after his shutout of Brown. By Jake Meagher

Yet, when you earn the hat, you don’t get to wear it for free. You’re also on the hook for a speech.

Now, Madsen may be an Applied Mathematics concentrator, but he can certainly string his words together. But locker room addresses have given the junior trouble in the past. So much so that after an award-winning performance from Madsen a year ago in South Bend, Ind., Kyle Criscuolo ’16 gave someone else the hat because, per the goaltender, the former co-captain didn’t “want to hear one of my boring speeches again.”

However, after the Brown game, Madsen took a quote from the team’s debrief for the week to enhance his speech.

“It’s easier to become great than it is to stay great,” Madsen repeated for reporters. “I just kept it short and sweet, and that’s all I said. We got the bus in the right direction, we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”

“Short and sweet” must have worked because Harvard hasn’t dropped a game since. And as for that bus, it just dropped off the Chicago-bound Crimson at Logan Airport.

But the story doesn’t end there. After all, Harvard still has at least more game to play. Of course, an appearance in the Frozen Four is already plenty good enough for the Crimson to call this season a resounding success. But then again, good enough never is.

—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at jake.meagher@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.

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