PREVIEW: Men's Hockey Seeks First Win of Season at Yale, Brown
The year was 1940, and it stands as the only instance of a winless Crimson team through four games in the 121-year-old documented history of the Harvard hockey program.
This weekend, the Crimson (0-2-1, 0-2-1 ECAC), still in search of its first triumph of the campaign, hopes to keep this staggering streak intact when it trips down to New Haven, Conn., to visit none other than storied Ivy League rival Yale (2-1-0, 2-1-0).
“You get two teams with so much history of playing against each other that everyone is going all-out,” senior goaltender Michael Lackey said. “Guys are stepping up that may not step up in other games…. Everyone is going 110 percent to get the win.”
Unlike their Cambridge counterparts, the Bulldogs enter the Friday tilt with multiple ticks in the win column, having defeated Brown to open the season before splitting last weekend’s series with Upstate New York travel partners, then-No. 18 Cornell (loss) and Colgate (win).
The intensity of a Harvard-Yale bout, however, scarcely depends on the teams’ records coming into the game.
In addition to potentially earning its first win of the year, the Crimson has an opportunity to avenge a season sweep at the hands of the Bulldogs in 2017-2018. In two clashes that more or less bookended last regular season, Yale held Harvard to just three combined goals.
In early November, the visiting Bulldogs handed the Crimson its first home loss in over a year, and in late-February, a pair of goals by then-freshman Kevin O’Neil soured the end of Harvard’s regular season. Not dwelling on the recent past, the Crimson enters the weekend with a fresh-start mindset.
“We actually didn’t bring [the 2017-2018 season sweep] up,” Lackey said. “This is a new team. [We’re] trying to build off what we’ve done at the start of the season, play to our strengths, and go in with a clean slate.”
The Crimson is still searching for consistency in the opening stage of the campaign. Coach Donato has experimented with numerous line combinations and multiple starting goaltenders through three games, as the group works to improve its team defense and play a more complete, 60-minute game.
“[Producing] is easy when you’re playing around really good guys,” Rathbone said. “We’ve been playing really well together. We’ve had those moments where we’re pretty unstoppable. Now we just need to string together a full 60, and I think once we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Junior defenseman Adam Fox, a Preseason All-ECAC selection, is setting the Crimson’s overall scoring pace with eight points (1–7—8). The Jericho, N.Y., native is the facilitator on college hockey’s second-best powerplay (.429) in the early part of the season and deservedly draws attention from every opponent.
Despite his offensive prowess, Fox’s primary role is to keep other teams’ forwards in check. On Friday against Yale, he and his fellow Harvard rearguards will have their hands full with Bulldogs senior Joe Snively.
Snively, also named to the Preseason All-ECAC team, has logged seven points (3–4—7) through three contests and has done significant damage to the Crimson in the past, putting up 10 points (4–6—10) in eight career appearances against Harvard.
“[Snively] is one of the top players in the league right now and has been for the last couple of years,” coach Donato lauded. “He’s dangerous. He’s fast, he’s skilled, he’s a goal-scorer, he makes plays. He’s certainly someone that we’re going to have to keep a close tab on.”
In net, coach Donato will likely turn back to Lackey (0-1-1, 5.30 GAA, .780 SV%), who received the starting nod last Saturday in a 4-4 draw with Princeton after junior Cameron Gornet (0-1-0, 5.27, .833) manned the pipes the previous night against Quinnipiac. As of Tuesday, however, Lackey had not received any official indication of his role in the upcoming Ancient Eight tilts.
As the numbers of both backstops indicate, the Crimson has been porous on defense in its first three games. Until the copious goals against subside, the starting goaltender role is for the taking.
For the Bulldogs, the battle for the blue paint is no less intense. Junior Corbin Kaczperski (1-1-0, 2.53, .900) has fielded pucks in two of Yale’s three games at the outset of the campaign after earning roughly half the starts in the 2018 portion of last season. Senior Sam Tucker (1-0-0, 2.00, .931), who began last campaign as the Bulldogs’ number-one, has started just once this season but posted sturdier numbers in that effort.
“From the moment you commit to a school like this…it’s one of the games you definitely circle on your calendar in terms of the atmosphere and the building, so it’ll be really cool,” said Rathbone ahead of Friday’s bout with Yale.
Whether the Crimson snaps a 78-year streak on Friday or not, it will head to Providence, R.I., for a matchup with Brown (0-3-1, 0-2-1) the following evening. While the ambiance in Meehan Auditorium will be predictably more subdued than the rivalry-fueled energy at “The Whale,” an equivalent two standings points are on the line.
Much like Harvard, the Bears have benefitted from the play of their rookies early on this season. Three freshmen forwards lead the way in scoring: Justin Jallen (2–2—4), Tristan Crozier (2–1—3), and Jake Harris (1–2—3).
While Brown tied a struggling Colgate team last weekend, it also played Cornell to a close one-goal game, albeit a losing effort for the Bears. So the Crimson will not be taking its nearby ECAC opponent lightly.
“The atmosphere at Brown is unlike most places in the ECAC…[in that] there are not many fans,” Lackey said. “We talked about as a group bringing our own energy and creating energy on the ice to get the guys going. If you don’t do that, you can kind of fall in the trap.”
As strange as it sounds, few things in college hockey are as certain as the uncertainty in the ECAC, as the conference schedule is annually rampant with parity.
On Friday night, this trend will only heighten the intensity and unpredictability of a classic Harvard-Yale clash. On Saturday, it will raise the stakes for the Crimson, as recent history has taught the squad that no two standings points ever come easily.
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMorrisTHC.