After a four-week recess, college hockey’s winter intermission is finally over. Tonight, the second half of the season gets underway as the Harvard men’s hockey team takes on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center (7 p.m.).
LOOKING BACK AT THE FIRST HALF
Already having exceeded some early expectations, the Crimson (8-2-1, 4-1-1 ECAC) currently ranks fourth in both the PairWise rankings and the national polls. Harvard’s offense has been a powerful force, averaging one goal more than it did a year ago when Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey was leading the charge. Generating 4.45 goals per game, the Crimson is third in the country in scoring and second in goal differential per game.
Meanwhile, six different Harvard skaters head into the second half averaging at least a point a game. Only Ohio State, who ranks second in the country in scoring, has more. Co-captain Alexander Kerfoot, freshman defenseman Adam Fox, and senior forward Tyler Moy in particular all rank among the top 15 in the nation in points per game.
All three also feature heavily on the Crimson power play unit, which has converted at a nation-best rate of 30.6 percent. Since a disappointing 2-for-17 showing on the man advantage over its first four league games, Harvard remarkably has netted at least two power play goals in four of its last five contests.
REPLACING THE FOX
To say Adam Fox has been an integral part of the Crimson power play would be an understatement. During Harvard’s recent special teams tear, Fox has picked up a point on seven of the Crimson’s last nine power play goals. He’s also earned a point on two-thirds of all Harvard's power play tallies this season.
Yet Friday night against RPI (3-16-1, 1-9-0), the Crimson will be without its star D-man, who is currently playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Canada. Furthermore, if the United States advances as far as the semifinals, the Stars and Stripes will play their final game on Jan. 5, leaving Fox’s availability for Harvard's clash with No. 14/13 Quinnipiac on Jan. 6 in question.
Normally, Fox skates alongside sophomore Jacob Olson on the Crimson's second defensive unit, but with the rookie out, it remains to be seen what pairings Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 will roll out tonight. The first pairing of junior Wiley Sherman and freshman John Marino should remain untouched, and one of two sophomores—Adam Baughman and Viktor Dombrovskiy—will likely start across from senior Clay Anderson on another pairing. But between the odd man out and Olson, Donato may only be able to suit up one. Baughman, Dombrovskiy, and Olson are all left-handed, meaning there’s a reasonable chance Donato could alternatively call on right-handed junior Thomas Aiken to make his season debut.
All things considered, if there’s one game Harvard can likely afford to play without a key contributor, it’s this one. A year removed from an 18-win season, RPI has been dreadful. The Engineers have won just three of their first 20 games and only one out of their 10 league games. They’ve scored 2.20 goals per contest while surrendering 3.95, the sixth- and third-worst averages in all of college hockey, respectively.
RPI wasn’t expected to be a real conference contender, but no one anticipated a downward spiral of this magnitude. The Engineers were picked to finish eighth in the ECAC at the start of the year by the league’s coaches and seventh by the media. Yet without graduated goaltender Jason Kasdorf, who posted the ninth-best save percentage in the country a year ago (.931), the Engineers have dug themselves into a last-place pit.
Nonetheless, RPI has given a few teams runs for their money. In fact, while on the road, the Engineers took Princeton, a team that has recently been on the rise, and first-place Union to overtime.
Additionally, the RPI offense came up with at least three goals in each of its final three contests prior to the winter stoppage. And just this week, Engineers coach Seth Appert said that he likes how his team has looked in its latest practices coming off break.
But even so, the records don’t lie: Harvard is the better team in this matchup by a long shot. Of course anything can happen in hockey, especially in games that follow lengthy layovers. But anything short of a win by the hosts would be a real surprise, perhaps the last one of 2016 within the world of college hockey.
—Check TheCrimson.com for live game updates beginning at 7 p.m.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.